Even perfection is prone to cracks and flaws. Our door opened and renters did come, but in less of a rush than we had hoped for. Thankfully it was enough to pay most of the mortgage and bills. The condo was only a one hour drive from my home, while my friend/co-owner lived five hours away. Because I lived closer, I sometimes did the cleaning between renters to save on costs. Because I lived closer, I also had greater access to the condo during unrented weeks.
Excuses to head to the lake began with the need to prepare for potential renters. I worked on waking up the tired interior, decorating in an ‘Adirondack’ style that included rustic bits and various incarnations of bears and moose. Searching for both the unique and the kitsch was a happy pastime and I poured my creative juices into the new venture. The need to prep ended, but the need to escape to the peace of the water and woods did not. When I reflect back on this period of time, I wonder if our marriage would have survived if the turmoil had not been tempered with the tranquility I found in my solitude there. Many hours were spent paddling or just floating quietly on the lake. Many nights passed in silence as I slept alone, no need to wait for the other side of the bed to be filled.
Occasionally friends joined me for weekend retreats that filled the space with laughter and light conversation. As our visits wore on serenity eased us into periods of contented silence. The setting sun often led us into surrender to our own shadows, and conversations delved into hidden disappointments and desires. Both with friends at my side and when alone, I sometimes felt an unfamiliar sense of expansion, beyond the lake and trees – an expansion that fed my curiosity, but also fought with my fears.
My parents made the three hour trip to the condo several times, traveling through mountains familiar from family camping trips long ago. My mother had often expressed her desire for a small place on the water, and here it was. I wondered if that had been part of my initial attraction here. My father and I were lured to the rowboat with fishing poles in hand. We cast our lines while sharing a mix of stillness and words – with an unfamiliar ease between us. Family trips to nearby lakes and streams were a common weekend activity growing up, so I was familiar with – if not skillful at – fishing. A fishing pole had rarely graced my grip since leaving home. But as I thought about my recent discovery of kayaking and the growing compulsion to spend more and more time on the water, it dawned on me. The behavior I had observed and questioned for much of my life – consisting of my father, brothers, and various other men rising before the sun, trekking to a body of water and sitting alone while repeatedly whipping a long stick to and fro – may actually have had little to do with catching fish!
My brothers and I learned at an early age how to thread squirming worms onto hooks and to safely remove flailing fish from our lines. After the day’s catch was complete, I was happy to join my mother in the kitchen to prep for the frying, leaving my father and brothers to gut and clean. Now, as I sat by my father’s side, other childhood memories floated by, including the early morning trips in his big red truck, just the two of us.
Ron and the kids were not frequent visitors. Spending time here as a family butted up against the reality of Ron’s reluctance to leave softball and its related segues, not to mention my teenagers’ drive away from togetherness in favor of growing independence. The shoreline tangle of half submerged limbs and reeds reminded me of the complicated jumble of our family’s life. At the same time the strong current of my emerging self swept me into the quiet water at the center of the lake again and again.