I spent most of that night staring into the fire I’d built. The wind was picking up, feeding my flames. It took a while for my muscles to relax and my clothes to dry; a lot of silence on my part…My shivering shame demanded silence. I also tried to tune out my friends. They kept resurrecting the incident from that afternoon. Every camping trip had its stories, its jokes and injuries. Every summer, we marked a campsite in one of Ontario’s provincial parks with our gear and our booze. That’s all we needed to call it home for a week. We were at Bon Echo Provincial Park that year, and I knew with a jagged certainty that the incident would follow us for years to come. I could see myself in the flames, embarrassed evermore. I wanted to be alone.
Earlier that afternoon, after a few shots of whiskey, we’d decided to get on the water and canoe to the cliffs across Mazinaw Lake. Truth be told, it was Samir’s decision. Looking back on it now, I feel as if he nagged us into it, the annoying outdoorsman that he was. Regardless, we walked to the lake and carried our canoe to the water. Samir got in the front, as he always did. Jon, the heaviest of us all, sat in the middle, the sun beaming off his bald head and into my eyes as I sat in the back. Our friend, Chris, stood on the shore, the only witness to our sudden failure. I got to paddle once before we capsized, in about three feet of water. I paddled once on my left and next thing I knew we were tipping to the right and into the lake, our canoe upside down in an instant. I heard Chris scream and laugh before we were submerged. His laughter continued for quite some time after that. I wanted to knock his teeth out.
“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Chris, once we were all out of the water and had carried our canoe back to the patch of grass where it’d been moments before. We looked at each other, drenched and disappointed. Both Samir and Jon had their phones in their pockets. Jon also had a full pack of cigarettes, soaked through and through. My pockets were empty, but the lake struck me in my gut, waves rippled under my skin….Chris kept laughing. I turned and marched back to our campsite. I marched to the squeaking shame of my flip flops. They followed behind me. I could hear Samir and Jon kissing their teeth and sighing for their phones. “Idiots,” I thought.
I changed as fast as I could and started a fire right away. In my mind, I was already assigning blame. “Stupid Samir,” I thought, “Let’s get on the water, let’s get on the water,” he kept saying all day. “Fat ass Jon,” I thought, “Tipped us all over.” I was angry beyond belief and Chris kept laughing. Deeper in my mind, deeper under my skin, where those waves had rippled to, my childhood emerged to remind me of how dangerous water could be. I saw the two year old me in the murky madness of a lake, kicking and screaming and sinking under. I shook my head and lit a cigarette. “Some memories never drown,” I thought.
“From now on,” said Chris, “I’m gonna call y’all the capsize crew!” and he laughed and he gasped. I got up and gathered more wood.
“Man,” said Samir, “I had so many pictures on my phone,” he sighed.
Jon shook his head. I said nothing and just went on breaking branches over my right thigh.
“Fuck! That was so hilarious!” Chris exclaimed, as he unleashed a platoon of giggles around the campfire. Samir and Jon laughed too, but they laughed quieter laughs, defeated laughs, stupid idiots… “So hilarious,” Chris repeated and continued, “I wish I’d gotten it on tape.”
“My phone,” muttered Samir.
I let out a sigh. It seemed as if hundreds of curse words were tied to my tongue and trapped in my throat. There were rants in my chest, confined and breathless under the weight of a black lake inside me. I said nothing and turned instead to my fire, to my cigarettes. I knew at that point that I would stay awake all night and share my shame with the blackness around me.
Samir was the first one to retire. He rose and cleared his throat, “Callin it a night.”
Chris rose next. “Me too,” he said and walked off, following Samir and his flashlight.
Jon and I decided to share a cigarette. Four minutes later he was gone, too…Must’ve been late. I was tired, but alone now. That’s what I’d wanted all along. Not sure how long I sat there, watching my fire going out. It was colder now, pitch black. I felt around for my flashlight on the ground and picked it up as I stood. Somewhat detached and shivering from the cold, I lit the ground below me and started walking down the path through the bush, toward the lake. My breaths got heavier with each step. I tried to exhale my memories. I tried to calm myself by whispering things like, “You can do this! Nothing in there that can hurt you…You’re a great swimmer,” but instead, all of my words came out as unpleasant sighs, groans and grunts. I was walking faster now, almost jogging. I stripped off my clothes, still groaning and grunting like a madman, and ran in up to my waist and slowed to a stop. I watched the rippling waves circle around me in the black water. I held my beating heart in my hands. The moon was out, witness to my redemption…And the outline of the cliffs across the lake, watching me…
“Fuck it,” I said as I closed my eyes and submerged myself in the blackness.