Florida – April 3, 2013
There’s some warmth to the boat. The plastic covers my legs, the neoprene skirt and a life jacket wrap around my torso, blood pumps into my muscles with each stroke. Falling rain soaks into me. Water pools across my shoulders and slides down my back. I can fight cold to a standstill, keep it just off my skin, if I paddle.
But I can’t paddle forever.
The sun disappears into clouds then sets. The world looks dark and gray. Drained. Colorless.
The rain has to stop sometime, I think. It has to.
But it doesn’t, I know it doesn’t. I stare at the gray clouds in the east, the cold, monochrome sky. I see the top of a picnic pavilion on the far bank, raindrops beating on the roof. It’s almost dark. I feel soaked through and begin to shiver.
I want to go on. I want to paddle into the night, to outlast the rain, to cheat more miles out of the storm, but somehow I know, I see myself replaying this moment again and again, staring at that roof, shivering and cold, hating the decision to turn away. I see myself wishing for a second chance even before I’ve missed the first.
There are more miles tomorrow, I tell myself.
I drag the boat up and under the roof to a square of dry concrete eight-feet wide. The wind snatches away my warmth. There isn’t much time. I’m cold, numb, shivering, peeling off wet clothes, prying open hatches, rushing for my sleeping bag.
I feel thin and brittle. I wonder why I’m here, why I do things like this. It could be over now. These could be raindrops on a window.
It takes a minute for me to feel right again. To think straight. To wonder where I am.
The lights of a pickup flash across me and stop. I wave and a ranger gets out. It’s a park at night, I know I’m not supposed to be there so I apologize and offer to leave.
“Just let me rest for a few more minutes,” I say.
I dig for will. I want to be good to my words. I feel hollow.
He looks at me and understands. He talks it over with his supervisor and tells me not to worry about it, that I can stay.
I tell him I’ll disappear in the morning. He nods. The rain begins falling hard and he shouts over the roar.
“Where are you coming from anyway?” he says.
“You’re never going to believe this,” I say. “I came from the northern tip of Minnesota and went to Key West.”
The words hang in the night. The metal roof rattles. I stare at him through the rain.
“Now I’m going back.”