Hazy memories run through my head, grainy and fleeting and small, like old
I teleport back to a place, a moment, a feeling. Sometimes I’ll live in a good one for a
forward and up, away from the moment, and I try clinging to the things behind me, but
my hands go right through them, so I cling to myself, and soon I am high and far enough
away that even my memories become invisible, and I become the God of this universe,
trying to return, trying to fall again into a place with no matter, no gravity.
We took the dinghy across Long Island Sound, Sam, Cassidy, and me. We were
skinny, we were tan, we were wild. We raced their big boat, Thorson, to the dunes. All
we could hear was the roaring of the dinghy’s tiny engine, the water splashing and
spraying against our rubber boat, and the air whistling in our ears, knotting our salty hair.
Waiting for us was our secret land, our home across the sound, our sandy mountain.
We’d been there once before, we’d screamed and pounded our fists against our chests on
its summit, we’d signed our names in the sand, it was ours.
We anchored the dinghy near shore and jumped into the water. The cold sea gave
us goose bumps and the sharp shells dug into our soft skin; we didn’t mind. We saw our
mountain, we climbed it. We clawed our way up it with our hands and legs; we were
mountain monkeys. We sent sand spilling down the incline as we ascended; we started a
summer avalanche. From above, we saw Thorson; it was nothing more than a toy boat;
we picked it up and squished it with our fingers. We saw a light blue sky over dark blue
water. We dug for gold; our bodies became sand. We leaped down this mountain like
astronauts walking in space, we flapped our arms like birds; we didn’t know gravity, we
didn’t need it.
Hot day, cool lake, old dock. Kat and I tipped back-first into the water, flailing
our arms and legs, splashing and yelling for help so her golden retriever would save us.
We wanted danger, we wanted to be saved. We watched Buddy sprint from the patio
down the uneven cinder block steps onto the dock, and we cheered as he plunged into the
lake to rescue us. I never knew if he realized we were playing, or if he was playing with
us, because he was paddling like we paddled, jumping like we jumped, seeing like we
We raced across the lake and chased the geese that lived there; we conquered
things. We held our breaths full of summer air and watched the bright sky as we floated
away; we became clouds of the lake. We dove into the water, feet first, head first, back
first, belly first; we got lake water in our noses. We spat water through the gaps in our
front teeth, we used paddles as swords, we tipped canoes, we flipped them back over
again. We were masters of this lake, we were masters of this summer, we were weightless
in a heavy world.
As the sun went down the lake got cooler. Lights of houses across the water
started turning on. From afar, I could see men drinking beer and sitting together in camp
chairs, I could see kids throwing stones at each other and into the water, and a few girls
with fishing poles, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, not once catching a thing.
When we couldn’t see the sun anymore, Kat’s mom waved to us from the patio
with towels. One last time, she yelled, so Kat and I gripped onto the end of the splintered
dock and on the count of three, we dove. But I went too deep this time, into a layer of the
water that was colder than water should have been, into the layer that had no bottom, just
more dark, just more cold. I felt the cold start to pull on me, and I didn’t like it, so I
pulled my way back to the surface. Kat got out of the water, and I followed her, and then
we made our way up the steps, guided by the light from the patio.
Kat’s mom drove us to McDonalds on the way back to my house. She bought us
mini ice cream cones, ten cents each, tinier than our tiny palms. We could eat them in one
big bite if we wanted to, but we never did.
We savored our small things.
As I stepped up the three brick steps onto my front porch, as I heard the muffled,
loud sounds coming from inside my house – the sounds of breaking parents and the
sounds of a breaking home – I looked back at Kat’s minivan. It had already left my
driveway, and its red taillights faded down the street. I imagined myself running after
them, telling them I wanted to be Kat’s sister, that I wanted the minivan and the dock and
the lake and Buddy, too. For a moment, it was real, I was as light as the air on the lake,
but then I heard more muffled sounds from inside, and then muffled things were real.
For a while, they would break things, quickly and slowly, things that I could see,
and things that I couldn’t. They would become mirrors of each other, their words would
bounce back to them, they would be deaf and blind and unaware of hurting, because they
themselves were sick of being hurt. For a while, I would hug my crying sister as we sat
on her bed, I would feel strange because I was younger than her, so I would look out the
window and promise myself I would never become any of them. I would become the
opposite of them, because that was the opposite of love.
Later, when Thorson got sold and when the dinghy broke, Sam’s parents found
two replacements. The new boat went slower, it was older, it was space efficient, it used
It wasn’t the same.
When we visited our mountain again, we rode in the new old boat. All I could
hear was the deep boom of the big engine. The new old dingy trailed behind us in the
water, connected to the back of the main boat with a thick black rope. I imagined myself
riding in the dingy, getting pushed back and forth by the big boat’s wake.
From afar, the mountain looked the same as we’d left it. But as we got closer, we
saw that trash lined its base, its slope was steeper, it had more rock and less sand. We saw
another boat and another family strolling along the beach, their kids leaping down our
mountain just like we had done. For the first time, I saw myself in somebody else, and I
By the time we dropped our anchor, the family had left on their boat. I swam to
shore with Sam and Cassidy; the shells hurt my feet. I looked around, trying to find my
memories, but soon I noticed a swarm of flies gathered near something at the base of the
mountain. I stepped closer until I saw it was the body of something small. I stepped
closer until I saw the outline of its tiny bones. I stepped closer until I saw the white
skeleton of a baby deer, decomposing on the sand. The flies and the animals and the
living things had taken most of it by then. I called out for Sam and Cassidy, and they
came over, and we three stood there, looking at the dead bones of an animal that had just
begun to live. Maybe it had fallen, maybe something had brought it there, maybe it came
there on its own. We made our way up the mountain. It was hot. We were sweaty. We
didn’t like the sand in our hair. Our legs hurt.
Later, after the dentists closed the gaps in our teeth, after Kat’s dad built a new
dock, after Buddy was gone, Kat and I returned to the lake one last time before Kat
started college, and I started my senior year in high school. Kat brushed the spiders out of
the old canoe and jumped into it, pushing it into the water; she didn’t want to get wet. I
sat on the edge of the dock in my bathing suit and ran my hands over the smooth new
wood, as Kat paddled out. The air was cool that night. I looked down at the black water,
and then I didn’t want to get wet, either. But this was a last chance.
When I jumped in, the water felt thick on my skin, not like before. There was too
much of me in the water. It was harder to paddle, harder to stay afloat. So I swam to
Kat’s canoe and held onto the edge of it. She paddled around, tugging me along while I
looked up at the night sky. The stars looked like freckles; the moon was the biggest one.
I felt the thick water flowing underneath me as Kat paddled to the middle of the
lake. We stayed there, listening to the end of something, breathing in the dying summer
air. I imagined myself looking down onto the lake from above; the canoe was small and
my body was smaller. But I noticed that my body looked different, so I moved closer, and
I realized that the girl in the water was me when I was younger, and I tried to touch her,
but I couldn’t, and she disappeared into the lake.
Kat said she was cold, and I did, too, but we didn’t move for a while. We
Later that night, as I pulled myself back onto the dock, as I shivered in a towel
that was too small for my body, as my bare feet scraped along the uneven cinder block
stairs, I knew I was no longer the master of this lake.
I was heavy.