By the time the people at the next campsite told us about the swimming hole, it was three days into our trip, and we had given up on a lot of things, but somehow, the thought of a swimming hole gave the four of us hope. It conjured visions of shade trees and rope swings, laughter, reconciliation. To get there, we just had to follow the path through the woods, walk through a clearing to the edge of a thicket. It was about ten feet in. We couldn’t miss it.
The four of us changed into the underwear we had brought that most resembled swimsuits. Ryan and I left our glasses behind, nestled in a sweatshirt and placed out of the way. The other two, half of each of our couples, his and mine, ran ahead, two sunburned objects to our blurred vision. We linked arms and alternately kept our eyes downward and forward, on the lookout for sharp stones and other hazards. It wasn’t long before we could barely hear their shouts.
The clearing was covered in thistle and foul weeds with serrated leaves. We clutched at one another, stepping cautiously, each movement deliberate and considered. I looked up just in time to see them duck into the woods.
“They should be helping us,” I said.
“They want to be alone,” Ryan said. “Thistle. Step left.”
I didn’t want to think about this anymore, and so I said, “I heard you last night, talking to Annie on the picnic table.” He had told her about stars, their names, to what constellations they belonged, and how far away they are. He talked until the words didn’t matter anymore; the cumulative effect of this information was somehow love. It was the nicest thing I’d ever heard. I fell asleep listening to him.
“I know,” he said. “I could hear you listening. Partly I was talking to you, too.”
“Thistle,” I said, “Watch your right foot. Step toward me.”
The swimming hole was only a little farther. Somehow I knew what it would look like. It had a mud bottom that, when disturbed, rose up in thick clouds, and there were toads. To swim in it, everybody had to close their eyes.