The water is so warm that I almost don’t notice I’ve stepped into the lake. It’s so inviting that I keep on going until I’m in water mid-thigh deep. I hear two guys on the dock nearby talk about fishing in between guitar strums. I think that they notice me because I hear a joke about not being bait, and I remember that there are alligators here. Here the water is grounding; here things are peaceful.

***

The water burns my sinuses. I shouldn’t have unplugged my nose. I sit up immediately, squeezing my eyes shut and rubbing my face. When the pain fades I lean forward, turn the shower off and unplug the bath drain. Here it is almost peaceful. I lean back again, this time climbing my feet up against the wall to force the rest of me under. This is probably why I dream about drowning nowadays. The sound of the water draining from the tub has replaced the sound of the shower and is loud enough to drown out any thoughts. Here I am creating my own calm.

This time I open my eyes, another bad idea. The light on the ceiling looks like a big, buttery moon rippling on the surface of the water. My eyes hurt and I am again reminded of swim practices, which promised to be an outlet for adolescent angst. They were not. The constant moving never allowed any thoughts to settle.

I sit back up to gaze at the sun outside the bathroom window. My skin is golden in the afternoon light. I’ve already become paler without the sun because in the summer I’m one shade darker than brown. Its heat is calm and powerful. Every time the sun begins to sear I have a brief moment of panic: “Will I burn?” The sun is weak in New Haven, not like it is at home. Sometimes I am powerless without the sun. I try to embrace the darkness. Sink into it. But we mar the dark with so much artificial light and sound. I need to buy some blackout shades on Amazon.

I climb out of the tub and dry my hair. I can’t be too tough because I worry I will lose it all one day. I pull on the wool socks I bought before my first FOOT trip. I only hike for the pauses. Even at a vista I don’t really feel calm because I know I’ll be moving again. The trail becomes a blur. More roots, leaves and branches. A glimpse of sun through the leaves. A small brook with a few wide-leaved marsh plants. I once read a quote somewhere about how this generation will never enjoy the dappled sunlight through leaves. “Fuck you,” I think to them.

Now the sun coming through my slats is a deep orange. I’m blinded twice as I bend down to pick my shirt. I catch a glimpse of myself in my bedroom mirror. The shadows make me look painfully thin. I don’t really care anymore.

My mother calls for dinner. The calm is broken.

After dinner I grab my keys and go for a drive. I listen to SICKO MODE with the AC off and the windows down. I don’t know any of the lyrics but it’s loud. I drive along the lake. The trees on the other side are like detailed paper cuttings silhouetted by the last rays of the sun. Most of the sky is a dark navy blue. I park and put on my sister’s flip-flops, the only shoes I can find in the car. I walk down to the beach and step into the sand. She will kill me if she knows I got them sandy.

I leave my wallet and keys and phone on the scant beach. I am here to restore the calm from my ritual in the shower, which was broken by dinner. I take my shoes off and wiggle my toes in the sand. The sand feels chaotic, and I want it gone. I decide to wash it away.

Frankie | frankiegallistal@gmail.com .