It seems like a normal day. Hot. Sunny. Humid. I put on a life jacket and get in the kayak.
Dipping the paddle into water is relaxing. I pull myself along, bobbing over the waves. Only my muscles propel me; the wind and water are the only sound. I turn the boat south and head into the breeze.
Five minutes and a few hundred yards later finds me in a familiar bay. Yesterday, I was here in a speedboat, but today is different. Then, the voices of others and the grumble of the engine drowned out the memories. Today, the lapping of the water on the hull is just as it was several summers ago.
Late at night. We all decide to swim. I was still avoiding you, and they were trying to too. The lake is calm and dark. How I feel for you now. You were so vulnerable, and we were all ignoring you. I got in the canoe because the dark, murky waters made me uneasy. I stay near the others in the shallows until they point out how far you swam. A couple hundred feet away is the buoy, and you are almost there.
Today, the buoy is different. It has a light on top, and it's not in the same spot. But as my small, quiet boat nears it, the memory floods over me.
I paddle toward you. Behind me, the others must sense the tension. They shouldn't know, but for some reason, everyone does. They wait and listen. I ask if you're okay. You are. You assure me that you are a very capable swimmer. I worry that the water is deep. You tell me it is, but not compared to real oceans, which you used to swim in. I try to repress the thoughts of snakes and turtles and fish, despite the fact that there are none so dangerous here as things in the ocean. Silence, then you soften. Can I hold on? you ask. I answer of course right away. I am terrible at repressing my concern. You hold the side of the boat. For an instant—or maybe forever—everything stops. Your face is beautiful. The lake is beautiful. The stars are beautiful. The rustling of the wind and buzzing of bugs is beautiful.
Sometimes, I forget that moment. I manufacture replacements, but nothing seems to suffice. I see beauty all around—that's ingrained in my very self—but it's never enough. Standing on the deck of one of the largest ships as it sailed beneath a cloudless, southern Caribbean sky is incomparable. But even that memory is washed away when it reminds me of that summer night with you.
Time was stopped. I retreated to my head. Somehow, I locked away the memory of you staring into my soul as the universe surrounded us. We headed back to shore. You went home for the night. I went to sleep. I woke up. I went to sleep. I woke up. I left for vacation and things got crazy. I got back after you left. You got back, then left again. Suddenly, everything was clear, and I knew the only way to work this out was to lock it in the past.
Days later, I didn't want to relapse again. Weeks later, I didn't want to come crawling back. Months later, I didn't want to ruin everything when it seemed everyone else was finally happy. Years later, I didn't want to throw away what I had. And now, sitting in a tiny boat floating in the huge universe, I realize that I've done nothing but throw away years worth of time.
I am no longer a young, wild soul, waiting to pounce on adventure. I'm tired and old, and I learned the value of taking orders from others. The realization comes too late, and I'm stuck in the ruts I've dug for myself. I paddle back to the dock and drive home to lie down.