We spent our summers on a lake in Upstate New York. His family called it a "camp." I had never heard of a cottage or summer home called a "camp," but in the Adirondack Mountain area, that is what they were called. I was young and had so much to learn.
I spent my days puttering, playing house. I brought him sandwiches and coffee while he worked in the garage. I walked along the shoreline every morning. I spread a blanket on the grass to read. My skin turned the color of cinnamon. I marveled at the different kinds of flowers and butterflies. I picked a bouquet of trilliums one day only to have him tell me it was against the law.
One morning I took the old rowboat out onto the lake, testing the strength of the muscles in my arms. I could only row so far before I was overcome with vertigo. It made me panic and row back to shore. Back to solid ground. The waves were just ripples, but they carried me and the little boat to a place I was afraid to go.
I clung to him the way I clung to the sandy shoreline.
Sometimes he joined me for coffee on the porch. Sometimes he looked up from his hammering and smiled. His smile carried me for another day. I was sure he still loved me. We talked about marriage. He said he wasn't ready. We talked about children. He said he didn't want any.
Still, I couldn't let go.
I slept in his childhood bed with the sloping ceilings, watching the stars through the skylight. Listening to the eerie sound of the loons on the lake.
One day he gave me a present. I unwrapped the tissue paper and stared. I felt the nausea in my throat.
On a piece of driftwood sat two exquisite butterflies.
Butterflies that had been dancing among the flowers yesterday, today were stuck motionless with pins on a piece of wood.
For the rest of the summer, I practiced my rowing. When the waves rocked the little boat I held tight. The vertigo was disappearing. I could row farther and farther without panicking. The muscles in my arms were visible.
The summer was over. It was time to pack up the camp until next year. We were heading back to the city.
I cleaned the kitchen and stripped the beds.
I left the butterfly sculpture on the windowsill facing the lake. Sorry, I whispered to them.
It turned out to be my last summer there. I knew it would be.
That was the summer I learned how to row to firmer ground.