by Ginger Teppner
Although the shore is rocky, the bottom of Wilson Bay is sandy, which makes it a nice body of water to set anchor and go for a swim. It’s normally an easy trip around Dablon Point–a ten minute ride. The wind was already picking up by the time we decided to take the boat out. When my father makes a schedule, he likes to stick to it.
As soon as we hit the lake proper, I knew I was in trouble. The chop was rough, and I suffer from intense motion sickness. Even the assisted pull-up machine at the gym makes me queasy. The wind was pushing the waves from the West, so the bay was just as rough as the lake. Before the anchor was set, I dove into the water and swam for terra firma. I contemplated walking the five miles home in my bathing suit, without shoes, so as not to have to get on the lurching vessel ever again.
Wilson beach is covered in various sizes of smooth surf-weathered stones. There are also larger flat sedimentary rocks, with fossil imprints that used to fascinate me as a child, and huge boulders. I scrambled to the closest flat rock and sat to absorb some of its heat. The water was chilly and the wind was brisk. I was nauseous and freezing.
Both of my daughters are certified lifeguards, but this fact didn’t stop me from panicking every time they swam below the turbulent surface. I reasoned to calm myself: the water was only five feet deep, they were strong swimmers, I was overprotective, everything would be fine. But I knew if the unthinkable happened, if they got swept under, I would not be able to save them. I was nauseous and freezing and uncomfortably nervous.
My father is seventy-six years old. Despite being in very good physical shape, he has been having trouble with his Achilles tendons, so when he dove into the water and started to make his way toward shore I started to panic in earnest. He swam a little and then walked the remainder of the distance slowly and surely with his mouth set in a firm line. He concentrated on staying upright and on not swallowing any water, while I imagined my entire family drowning in front of my eyes.
Safely on shore, the uneven rocky terrain proved daunting. He stumbled to find his footing and crumpled into a sitting position about three feet in front of me. I watched him from my stony perch. He sat with his legs apart in front of him, knees bent the way men often sit. His shoulders were slumped a little. If I were sitting closer I might have reached out and put my hand on his back, a small sign of solidarity. An acknowledgement that to age is no simple matter. When one of the girls was under the water for what seemed like too long, he turned to me and asked, “Where’s Frances?” I come by my anxieties naturally.
My father is my America. He is a man who always tries to do what’s right. He is organized, steadfast, reliable, fair. This does not mean he doesn’t make mistakes, but he is coachable, a team player, a good sport. He is honest and kind. He will always extend a hand. When I was younger, his rules and limits seemed oppressive, suffocating, and simplistic, but I have come to realize that his solidity is what allowed me to explore beyond my perceived boundaries. It was knowing, albeit unconsciously, that he was always there firmly rooted and consistent that allowed me to become me, despite my fears.
My daughters are also my America. They are young and fresh. They are trying to find their creative paths, learning to be responsible, discovering the nuances of love in the age of contradiction and lunacy. They are bright lights with sweet hearts. They are pure potential for all things good. This doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, but they are coachable, team players, good sports. They are honest and kind. They will always extend a hand.
In the current political climate I find myself sitting daily on those flat warm rocks, chilled and sick to my stomach with dread, and trying to meditate away my fears that my America might drown. One thing is certain in this time of uncertainty, I am a strong swimmer. Had any of my family members struggled, I would have instantly been in the water. I would have attempted a rescue or gone down trying. Your father is my father. Your daughters are my daughters. Your America is my America, and I am a strong swimmer.
The waves were bigger and the wind was stronger on the way home. I sat in the front of the boat willing myself not to puke. Each time the bow slammed down on the rough water it felt like my internal organs were being crushed together. At one point, I looked back at my dad. He glanced at me and chuckled mischievously acknowledging in his own way that the lake was really too rough. The lake was really too rough, but we made it home and nobody drowned.