Otterouterdoors.com. Purveyor of fine outdoor products for the sporty set, including, but not limited to, the “Otterdock” – one hundred square feet of glorious, beige and hunter-green, compressed plastic, extruded using only premium, US-sourced petroleum products, affixed to floating drums recycled from a sordid past, all secured to a lake bed by great links of American-made chain.
My future resting spot. Not in the RIP sense of the word, rather a platform for taking some afternoon sun. It beckoned with vehemence from across the campground, a wooded, lake-front retreat and home to 150 semi-permanent (seasonal) mobile homes, plus an additional 30 or so, transients – known as Paugus Bay Campgrounds, of Laconia, New Hampshire (randomly chosen off Google Maps as a convenient weigh-station enroute to Maine), a village that aside from sporting an active, five screen drive-in multiplex, also happens to be the host of the 91st Annual Motorcycle Week gathering where purportedly two hundred and fifty thousands Harley Davidsons (and their owners, extended families included) gather, drink, attend wet t-shirt contests, compare tattoos, conduct commerce of the leather jacket and helmet variety, and swap, well, motorcycle stories. That we stumbled across the epicenter, ground zero as it were, replete with otherwise sleepy, county lanes, now fully choked with bikers, unspeakable traffic, unconscionably loud engines, beleaguered state troopers and thoroughly content motel and restaurant owners, on the Saturday that is the pinnacle of their week, is an extremely example of coincidence and folly.
The Otterdock was my sanctuary. Barely two hundred feet off an imported-sand beach, it compelled me to brave barely sixty-five degree water, more brisk than crisp, and not without risk of water snakes, leaches or other water-bound vermin. The sun danced lazily on the inlet, removed from the main lake and the roar of jetskis and powerboats – a contrapuntal fugue, call and response, with the departing Hogs, by a raised railroad bed which hosts hourly an abbreviated tourist train that circles the lake.
My body, recoiling at the temperature, whimpered that I really shouldn’t, but an inner voice insisted that, indeed, I must. And so I did. Within moments, after barely a dozen strokes, I was mounting the ladder and claiming my position as king of the dock. Without competition too, for surprisingly, despite the abundance, earlier in the day, of roving tween hoards, the only potential interlopers were two, rather full-figured ladies, sitting on the beach, deeply engrossed in their respective novels. They appeared fully transported, likely, into fictions comprised, perhaps, of somewhat less full-figured affairs, with dashing gentlemen, hailing from a mythical RV park, far, far away.
The dock was mine and I developed a mild territorial demeanor. While obviously the passing motor-based aquatic conveyances induced the expected contemptuous glares, even the silent canoe (and I’m embarrassed to say, the occasional intrepid dragonfly) was met with mild derision. I had braved the waters and its ecosystem, and I was entitled to my peace.
The day exuded perfection. Moderation in every sense, as only climate can do. The ratio of sky to clouds was drawn from a Fibonacci sequence, their velvety forms adorning an otherwise immaculate ceiling – yet generously dancing around the sun such as to leave the rays’ path to my body uninterrupted. The sun was high and full - humidity almost extinct. The coolness of breeze, curated in direction and amplitude, brought me sweet smells of firewood and flora. The lake water evaporated from my skin at a rate that, had a small clan of scientists decided to spend their lives’ work, divining optimal comfort and evaporation conditions, this would be the mix, after much study and testing, they would have concluded, was superior to all others.
It was in this setting, in my private, perfect, floating patch of sun-kissed real estate that I spontaneously erupted into uncontrollable, convulsive tears. The impetus, the kernel, the spark, remained a mystery in the formative moments. As they gathered force, my cries fed on their own presence. Each sting of the eye, each grimace of the face, each rolling, hot tear, became a compulsion to produce more. It was only during an inexplicable break, that plausible attribution even became an option.
A new United Nations report, recently released, on the unprecedented state of global refugees, cites unprecedented levels, 57 million and counting they reported (half of which, children). The scale is unfathomable - and presently vast numbers are within their own countries’ borders. Further, this census is before the addition of some eight hundred thousand or so new homeless resulting from the recent ISIS rampages in Iraq. My mind soars from this capsule to the greater state of supposed humanity. The list of nation states host to calamity seemingly grows daily, the magnitude and horrors within, exponentially. A darkness overtakes me, without direct attribution. Its presence conflicts with the warming sun and confusion results. I read of these matters daily, and despite a rather thick skin having hailed from Wall Street where such statistics are quickly distilled into portfolio-impact algorithms, the personal impacts now are primarily supreme heaviness of heart and the occasional check to Oxfam-America or MSF. My survival tool, however, has become to encourage my mind to quickly replace the latest with the even more recent, my bandwidth and fortitude insufficient to retain the compounding of horrors, supplanting instead of addition, allows me to carry on. I release one in order to consume the next. And so on, and so on.
Yet the narcissism. The hubris. That on this idyllic afternoon that I should be wracked in tears over this alone. And the sickening inadequacy of the response, the embarrassment, the recognition of how pathetic and meaningless my emotions in response to same might be in this context, 57 million strong, or on an atomic level, a single mother, with 6 parched children, cowering under militants’ watch aside a tarp in a dust swept corner of Syria. That I should joke of the horror, or toast their best wishes with a chilled tequila seems a more sincere reaction. Sobs appear almost brimming with mockery, cloaked with irony, in their earnestness.
And as fast as the attack came, along with my sense of ambiguous bereavement, the focus shifted entirely. An entirely new wave overwhelmed me, the crucible, my son. Deeply ADHD, approaching his fourteenth year, wrestling with the fallout of a pending divorce, ravaged by hormones, mild depression and borderline defiance disorder, I became wracked with fear for his future. How, in this desperately competitive environment, this U.S. of A, subset New York, and the overachieving corridor surrounding it, a biosphere with so little space for those lacking focus, self-motivation, a sense of team spirit and common goal, how will this young man find his way? My tears multiplied as I considered his mother. Selfless (to a fault) caregiver by day and night, infinite patience, dog and pony shows to usher him from bed, coaxing him clothed with every clown-like instinct in her body, ferrying him to and from school, stumped by her own paralyzing fears of abandonment, collapsing in her own, infinitely better-deserved and earned tears. Again, my narcissism. Who am I to cry?
I roll off the side of the Otterdock into the water. My dried tears release into the lake. I consider how the reliant species might likely be forever changed by the trace amounts of my DNA and saline. Instead of being absorbed, and subjugated, elbowed into oblivion as just parts per billion, firmly vanquished, I envision the inverse. A natural extension of that which had prompted the onslaught in the first case. The more I considered the absolute inadequacy of tears as an expression, the more I reflected on rituals of cutting, self-immolation and suicide. Not as escapes from pain, nor as political statements, rather as a response to the entire inadequacy of this emotion, this feeble expression of pure grief. Yet as unworthy as I felt to them, and as meaningless as they seemed in response to my current foci, I wanted them to sear my cheek, to stick to me. I wanted to dry and wear them.
So I climbed back onto the Otterdock. But now the clouds, still so sparse in the deep, azure sky, were almost perfected linked - a consecutive procession of denial, to preclude the sun from reaching my skin. I looked back at the shore and the chilled water in between. It was too cold to traverse, yet too cold to stay. I lay down for another moment to dry, a long, shivering dry, catalyzed by my convulsions of skin.
Within moments, I was lost in another morass. That of the loss of love. My current love. The love that gives me such strength and purpose. The love that inspires, the love that propels learning, the love that gives comfort of the mind and flesh in alternating waves where not even the particles know which is which. A love that offers such warmth and fullness that to contemplate its demise is akin to pondering the loss of an arm or of memory.
The complexion of life on the other side is what was devastating me now. When, not if, we are no longer together, was the chatter that commandeered my mind, the trajectory that led us there, seemingly uninteresting. The ability to interact, exchange pleasantries, share a memory in text or quip, in the post-world, was not my focus – rather it was the state of loss - the very nature of that new existence. So untenable, so imbalanced, yet an environment I had, and have, no ability to reject. The inevitability of it, that reason, a rudimentary knowledge of monogamous outcomes, time-tested across civilizations, the well-known, almost mortal challenges of pair-bonding, laced with a dose of common sense, borne of a modicum of maturity, compelled more anguish, an anguish too great to contemplate. But here I was, stuck in great, recurring loops, an incessant chatter, refusing to leave me be. Tears, once again, a horrifyingly inadequate response – almost to the degree of contempt for that which they lament, overtook me.
A stiff wind picked up, the rolling clouds now sealed any promise of future sun, and I tucked slowly into the dark water. But this time I knew, that it was my tears that were now fully absorbed by the lake, vanquished entirely by the math. Just a blip in a universe of tears, no doubt many infinitely better earned and deserved than mine own, which sprung for no apparent reason, on a lazy, sunny afternoon, resting on a plastic island.