The lake was large and deep. The water while blue on the surface darkened quickly, so much that I could not see the kicking of my own feet. My arms pushed and pulled at a rapid pace to keep myself afloat in what seemed like the exact center of the cold body of water. I jumped into this, I dove heard first and swam to the middle without question or thought of personal safety. I loved the water, I felt safe in the water having always been a strong swimmer, the feeling of each stroke and the chill of the splashes hitting my hands then gently gliding down my arm creating a little wake after each dragging of my body deeper and deeper into the lake. As I guided my body out further and further something felt different. I stopped paddling, wading while slowly turning my body around to look back at the shores on either side of me.
They were just standing there, all of them. Everyone I had known in my life. They were layered like they had each bought a ticket with an assigned space to witness me in the water this day. They stood so still. No one spoke, no one gestured, there wasn’t a gesture of recognition, they just watched me. I could see all of them as if I was at the shore right in front of them, then I could see myself as if I was standing amongst them. The only sound was the gentle lapping of the water against the shore from the slight breeze that ran down surface of the water. A chill hit the back of my head and ran down unfazed by the depths at which I had swam making my shoulders shudder and curling my toes. My feet continued to kick to keep my head above the surface as I gazed upon the crowd of familiar faces. They reminded me of a newly planted forest staggered but organized. They just stood, arms to their sides, chests facing me, greeting me directly without the slightest whisper. Their eyes initially showed no emotion, their faces show no inkling worry or wonder. They were just witnesses and I stood there with them.
Across the shore from where they stood there was movement. A pine tree branch moved with the grasp of a hand pulling it behind the approacher. She bent at the waste to avoid the tall ones while gracefully guiding the others into her past. She carefully watched each step she took, over roots and rocks, around puddles and holes, on her way to the shoreline alone. My body in the water turned around when the others looked up to see what was coming on the other side. It was her; she was wearing a pair of hiking shoes, jeans, and a Marvel Thor t-shirt with her hair pulled back into an easily kept pony tail. After a few more steps she stood at the waters edge and like the others just stared straight ahead at the shoulders, neck and head that hovered above the water. Her face was far less void of emotion as the others were. She bore a questioning look that left me puzzled, as she knew I loved swimming in lakes, she knew I was a strong swimmer, and she knew that I felt at peace in the water. Yet her concern led me to worry. Was I missing something?
I turned back to the others on the opposite shore. Picking up on a pattern to the order in which they stood. The people I am the closest to in my life stood nearest to the shore, the ones that I either no longer knew or were no longer close to stood in the back. The others, the ones who stood between the two extremes ranged from friends I am in regular contact with to acquaintances that I knew but lost touch with. It was like a graph of my life that started with those dearest to me and faded back each row displaying people that meant less and less to my life. My boys stood front and center where my closest friends and my cousins flanked them. In the next row stood my aunt and uncle, a few more friends, and a few more cousins. This led all the way to the back to people that haven’t been in my life in years, the ones that meant something at one point but worked their ways out in one way or another. As I witnessed each face in the crowd I saw those who had passed, specifically a mentor, watching as he did when he was alive, with an intensely serious look on his welcoming face.
Kicking and kicking to stay a float with the hopes that I could figure out what this all meant my legs began to tire but I couldn’t move yet. I turned back towards her on the other shore and I tried to yell to her. I could only get out part of the question “what’s the mat….” as my body sunk instantly below the water pulling my head under. Resurfacing now kicking and paddling my arms harder, I yelled to her again “what is everyone staring at…..” again, like a heavy weight had been instantly attached to my feet, my body was yanked under sinking a little further this time. Finding my way above the water once again I said nothing but the display was such that she was crying now. I looked back over my shoulders to the other shore where those closest were waving their arms and yelling to me frantically. I could hardly hear their cries but finally made out someone yelling “You can’t go over there anymore!” She was crying though, I had to at least try. Mustering up strength I began paddling and kicking with every muscle I had, with every ounce of energy I had. My head down turning from side to side for air, I glided through the water with speed and agility. Feeling I was nearing the shore I took a moment to look up…….I hadn’t moved an inch. I had swam for 10 minutes easily enough to make it to shore, yet I found myself out in the middle of the lake still, bobbing up and down confused. She looked up at me eyes filled with tears that dropped one by one into the lake creating a ripple that could be felt where I floated. Now I was the one staring, I was the one confused, I was the one crying. I wanted so badly to reach her and tell her everything would be okay but I couldn’t get there, I wasn’t allowed to be there.
I turned around to the friends at the shore and watched as slowly the ones in the back started to filter away. Each taking their moment to look once more then turn their backs and walk away. Row after row, as if they were being ushered out one at a time. A single file exodus from the lake, from my life, and from this moment. The front two rows were now waiving and shouting encouragement for me to make my way towards their side of the lake, to make the same push that I had tried to make towards her but now to them. My boys, my friends, and a few relatives screamed with a pitch that signaled their fears. They spoke to each other, searching for new things to say, for branches they could reach out to me, for logs they could roll into the lake to help me stay afloat preserving what little energy I had remaining to make it to them. I looked over my shoulder at her, crying still, trying to say something to me but with a voice so choked up the words could not make it through the breeze. Turning back towards the shore with now a visibly smaller crowd I began to swim. The energy was low but I pushed, my muscles burned from the last attempt but I mustered what ever I had left. With each raise of my arms I spread my hands as wide as they could go, grasping the water in my palm and pushing behind me, each leg kicked firing a splash into the air. This time I looked ahead as I paddled and once again each kick, each stroke, each scream of effort and pain took me no closer to them. I stopped. I looked to them; they stopped, and looked at me. The next row slowly turned and walked away, then a few from the next row, and a few from the next. Those in the front bore a look of frustration, whether for me or at me, I could not tell. The words stopped encouraging, the waiving ceased, and they stood in disbelief.
I am now unable to look in either direction. I feel I have let those on both shores down. I tried. I tried so hard to make it to all of them but I couldn’t make the progress that was needed. I cannot make eye contact with my boys, with my friends, and with the few relatives that remained. I cannot look over towards her and see her tears, her pain, and her worry without being able to help. So I stare ahead with them surrounding me on the shores. I am frustrated, I am exhausted, I am weary, and I am afraid. A breeze glides smoothly up the water towards my face, the trees sway ever so slightly, the slow motion movement of all things around me brings a smile to my face. I find comfort in the water, I feel at home on a lake. The smile is one of knowing, I turn to the shore with those who stayed and I smile, they look back at me and smile. I turn to the other shore, towards her, and I smile. She wipes the tears from her face, takes a deep breath, and smiles while taking the deepest of breaths, letting it out with a sigh. Slowly I lower my shoulders below the surface, then my neck, the water rises to slightly cover my head. I am lowered into a place of comfort. Knowing that I could just breathe in the water, I try just that. I slowly open my mouth but instead of breathing the only thing I can do is drink. I try over and over to breath it all in, but all I take away are sips of the water that I am comfortably trapped in. The air never seems to leave my lungs. I don’t ever seem to be fully below the surface but I cannot crest.
Standing now on the shore I can see the top of my head in the water, I see the opposite shore, I see those around me. We say not a word, we do not cry, we do not seek, we just watch.
And this is where I woke up……..