Life is but a Dream: On the Lake - First Chapter

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  • 7/31/2019 Life is but a Dream: On the Lake - First Chapter




    I am dreaming. I am four. I am at a family reunion at an aunts house. The reflection of awhite farmhouse looms, tall and angular, into an in-ground pool. The scents of chlorine andgrilling hamburgers waft, exchange, and intermingle.

    My mother sits nearby in a lawn chair. Her black polyester stretch pants squish throughthe crisscross of webbing in uneven lumps. Her attention is on a noisy game of volleyball beingplayed across the yard. No one sees me. I am so small that I barely exist. She does not see me.She does not see. She does not. See me. See. Me.

    A large beach ball floats seductively upon the surface of the pool. It drifts in my direction,becoming larger and larger until it fills my entire field of visionred and white and glisteningwith irregular drops of water. I clap my hands and it draws closer.

    Mother is standing now. She looks so young. Even in my dream, I wonder, was she everthis young? One hand is placed on her hip and her mouth is parted in a smile as she watches theraucous game. A transparent headscarf is wrapped around her head and its tail flutterstentatively under the knot that is pulled snug against her pale neck. The scarf is the color oflilacs.

    I wonder why I am not being scolded. I expect harsh words. Maybe a spanking. I am verynear the pool. I was told to stay away. But my mother is smiling, laughing, while the volleyballplayers argue over whether the ball was in bounds. The concrete under my feet feels hot andrough. I wiggle my toes and feel the skin being scraped from them.

    I look at the ball. It is so close now that I see nothing else. I smell it. Fresh wet plastic. Itsmells like pool toys. I reach forward and touch it. Its surface is warm and slippery and smooth.It recoils upon contact. Flirty. Coy. Slowly, it floats out of my reach. I lean forward and strain totouch it again.

    My body meets the water with a quiet splash. An unnoticed splash. Falling into the water,I sink in slow motion. Deeper and deeper. My body turns over and the water and sky become oneand stretch above me. Through the blue that engulfs me, I see the distorted image of my mother.She stands in the same position. Still smiling. I see the scarf flutterlilac blue now.

    My arms extend toward her. She is out of reach. Wavy. Like a mirage. Strugglingfrantically, I grasp at the water but it slides through my fingers. I call out to my mother and waterforces its way into my mouth, and into my lungs. I gasp and choke on more water. I am helpless.All I can do is sink slowly until the pool and the sky merge into darkness. I wonder why mymother will not come and get me. And why she is still smiling.

    Waking, I quickly sit upright. I gasp in uneven breaths. Sweat covers my body. I clutch ata tangle of damp sheets. My tee shirt is a twister. My torso caught in the storm.

    I reach for Matt, but my grasp is hollow. He is not there. I long for his chest to bury myhead against. I long for the feel of his breath upon my hair as he whispers that it was just adream. He is not there. Not here. Not beside me. I am not sure how long he has been gone. It was

    so gradual I never saw it coming. In fact, his side of the bed no longer exists. I am in the middle ofthe bed, in the place where we used to meet. In the empty, odd-shaped gap between our bodiesthat we used to fill like interlocking puzzle pieces.

    I am not even in ourbed. That bed is in storage and I am in a secluded lake cabin on a

    small island in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The cabin belonged to Matts parents. We rarelycame here, and I have not been here in years. I am not a lake person; I cannot swim. The firsttime Matt and I were here was on our honeymoon. The last time we were here, Laney was fifteenand had spent the entire weekend moping about some boy she had just started dating. After we

  • 7/31/2019 Life is but a Dream: On the Lake - First Chapter


    returned home, they broke up within a week. I am still angry that some boy, whose name I cannoteven remember, spoiled what could have been a wonderful weekend.

    Now, I am here because our house has been repossessed and I have nowhere else to go.Matt is living in his parents house, which he went to clean out a little over a year ago when hisonly surviving parent, his mother, died. He never came back. Months later, an appraiser knockedon the door and asked to come inside and appraise our house for the bank. I was sitting at home

    making a grocery list when he rang the doorbell. I was totally in the dark. But I was in the darkabout a lot of things back then. I had called Matt immediately. He just kept saying he was sorry.Over and over again. Finally, I told him he had to come home and straighten this out.

    I cant, he said.What! What do you mean, you cant? Matt, there is a guy here appraising our house! I cant love you anymore.I wish I could remember what I said back, but I cant. I only remember the appraiser

    walking around the house and, eventually, Matt hanging up on me. The following months are ablur. I had a garage sale, selling our stuff for handfuls of quarters. I rented a storage unit andmoved furniture, and boxes and boxes of possessions, into it. I put enough clothes for the summerin all of the suitcases I could find, and I came to this cabin.

    I cannot believe my beloved house has been repossessed. A beautiful grey Cape Cod with afull-length white porch. Matt and I used to sit there in wicker chairs and watch Laney play in the

    front yard. Hanging pots of magenta petuniasso big that women in passing cars used to slowdown to stare at themfilled the air with their sweet scent.Now, I sit in the dark in this cabin that feels strange to me. I have nowhere to go. I think of

    Laney, my barely eighteen-year-old daughter, who is spending the summer hiking across theColorado Rockies with her best friend, Allison. Despite my many protestations about the danger oftwo girls hiking alone in the wilderness, she left, which is a good thing, I guess, because at leastshe doesnt know about the house. She left a week before the appraiser showed up. Almostimmediately upon her return, she will be leaving for her first year of college at Colorado Universityin Boulder, halfway across the country.

    I sigh and roll over. I still cant believe any of this. I cant believe Matt ended our twenty-two-year marriage with the words, I cant love you anymore. I cant believe that somehow,without me ever noticing, both of them have managed to create lives that suddenly do not requireme.

    To say that I do not understand is an understatement. It goes deeper than that. I cannotfathom it. It is incomprehensible. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. How could they have so neatly, andso completely, eliminated me from their lives? My life not only has a void, it feels void. Null andvoid. Useless. Without direction or purpose. Now what, I often catch myself thinking. Now what?For the next moment, the next day, for the rest of my life. Now what? I pass through the dayslooking at the clock and wondering: Is it time to go to bed yet?

    I roll over to my other side. The digital alarm clock atop the bedside table glows orange.3:46 a.m. I don't like it. The numbers are too big, the color too harsh. Three forty-six and yourewide awake and all alone! The numbers on my old alarm are a soft green. I like that better. Itsbad enough Im awake, I dont need an alarm clock mocking me.

    I wonder if I still have that alarm clock, whether it is in storage or whether it was sold atthe garage sale. I remember a woman coming up to me, holding a jewelry box Matt had given me.

    Would you take a dollar for this? she had asked.

    I had looked at it. It sported a pink sticker that read five dollars. Matt had given it to me onour first anniversary. Sure, I answered and then held out my hand while she dropped fourquarters in it.

    I wonder if tents have locks on them. I hope that Laney is warm. When she was a baby, Iused to check on her while she slept and a little bare foot was always poking out. I would tuck itback in. Protect her from the cold. Protect her. Even in her sleep.

    As she was packing to leave, I tried to give her an extra blanket to put in her backpack butshe laughed at me and told me that it was too heavy. She said her sleeping bag was rated toseveral degrees below zero, which was a good thing, because they might encounter snow in thehigher elevations. At the time, I just stood and stared at her. In the higher elevations?was that

  • 7/31/2019 Life is but a Dream: On the Lake - First Chapter


    my baby girl saying that? When she was a little over eighteen months old I had taken her outsideand stood her in the grass. She refused to take a step. She cried and held onto me and I had to goinside to get her shoes. Even after she started school, she seldom liked to walk in the grassbarefoot. And now she was talking about sleeping in a tent in the snow in higher elevations.Standing there, watching Laney stuff her backpack, I wanted to remind her of thattell her thatshe never even liked to be barefoot in the grass. But she walked from the room before I could say

    anything.I wonder about the locks again. Maybe once you get inside the tent, and zip yourself in,there is a little lock like the one you put on your luggage when you travel. I wonder, if there issuch a lock, what if they lose the key? How would they get back out of the tent? I wonder if theysleep with their backpacks in the tent, because, if they do, they could eat food from their packsuntil someone found them. Then I remember Laney telling me they would often be in very isolatedstretches of mountains. I remember there is a knife in her backpack. She could cut her way out ifthey lock the tent and have lost the key. I feel better knowing that. But, then, couldnt someonecut their way into their tent just as easily? My heart beats rapidly. I dismiss the thought. I thinkabout tent locks again and come to the conclusion they probably dont exist. I guess that if youare a person who sleeps in the wilderness in a tent, you probably dont give much thought tolocks. I wonder how Laney became such a person.

    I push my hair back. Sigh deeply. Try to make my breathing obey. I tug at the tee shirt

    and pull it from underneath me. I am still upset from the dream. Just a dream, I tell myself. It wasjust a dream. It is a recurring dreamone I have when Im overly tired or stressed, which is mostof the time now.

    I hate the dampness of the sheets. I scoot over to a drier spot. I am reminded of wakingfrom the same dream as a child, my sheets beyond damp and soaked with urine. Crying, scared,humiliated. Mother stumbling from her own sleep into the dark bedroom. The blinding light.Relief. More tears.

    Shhh. Youll wake your father. Get up. Get into the tub. Ill change these. Be quiet. Dontcry.

    And sometimes my fathers voice, a drowsy rumble asking what was wrong.Nothing, nothing! my mother would answer lightly. Just getting Grace a drink of water.

    And then she would whisper to me, No need to tell Daddy. It will be our secret.I could feel her embarrassment, her shame, even more acutely than my own. I

    embarrassed her. She was ashamed of me. We wouldnt tell. We hardly told each other. I wouldntlook at her as she scuttled back and forth, ripping the sheets off the bed and hiding them in thebathroom cupboard until they could be washed when my father left for work the next day. Iscrubbed myself and tried to replace the odor of urine with the scent of Zest. I pretended theywerent my sheets. And with my head bowed, my hair falling forward, I often cried into the tub.Water falling into water. Falling into water.

    I sigh again, still shaken from the dream. I flip over. The shower drips in the nearbybathroom. At home, or at least in the house that used to be my home, the water drips in themaster tub. I used to listen to it at night. Matt was supposed to fix it. It started dripping after helost his job. He said he would get around to it, but he never did. Maybe I should have seen that asa sign of things to come. A deterioration of the plumbing; a deterioration of the relationship.

    I try to steady my nerves. Taking a deep breath, I push away all these thoughts. Inhale.Exhale. I remind myself that I did not drown as a child. My mother, I am told, for I do not

    remember, spotted me in the pool a moment later, dove in, and pulled me to safety. She pressedher mouth against mine and, literally, breathed life back into my body.And now I am safe, I tell myself. Safe.

    The water drips.I push back the covers and get up. I cannot stand this bed for another moment. I walk

    through the darkened cabin and out onto the porch. A huge white moon is punctured by theblack branches of trees overhead. It seems too big, too close to the ground. Light pours down andfloods the woods. I am amazed at how far I can see. Everything about the moment seems surreal,detached from any sense of time or place.

  • 7/31/2019 Life is but a Dream: On the Lake - First Chapter


    I surprise myself by walking down the steps and onto the path that runs through thewoods and to the edge of the lake.

    It is a warm night. A gentle breeze begins to dry my tee shirt as I walk. The thought occursto me that no one in the world knows what I am doing right now. There is one other cabin on theisland, but I dont even know if anyone is in it. I know an older couple owns it, but I dont knowhow often they are here. I remember Matt telling me that most of the cabins are empty all week,

    filling up only on the weekends or during summer. I am probably alone. Matt and Laney, both indifferent states, are probably both asleepMatt on a cluttered couch in his parents old house andLaney in a tent with no locks. I move through the woods, and no one knows. Or cares. I recalllines from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a T.S. Eliot poem I read in college: I should havebeen a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. That is how I feel, as if noone in the universe cares what I am doing.

    I cross my arms as I walk and fight the urge to cry. Pine needles stick to my feet andcushion the path. A large-winged bird flaps from one tree to another and the sound of its wingsbrush against the night. Maybe an owl. I continue moving. Silent.

    I exit the woods and the pine needle path gives way to sand and random patches of unrulygrass. Even before I see it, I hear the lake. It splashes against the supports of a pier stretching outinto the water. I walk onto the pier and take another deep breath. The moon casts light across thesurface of the lake. I see nothing but dark water and a wide strip of shimmering moonlit waves,

    stretching into the distance. Somewhere nearby, I hear ducks in the water but cannot see them.I look toward the sky and tears slip from my eyes and slide down my neck. More tearsfollow and I look away from the sky and down the long wooden pier. One foot moves forward andthen another, until I am at the end of the pier and looking down into the wa...