My current crush and I will visiting the same local pond I wrote about a year ago in “Forever Snug.” It is Memorial Day weekend in the United States, and summer appeared here last week in the Mid-Hudson Valley with a surprising suddenness. Or that was just me not noticing things, a terrible habit for someone who types as much as I do. The column, edited to reflect 2016:
It was one of those days in which the lifeguards outnumbered the swimmers. We were at a local park that features a small lake and beach: on holiday weekends families travel to more prominent parks that feature rides as an added distraction. So the crowds were elsewhere even on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and we were one couple out of maybe ten groups. Two families, each with three water-loving toddlers, splashed about, and none of the children were yet old enough to test their limits against the flimsy, algae-covered nylon rope demarcating the “deep end” of the pond on three sides. The lifeguards chatted with the families, flirted with each other, bought each other ice cream, and burned off the ice cream calories breaking each others’ speed records chasing after the tuneful ice cream truck.
I noticed a three-year-old, possibly younger, girl in a sundress walk alone and with steady purpose towards the water from her family’s towel on the far side of the sand. The width of a football field. Past other families on other towels. She was in a beautiful bubble of self and purpose. There was a man standing in the ankle-deep water, looking over other children. He appeared to hear her before she made a noise, and Daddy surprised her with his awareness of her presence before she could surprise him.
A sense of safety, real or co-imagined by each person on the sand and in the water and in the paddleboats, had settled over the patch of families like we were each of us snatching that last 30 minutes of snug snooze in our beds. One of those days, unbearably rare or unfathomably common, in which each moment is its own happy ending.
The children were the only people with any charisma, and their concerns—um, is “Turbo” a character, a song, or a movie? I have no clue and I may never learn but who/whatever he/she/it is, one six-year-old needed her mom to once and for all finally offer respect to him/her/it—their concerns were what mattered for one afternoon, even to my girlfriend and I, who do not yet have children but want to have them someday.
One kid, old enough to know that she is old enough to know better, could be heard happily shivering from yards away. There is a thin line between “too long in the water” (physical reality) and “in the water too long” (parents’ declaration). “Uh-vuh-vuh-vuh-vuh-vuh-vuh!” That is one of the universal sounds that every kid knew when I was a child; that uncontrolled shivering in not-at-all-cold water was like the closing bell at 5:00 p.m. on a shop floor: we all knew what it heralded. Strangely, it heralded the hunt for more ice cream, so the shivering had nothing to do with body temperature. It was after 4:00 p.m., anyway, and Jen and I responded like we were parents ourselves and started to put away our things: books we did not start to read because sharing our words was more important, empty water bottles, my still-dry towel.
“I remember that sound,” I said. “Me, too,” she offered.
Our unending conversation continued, like it does.
“I didn’t like being that age, and worse, I knew it,” I said. She nodded.
“I remember having a calendar on which I crossed out the days as if I was counting down to who-knows-what.” She had the same memory: “We believed there had to be something better, love.”
“I’m happy where I am now,” Jen said. I am, too.
If that is the only gift I ever receive in this life, I am okay with this, because it is the only one I ever wanted. Well, that, and one more Strawberry Fribble®.
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