Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Let Go Go!

My ten year old body was too small for the adult life preserver hugging my frame as I bobbed in the chilly June water of Lake Steilacoom.

I struggled to keep the tips of my water skiis balanced on either side of the bright orange ski rope. My body tipped to the left, dipping one ear into the roar of boat engines bellowing through the water. Above water, my right ear registered the crisp staccato of my father yelling.

"Straighten up. Keep your tips out of the water. And don't let go of the rope."

It had to be my tenth attempt. Each time, I emerged from the water like a newborn fawn. My knees wobbled, my legs strained, I could barely feel my spindly young arms stretched across the length of my skiis. There would be no balance, just awkward jerky movements and embarassing bathing suit mishaps before I toppled back into the water.

Exhaustion. Failure.

I wanted to go back to the safety of the shore and the comfort of making fun of other waterskiiers. But that would risk disappointing my father.

"Ready?" He barked over the hum of the engine.

Bethy, my childhood best friend, fidgeted in the seat next to my father, a large orange flag raised in her hand to let the other boats know that a skier was in the water. Not that they could miss the enormous Styrofoam Golden Arches of my life jacket marking my place in the water like the grave of a recently mourned Chocolate Lab.


I could see Beth getting anxious as my fathers patience waned. Even for a stranger, sitting with my father was like waiting for a job interview to begin.

He hung his head in frustration.

"This is it. We are going in after this."

I waved my hand furiously through the water to tread myself in position. Disappointing my father was simply not an option.

This was it.

I dug my fingernails into the foam forming a handle at the end of the ski rope.

"Hit it!" The magic words to set the circus in motion.

Dad pushed the gas lever all the way to the dash. I closed my eyes, steadied my legs and held on to the rope.

Water pushed in on all sides. I bent my legs, I used my strength to keep the ski tips steady.

Then it happened.

I felt my body begin to rise out of the water.

I'm doing it. I'm really doing it.

Frigid morning air slapped at my body. I awkwardly hung over my skiis, knees together, feet apart, bent at the waist as if I were leaning into the dishwasher to clean out the filter.

But I was doing it.

Bethy cast her innocent brown eyes up at my father from beneath her shaggy bangs, seeking approval to lower the flag. Dad shot a look over his back.

"Straighten Up

He raised his eyebrows towards Beth and she lowered the flag.

I shifted my weight and tried to erect my back. I slowly brought my back up and let my knees relax. Dad let the speed drop a little and I brought the skiis parallel.

I was hydroplaning across the water. Exhilarated, I smiled into the oncoming rush of lake spray and wind.

I could see my brothers and sisters on the dock. Erik and Katryn jumped up and down waving their towels, Kirsten looked up from the hammock. Although Maiken and the twins were too young to sense the enormity of the moment, they fed off the energy of their siblings and ran frantically back and forth on the dock.

We passed the Stuetsman house, the Klein's house and the house of the guy that sat in front of me in Spanish class. We surprised a family of unsuspecting Canadian Geese that squacked and tap danced across the water as we approached.

But just then, as we circled back towards the shore for my victory lap, the boat hit it's own wake, hit my left ski, separated my stance and sent me face down into the Lake.

I didn't let go of the rope.

My father's speed was steady and I opened my mouth to cry out but nothing came out. Instead water rushed in and through my body like a high powered colonic stuffed in the wrong orifice.

Lake water filled my nose, traveled down my throat, entered my stomach and began storing itself in my swollen toes. Somewhere back twenty feet I felt the skiis rip off my ankles

But I wasn't letting go of that rope.

I can only imagine now how I looked from the shore; my body dragging behind Dad's new speed boat at 30 mph.

I imagine a crowd of concerned neighbors cupping their hands over their eyes to try and focus on the commotion in the water. I see my mother sitting up from her lounge chair, holding up the straps of her bikini top, yelling to my father. Turn around.

Had he turned around, he would have seen his daughter dragging in the water, clinging to the ski rope, her head creating a wake that rose above the water like a Great White shark fin.

Don't let go. Hold on tight.

Eventually, Father did turn to see me. Beth waved the orange flag. Mom lay back down to take in the sun. My sisters returned to braiding one another's hair. My brother stopped roaring with laughter and refocused on trying to throw the dog in the water.

My father pulled the boat around and plucked my weakened body from the lake. We rode back to the dock in silence. Shivering and shaken, I crawled out of the boat and lay my stomach across the dock. My wet body imprinted the soft wood like the outline of body at a crime scene.

Peeking through the slats in the deck, I caught my breath while I watched a school of fish swim under my shadow.

I will never get back in the water again.

But I did.

Afternoons end found me bobbing up and down in an inner tube with Bethy while my brothers and sisters engaged in a game of Marco Polo.

I breathed the lake that summer and every following summer of my youth until I was 17. Mom joked that my toes were webbed and I was growing scales. But I was determined to tame the water that surrounded my childhood.

And it would take me many years, to finally let go.

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