Copper

Why do I always have to come up with the titles first.

I am never happy because when I’m at work or otherwise away from Alex I just want to be hanging out with Alex, reading to him, playing with him, taking him to parks and such. And then when I am with Alex I remember it’s exhausting, tending to his every need by myself, driving him the hour and six minutes between my house and his mother’s, waking up whenever he wakes up, trying to make food for him while he clings to me asking to be picked up, and in these moments I think about nothing but having some alone time, some writing time, some simple couch do-nothing time.

His daycare is near his mom’s place, over an hour from me. I work a four-day week in part because it’s the only job that paid enough to let me move out but also because I wanted this three-day weekend every weekend so that I could take the boop to daycare and then have that oft-desired alone time. It’s been a little over a month of Fridays I’ve been living on my own. One of these he was sick, another his grandparents were in town for a visit, so I think this is just the second time I’ve had to wake him up, speed him through breakfast only to sit him in the car for an hour and six minutes to take him somewhere far away just to spend the day not with me.

He’s learned this is what happens on Fridays now, and he doesn’t like it, and it breaks my stupid selfish heart.

The last time I dropped him off, I turned right around and drove the hour-plus back to my house because the place was still a disaster from the move and needed a lot of work. Today is the first Friday I’m spending as intended. I dropped him off, or more accurately had his tear-streaked cheek peeled from my own as I turned tail and fled, back to my car to distract myself with Yelp! and where I should go this morning instead of burying my face in my hands to cry, in part from my own sadness at leaving him but also the sheer empathy of it all, his own big emotions flooding into my mind unavoidably, not that I’d avoid it if I could, it’s what I want, after all, I want to make him happy so that I might feel happy in turn—

I dropped him off and came to Occoquan. 

I haven’t been writing so I didn’t have much hope of doing that all day, but that’s what I used to do, so that’s what I still label these days as, as writing days, but there’s not much meaning to the phrase, just a suggestion of a genre of a day, nothing more, nonsense words like A Tisket, A Tasket, words you recognize but if pressed you couldn’t define. (I’m trying out some kids’ songs albums to keep him entertained in the car. Probably more references will bleed in, if I keep writing, so. Apologies.) I brought my iPad and Apple Pencil for my writing day, for instance, not that I ever use the Apple Pencil to write. I brought my camera. I sat and tried to find remote work for a few hours early this morning in a crêpe restaurant that was the only place open here in Occoquan at nine in the morning, which surprised me, but whatever, it was fine. I brought a book to read, I brought my laptop just in case the mood did strike me, and I brought my camera.

The A/C was on at the crêpe shop, so no circulation of blood through my damaged wrists, my corpse hands, it just wasn’t going to happen there. I left to take some pictures. Occoquan is on a river, don’t know the name of it and this pizza shop doesn’t have internet I don’t believe so I can’t look it up, not that I’m going to check if there’s internet because I have no desire to distract these fingertips now that they’re finally moving. But there’s a river, and some rocks and rapids and a boiling spring jumping up out of the ground, not boiling in the sense of heat but literally bubbling upward right out of the hill next to the river and roiling down another twenty or thirty feet to the river proper, a solid mass of water making a racket worthy of a falls. The herons like it here quite a bit. I keep taking their pictures despite myself. I don’t like birds. I find them excessively gross. The feathers, the strange reptile feet. Abominations, all of them. Give me a full-body reptile, please, if you’re going to have strange reptile parts anyway. I think I’m going to start an Instagram called I Hate Birds. In fact I did do that, just now. First post:

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A post shared by @ihat.ebir.ds

Anyway. Besides the herons I found some honest to god reptile to photograph, first some turtles, which once again proved my theorem that Every Day Is Better When You See a Turtle, Especially If You See a Sea Turtle, which obvious today’s turtle were not, but still they improved my mood quite a bit and gave me something else to take pictures of. And then I spotted a snake, in the river, sunning his upper half. And then I got to watch him swim and find another rock to sun himself upon. His coloring was a little muddy but I thought it might be a copperhead. And then I saw another snake and this one was undoubtedly a copperhead, brilliant orange segments interspersing the brown, and she was on the hunt. I’m arbitrarily assigning gender, here, I don’t know how to recognize such a construct in snakes anymore, if I ever did know. But she, yes, she was prowling, swimming about, ducking down to where I couldn’t see her, sliding between rocks, then freezing in the mud bubbles for a bit, keeping a sharp eye. Probably about two, maybe two and a half feet long. Some people on a bench behind me, seemingly on a first date, or an early date, sharing random facts and stories about their lives, tentatively testing their own brands of humor and style aloud. I could feel them watching me from the corner of their eyes, the both of them, wanting me to leave at first but then accepting me as a potential audience, if I was paying any attention to them, which I wasn’t, expressly, I heard their words but none of them stuck. Mostly I wanted to show them the copperhead, but she was twenty feet below where I stood at the rail, looking straight down into the river, hard to spot unless you’re used to spotting snakes, even if you know one is there.

Then she struck. I saw her belly white slice through the shallows. I turned my zoom lens on her in time to see her surface with the catch, some kind of fish, couldn’t make it out for the distance and her speed but a fish that looked well too big for her mouth, which, I knew already, it wasn’t.

For the next fifteen minutes I stood in the burning noon sun, my camera trained on where she settled after pulling her catch up onto a cluster of rocks, not far from a turtle but nicely obscured, the turtle will never be the wiser. Only here in the little pizza shop was I able to go back through my photos and videos, where I saw the fish’s fat blank face and corner-mouth whiskers. A catfish! Holy crow! Is it really? I’m not great with fish but man that looks like a, wow. Today I can say this: I watched a copperhead eat a catfish, watched it hunt and eat a catfish and then settle in next to a discarded Budweiser can to digest. Watched it wriggle and work and wrest open its own jaw, watched it wait patiently for the venom to do the trick, which it never did fully, that fish still had a few wiggles in it even two minutes before it was completely inside, it was 100% still alive inside the body of that sleek reptile, no question.

I have a 50x zoom built into this camera and so I had a fairly good framing of the action, but even with the steadying influence of the guard railing and the quite frankly stellar image stabilization in the Canon SX50 HS, there’s still a little shift, a regular pulse, maybe literally, maybe it’s my heartbeat causing it but at full zoom I can’t get a perfectly stable image when I’m just holding the camera in my hands. Also it was quite bright, so even if I did have a good stable image to put onto the big viewfinder screen on the back of the camera, I don’t know if they would’ve been able to see it clearly the way I could see it through the small viewfinder, but man did I want to shout to the first daters and anyone else within range, look! look! Have you ever seen such a thing? Have you ever watched a copperhead devour its prey? But the couple was gone. There was a professional photographer and some class-of-‘21ers posing in the park, under the awning or next to the LOVE sign—ubiquitous in Virginia, those—and I knew not a one of them would either care or very much appreciate my beckoning them away from their task at hand.

But to me, this was glorious.

I’m alone a lot of the time. I don’t know how to handle it. Even at work, where I spend most of the time work practically hand-in-hand with another person, I usually have in earplugs and they have on headphones or similar ear protection and we don’t talk, we pay just enough attention to the other to know what they’re doing now and doing next, but beyond that all dialogue is internal. I eat lunch alone, in part because of COVID protocols and in part because I love to spend an hour in the middle of the day reading, i.e. being somewhere completely else. I have my kitties back now. That’s a sort of blessing, they do pay me attention as another extant creature on the planet some of the time, which is why I feed them quickly now whenever it’s anywhere near feeding time, to give them that chance to forget me as the food-dispensing robot and remember me as the other in the house, the one with hands and scritchy fingers who can also be a friend.

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