I remember the warm sun on my face as my uncle took me out to the lake for a day of fishing. I was maybe twelve years old, pudgy with thick glasses. The great outdoors were not my friend. I can still smell the slimy stink of the bait tanks outside the little boat shop on the shore of the muddy water, the humid air inside that was hotter than the bright summer day outside. I didn’t mind the heat or the smells, I was out with my uncle and having a good day.
He rented a little rowboat and we headed out on the lake. I had a new fishing pole my dad had sent me for Christmas. I didn’t see my dad very often; he lived with his new family far away in Utah. The fishing rod meant a lot to me, and even though I wasn’t very good at using it, and couldn’t take a fish off the hook even if I caught one, I still treasured it. We paddled out to the middle of the lake and spent hours trying to catch fish. I don’t think we caught anything at all.
What I remember most, though, was when my uncle decided to take a nap. He told me to row us in to shore, something I swore I knew how to do because of my time in summer camp the year before. The truth was, I wasn’t a very good rower, and as he snored in the afternoon sun, I struggled to try to get the boat back to the dock. I remember panic slowly seeping into me, realizing in a flash that if something happened to my uncle, there was no way I could get back to the safety of dry land; I couldn’t swim and my arms already felt like they were ready to fall out of their sockets.
As it happened, my uncle did wake up and he pulled the boat to shore without trouble. He teased me about not being able to get us back to the dock, but I think he saw how terrified I was at the thought of being trapped out on that murky lake.
We stayed at the shore until late evening, fishing off the side of the rocky shale. Fireflies floated around us, little motes of light in the dark. By the time we left, I was exhausted. I fell asleep in my uncle’s car on the way home and my mother had to wake me up and lead me to my bed. I passed out immediately.
That’s the memory I cling to most when I think of summer, when I remember warm breezes and lapping water. I remember the fear of being stuck on the lake mixed with the joy of spending a day with my uncle and being able to use my new fishing pole. These are the things that stick with us, through all the long years, bad days and black nights. They shape us and define us in ways we don’t always understand.
Sometimes I think back to that day, and I wonder if maybe I’m still there, stuck on that boat floating in the middle of the lake, passed out from the heat and barely alive. Will I wake up there someday? Would that be such a bad thing? Or will it fade from my memory, becoming nothing more than a ghost of summers past.