that bright tight forever drum could not describe nightswimming…
On Sunday nights at 9 one of the local radio stations has this feature called “long player” where they play a classic album in its entirety, commercial-free. This week’s selection was R.E.M.’s album Automatic for the People, which is one of my favorite albums EVER, so of course I was thrilled to get to listen to the whole thing on my way home from work.
“Nightswimming,” in particular. Oh, how I adore this song. I think it’s quite possibly one of the most perfect, lovely songs ever composed. And my love for this song didn’t fully realize itself until after I had an experience that made me realize how exactly perfect its sentiment is.
Now, when I hear it, especially driving at night, I’ll always be thinking, with nostalgia I can smell and taste, of that one perfect night in early September. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where the air was barely warm and the water freezing cold, and we slipped into the black lake in tank tops and underwear, none of us having brought suits, as swimming was never in our plans.
There were many of us there in the lake, but it was so dark out that you couldn’t see anyone else unless you were right next to them, so it felt utterly intimate. We were treading water in the cold lake, looking up, counting every star in the late summer sky. Now and then a laugh would ring out, a voice, from somewhere nearby, but we were hushed, mostly, knowing that if we were caught this would all end.
Some disembodied voice in the dark dared us all to take off our clothes, and in this world, where nothing was usual, we never considered not doing it. I remember finding myself swimming near S, who couldn’t see me well, and wanted to hold my tank top and panties in his hands as proof that I wasn’t wearing them. So we switched, and I held his shorts, and he held my clothes, and we swam there, legs brushing gently against one another, naked but not caring. Being naked felt absolutely right.
these things they go away/replaced by everyday
It had to end, eventually, and we were all utterly silent as we wound our way back through the woods, not wanting the spell to break. And the next morning, we saw the others bleary-eyed, and even though we couldn’t see them the night before, we knew who had been with us, and we knew who had gone to sleep like every other night and missed it all.
I’m so glad I wasn’t one of them.