Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Possibly the stupidest thing I have done. This week.

"Let’s take the kayaks out!" I said. Becky and I were sitting in the sun on the shore of Fox Lake last Sunday afternoon. Becky is my cousin. She is one year older than me, we played together a hundred years ago, now she's got three huge sons, (the youngest in high school!) and whenever I get the chance to see her, I feel like a kid again.

I ran inside to grab a hat and my jacket and get Becky an extra sweater. "The lifejackets are in the laundry room," said Randy but I couldn't find them. "We'll stick to the shore," I said or some nonsense like that. Becky left her shoes.

"Turn your paddle around!" called Becky's husband Rich as we launched. Rich had brought the 8-foot kayaks for fish he never caught that day. I flipped around the blade of my paddle so it would do some work scooping the water instead of just mixing the lake.

We pushed off from shore and I spun around in a couple of tight circles just because I could. "Whee!" Randy would watch the girls. He didn't say a word because we had company. I felt like I was running away - for a harmless hour or so.

The kayaks moved smooth and swift over the glassy water. It was so much fun to tool along the lake’s shoreline, peeking in the windows of the houses, laughing at the little white dog we could see but not hear yapping furiously at us from behind a sliding glass door. We waved to fishermen, made note of a lakeshore bar with an outdoor deck, passed a mysterious pile of snow. I caught a glimpse of the tail end of a splash as a fish sunk back in the water. Seconds later Becky and I squealed at the sight of the entire ugly beast flipping up in the air.

Becky told me stories about getting stuck with a flat tire at Midway and walking down Cicero Ave in the dark and almost getting into a fight with a woman on an airplane and I got to say “Oh No She Didn’t!” She told me about a friend of her oldest son, a young girl who died of a rare kind of brain cancer and I cried out loud because the girl told Brad, "I'm so sorry, I don't want to go on your birthday." She died two days later and as Becky was finishing that story, we had reached the far side of the lake. I was wiped out. The sun had changed its angle, we thought we'd been out for hours. The idea of following the shoreline all the way back around again felt really hard; I just wanted to get home. I could just make out the smeary dot of our house on the other side. We didn't even make a decision. We just set out straight across the lake for home.

Now I’ve done some doozies in my life, haven't you? College idiocy comes to mind. Some colossal misjudgments of character at work. Bad choices in romance.

But as cringe-producing are the memories of these missteps, they all fade into nothing more than silliness now that I've got children counting on me.

We have no snacks. I check my pockets and find a tampon and two dollars.

The highest waves on the rumpled surface of the water are no more than six inches and the sky is as soft as a John Constable oil painting, but my mind, as it does when my blood sugar starts descending, scurried from the Armageddon dream I had last night to the Chicago magazine story I'd read of two men nearly perishing in their kayak crossing of Lake Michigan.

The air is cool and comfortable. I've opened my jacket. Water occasionally drips on my legs from the paddle, but it's not unpleasantly cold. But I look at the water and realize that if we fall in, hypothermia would set in within moments. I think of the enormous pile of ice we saw sitting mysteriously on the shoreline. It dripped and glistened.

I start turning my paddle straight vertical as I stroke, pushing my back and arms into the effort.

Straight ahead I see a pink and brown dot on the steps, topped with a bright head. It's little Nora. Perhaps she sees us.

When I tell this story later to a friend, he laughs and says, "If you capsized, you could have walked home."


Julia Buckley said...

Cindy, stop scaring me with these near-drowning essays. I kept fearing the two of you would end up in peril. Whew.

(Julia, still having to check in from work)

suesun said...

"We have no snacks."

I started laughing out loud at this point, in the way that perhaps only a mother of young children would understand. We never go ANYWHERE without snacks because we are always calculating/planning/preparing and the fact that you were out in the middle of a lake WITHOUT SNACKS just made is so beautiful to me and underscored how pure and uncalculated and magical was the impulse that took you out there. Brilliant.