Hot, dry sand crunches with each step. It’s the end of summer, but somehow the sand hasn’t been softened by the endless plodding of feet along the shore. Despite the coarse feel, it’s not entirely unpleasant. The beach is filled with couples and families savoring one last weekend at the lake. Terry cloth portraits of superheroes and unicorns are strewn along the sand. Carefree legs race through sandcastle villages. A Labrador leaps with abandon as he chases a neon ball.
Putting one tentative foot forward into the crisp lake water, I gasp. There is nothing inviting about moving forward, yet one foot follows the other into the green, murky water. My feet begin to numb. At each step I expect the water to be less biting, while the chill continues to spread from feet to calves to thighs. Other swimmers plunge ahead, diving under and emerging with smiles. They gracefully stroke the surface with suntanned arms. They splash and flip with ease.
Internal voices shout, “Be like them!” and I’m suddenly submerged in icy wetness. Every inch of my skin is covered with goosebumps. I shiver and gaze back at the happy shoreline. Children inspect the sand for tiny seashells. Red plastic frisbees soar through the air. Sand sparkles. I should return to that place where I was warm and dry and happy, but sinewy hands begin to grasp at my heels and pull me under. I’ve gone out too far and my feet lose their grip. My head dips under again and again, and I gasp for light. Shrieks of laughter echo in the distance, taunting me. It’s cold and it’s dark and I want to go back, but my unseen adversary grips my legs and binds my arms.
The shoreline is hazy, with one person’s movement blending into another. Perhaps it’s only a mirage, and the truth is found in current misery. Uncertain, I lunge forward as my legs fight against the heavy current. I’m thrown back every few steps as I strain towards some distant, happy memory. Fetters of darkness loosen as I stumble out of the stagnant lake and collapse onto shore. The sun warms and dries my body, and I shudder with one final chill.
Looking out onto the water, waves shimmer. Sailboats are dashes in the distance. My hands grasp the sand. I turn my face towards the sun and greedily gulp in sunshine. A giggle of relief bubbles in my throat but is smothered before it erupts. Despite the firm ground below me, I can feel the darkness lurking, threatening to pull me under at the slightest slip.