I wrote the following essay the summer of last year.
I spent the year in Seattle. It was beautiful, so I’m going back again in September. It would take thirty-six hours to take the two thousand one hundred forty-two mile car route that Google Maps recommends, ferrying over Lake Michigan and then driving through Wisconsin and the five states that make up our Northern border with Canada. But my plane is already booked for September, and I plan to spend junior year in England. That leaves senior year for the long road trip. It can wait until then.
My college is on the quarter system, so we start and end the year late. Early June was when I breached the overcast sky and soared dutifully home to Grand Rapids. The air has been thick in Grand Rapids this summer. Just about as thick with humidity as Seattle is with clouds and mist—which they call rain. I have been interning with a refugee resettlement agency, and when I leave the chilled office in the afternoon I have to wade through the air to get to my car. By the time I sit down and close the door, the air has covered my clothes so generously that I stick to the driver’s seat. It makes me feel like a fish, covered with raw egg and breadcrumbs, being simultaneously pan-fried and baked in my car. Shocking after months living in the Pacific Northwest, which mainly hovers in the happy range of fifty to seventy-five degrees.
Swimming has become surreal. The sun makes pool water almost as hot as the air outside it, and the air outside it is almost as dense as the pool water. You get the feeling that you could just keep swimming up past the water’s surface and into the sky. But there wouldn’t be any great motivation to do that. You wouldn’t find any mountains to look at, just the water tower. I suppose if you swam high enough, as high as my homebound plane flying over the mountains and rivers of the western states, you might see patterns emerge in the miles of crops. That would be worth it. Or maybe you would get sucked into a jet engine and go home in a different sense of the term.
Yesterday my dad and I went to the summer cottage of a man from our church. His backyard dumps into one of Western Michigan numerous lakes, this one long and skinny. A bunch of guys came to eat grilled chicken and enjoy the lake, which the sun had nearly transformed into a hot tub. Between the twenty-something men that came, we had two boats, two jet skis, a paddle boat, a kayak, things to grab on to while the boat drags you across the water, and enough life jackets to allow most of the toys to be played with at the same time. Those not knee boarding, water skiing, or jet skiing could simply swim, or sit on the shore. I nabbed a jet ski whenever I could.
Growing up in New Hampshire and then Michigan, my family didn’t spend much time on the water, even though we’ve always lived an hour away from the Atlantic or Lake Michigan. Because of this I’ve always felt kind of clueless about water sports. As you grow older you become less worried about looking stupid while doing things that don’t matter so much. I had never jet skied so I was apprehensive of it, but when my dad said, “You should try it!” after taking his own casual tour of the lake, I swum over. Worrying that it would take most of the evening for me to learn how to use it, I mounted my hippocampus and took the reigns.
As it turns out, driving a jet ski is very easy. After turning it on, I traveled beyond the dock on to the lake. It is weird to say “on to the lake” because you shouldn’t be able to be on a lake. Evolution chose very few species to give Christ-like walking-on-water abilities to, and she wasted it on bugs and snakes, with some other assorted reptiles. For creatures such as us, without such abilities, the nature defying acts of waterskiing and sailing are thrilling. The rush they produce also seems to be speed related, so floating on a log doesn’t quite do it for me, although it may for you, in which case—wonderful. After five minutes of this rush I returned to the small beach for dinner.
After eating I went out again, this time with my dad sitting behind me, along for the ride. We used the bigger, more stable jet ski while Ändy, a German guy my age staying in town for a couple months, used the other. His host dad, also a German, brought him. Maybe it is my water sport inferiority complex, but it seemed that my new German friend was infinitely better at maneuvering his craft. I figured that it must be one of those magical abilities embedded into all Europeans. He turned so much faster than me. He could also get really close to my jet ski and then turn sharply to send a big splash of water at me. Later, while listening to him talk with his host father, I learned that the Germans call this verspritzen.
Dad hopped off the craft at our next landing, but Ändy and I went out again. I wanted to verspritz. Some unlucky fisherman sullenly looked on as we raced each other around the lake, bouncing off our own ripples. My turning skills increased enough to avoid his verspritzen, but not enough to make my own. So I gave that up and instead squeezed the gas lever to hit top speed—they could reach forty-five mph, maybe faster. Between thoughts of This is what all the fun rich people do in the movies and Some people die this way, I glanced up to see pink clouds mask the sun’s escape into the west to warm the city where I will soon live again.