The grass still wet with morning dew gently kisses my feet as I walk across it, slowly making my way down to the dock. The cool air feels moist against my skin and would chill me to the bone if it weren’t for the blanket wrapped around my shoulders. As I step onto the dock, the old wood begins to creak beneath me and the familiar shakiness makes me feel ironically secure. A lifetime of memories has taken place here. The water lies still under a light fog that’s starting to move out to make room for a clear sunny day. I feel as though the whole world is sleeping. Looking out onto the horizon, I see a lone man in a canoe, the image just poking through the fog. I laugh at how much this looks like a photo on a postcard. I sit in the big wooden chair I’d made with my father years before and feel so at home that I can’t help but smile.
This cottage is more than a building by a lake; this is my life, my soul. You spend so much of your childhood in a place like this and you find that no other part of the world can make you as happy. I’ve tried, and I’ve failed. I left my cottage for ten years trying to forget one fateful autumn night, only to realize that not only was I leaving the bad memories, but also all the great ones. All the tears that I cried and the laughs that I had were left behind to be forgotten. I left all that I was in that building and never looked back. Until now that is.
At the age of seventy it seems that looking back is the only thing left for me to do. I try to look forward, but can’t get very far. I know I’m dying. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m afraid of clinging to a life that’s not worth living, and I don’t want to be alive when I can’t think or move on my own. I don’t consider that much of a life at all. So here I sit. I’ve come back to the place that I had so easily tossed away not long ago in an attempt to shed a painful memory. I had no idea that just coming here would bring my past to life.
I close my eyes and I can see my sister and I splashing around in the shallow water, our innocent laughter echoing in my mind, our hair blonde from the summer sun, a strong contrast against our dark skin tanned from all the time spent outdoors. The picture is so clear that I can taste the water on my lips and smell the sunscreen covering us head to toe.
The call of a loon interrupts my memory and I’m pulled back into the early morning. The fog is mostly clear now and I can see the mainland stretched out before me. Hunger starts to creep in so I get up and walk back to the cottage. The old building is in desperate need of repair and I’m sure to anyone else it looks quite horrible, but when I look at it, I see the way it was forty years ago in all it’s glory. The wear starting to show makes it even more beautiful to me, like a woman aging gracefully. All the little imperfections becoming more prominent and bringing the cottage to life. Nothing is perfect in this world and sometimes it’s the flaws that make something great.
I make myself two slices of toast and smother them in jam and peanut butter just as I did as a child. Some habits never die. I start heading outside but turn back in a sudden change of heart to put on my bathing suit. As I pull on the suit I'm thankful there are no mirrors in the cottage. Unfortunately my body has too many imperfections and my rule that I apply to the small building clearly doesn’t apply to my own being. Not even Picasso could make that image beautiful. I head back outside into the morning sun and the grass now feels warm beneath my feet. Of all the things I’ve experienced in my life, walking barefoot is one of the greatest. When I get to the dock, I spread my towel out and lie down on my back. I’ve spent the last few days reminiscing over happier times, but now I have to face the real reason I came back here. I smile one last time, thinking of the fun I’ve had but then grow quickly solemn as I prepare myself for the story to come. I know this won’t be easy.
It’s early in the evening on a day in November and my daughter and I are crossing the lake on our way to the cottage. She wants me to celebrate my 60th birthday up there. The water is rough and the air is cold. I’m nervous because I can’t swim well anymore and I’m afraid that the boat will tip. Amy’s trying to keep me calm, but I can hear the fear creeping into her voice. “Just hold on Mom. We’ll be there soon!” Her voice is barely audible over the sound of the waves crashing into the boat. We near the cottage and when we’re about fifteen feet off-shore a large wave swells past.
The boat is lifted high then drops down quickly. The water is low enough as it is and with the end of the wave the motor crashes into the rock bottom. It’s knocked right off the back of the boat. If we don’t do something fast, we’ll be swept out into deeper water where the waves will be bigger and the boat could be flipped. My heart is pounding so hard it feels like my chest will break open. Amy grabs my arm and pulls me close. “I think I can swim in from here! I’ll go get the other boat and come back for you!”
“Don’t leave me, Amy...please don’t leave me!”
“We don’t have any other choice! Don’t worry! It’s gonna be okay! Just hang on tight Mom!” With that she runs to the front of the boat and dives into the ice cold water. I frantically search the dark liquid looking for her to resurface. She never does. “Amy! Amy! Oh God where are you! Amy!” I’m screaming so loud that I swear it’s tearing my throat apart. Panic takes over my entire body and I’m so scared that I can’t even cry. No tears will fall to my cheeks. I lean over the edge of the boat and reach out hoping I’ll grab hold of her, but I never do. My baby is drowning and I can’t do anything to help her. I know that she’s gone.
Tears are pouring down my cheeks now as I lie on the dock remembering the night that I lost Amy. I was stranded on that boat while evening turned to night and I was dragged across the lake screaming for somebody to help. When I finally reached shore the next day I knew that my life had ended with Amy’s. She was all that I had and all that I lived for. Now she was gone and I had nothing. People say a parent should never have to bury a child - I never did. Amy’s body was never found. I closed up the cottage after that and wanted nothing to do with it, foolishly thinking I’d leave the painful memories there. But, of course, I was wrong and the memories just followed me. I fought to stay alive to live a life not worth living, but now I know what I need to do. I need to say goodbye, not to Amy, but to this life that I’m clinging to. I stand up and walk to the dock’s edge. Taking one last look up at the cottage I breathe in deeply. I dive into the cool water knowing I’ll never break free of its grip. I’m coming, Amy. I’ll see you soon.
© 2004 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board