I am dreaming that someone is driving our RV while we sleep. This concerns me because it isn’t supposed to be driven with beds open. I wake to realize that the sound of the engine is only the air conditioner, and the RV’s rocking is from someone walking around, not rolling roads. Rain pelts our roof and I peek outside. We are nestled in a copse of trees that seem to meet at a point above us.
This is either our last day, or second to last. Christopher checks his map app one more time. Yesterday it told us we were 12 hours from our goal — twice as long as our average drive, and well worth another night on the road. But at this moment it says we are only 9 hours away, and hopes rise.
But I draw a line: we are not busting out of here until I get some exercise. If I don’t move my body before we start driving again, there will be levels of crankiness no one wants to see. Besides, we are in the forest! Next to a lake! We don’t get that every day.
“Let’s go over to the beach.” Christopher and I are in agreement, and the boys do not protest.
We need to drive to get to the beach part of the lake, so we clean up, put everything back in its place so that we’ll be ready to roll when we’re done swimming. We pull away from our campsite and find a locked barrier across the final stretch of road leading to the beach. A sign says “Beach Opens 11 a.m.” Another says “Road Closed.”
Thank goodness for my grandfather’s guiding philosophy, a posthumous life lesson that has stood me well in countless settings like these: “It doesn’t say ‘absolutely.'”
We park our rig and walk around the barrier.
Actually, I jog — and I do not like jogging. But my legs and heart are greedy for exertion, and they are taking what they want, step after step. It feels good to move, and to separate ahead of my family, to be alone in a circle of space for a moment, to hear the sounds of insects and squirrels and birds and leaves whispering. The road curves, and for a fleeting moment it occurs to me to hide and shout “Boo!” when they appear, as if my boys might find me amusing.
In the humidity, the jogging lasts maybe ten minutes. I keep walking, and the lake opens before me. It is wider than the state park lake in Kansas, and wilder. I descend down a grassy panoramic expanse to water’s edge. About fifty yards to my left is the sandy beach and a small section of lake cordoned off by buoys and rope to designate a swimming area.
“I wish I brought my bathing suit!” Christopher exclaims as he catches up to me, his voice the definition of wistful. I know he is disappointed to miss a chance to submerge and swim.
“Take your clothes off and go in,” I encourage him.
A quarter century ago, before we were engaged, he and I walked along a stretch of beach near my apartment in Venice. There must have been moonlight. I must have had my shoes off, feet in the water, and it must have felt warm. There must have been a siren song, too, because I stripped and swam in. He added his clothes to my pile on the sand, and we floated and bobbed over waves. That was the first and last time.
I turn to look up the hill at my boys approaching, and when I look back for Christopher, I see his clothes hung on a hook and him gliding into the water, a look of peace on his face. We all walk toward him, each of us is weighing our options. He looks so content. The water is so warm. The boys take off their shoes and socks. Emmett removes his shorts, and Aaron pulls his sweatpants up to his knees. I remove my shoes and socks and roll up my sweatpants like Aaron, thinking it will be enough to wade in up to my shins.
It will not.
“Sorry, boys, you’re doing to have to deal,” I say, taking off my pants. I wade in to the height of my thighs, my hands gracing the water. Better, but still not enough. Back I go to the sand to hang up my shirt and — “Sorry again, kids” — and I am down to my skivvies. I plunge in. Emmett is in all the way, too. The three of us encourage Aaron to do the same, to come further, to do what we like. “Stop inviting me!” he implores. “I always thought I wanted to be included, but now I don’t.” He’s joking, and he’s not.
The water is as warm and soft as the air. I swim to the buoy, and repeating my grandfather’s mantra, “It doesn’t say absolutely,” I go beyond it. There is something in me that needs to prove — usually to myself — that I am not contained by others’ artificial boundaries. Is this despite my conventional life that appears completely contained by boundaries? Or because of it?
Later we will stand in our wet underclothes trying to air dry enough to put our clothes back on. It’s not working, so I tell the boys that if they don’t want to see me naked they should look away, and then take off my wet underclothes so I can put on my shirt and pants without soaking them. Feeling renewed, we head back to where we left the RV. Just then, the National Forest staff pull up. Clothed, in the nick of time.
“That your RV back there?” The man has a silver mustache and is driving a green golf cart. His voice drips Kentucky molasses.
“Yes sir, we thought we’d swim before we have to leave before a long travel day,” Christopher explains. I stand off to the side, my arms folded across my chest for modesty.
There is no reckoning or admonishment. There is only small talk and kindness. “Y’all be safe now, and y’all come back.”