The three of us sat in the water for a moment to say goodbye, our boats held together by our hands as we floated on the light waves. A giant freighter groaned away from us in the channel, shrinking into the widening gap between the north and south shores. Beyond it Superior stretched to the horizon.
“Thanks for everything,” I said.
Sue and Jeff smiled and shrugged it off, happy to have helped. They couldn’t understand how much it mattered, how badly I needed a few days to collect myself, how every time I glanced into that gap of open water, I felt grateful again.
They waved and turned back toward the St. Mary’s River, leaving me to go forward, to spill out into the giant lake alone. I watched them for a moment, then dipped my paddle into the blue, clear water.
“So you have a second chance to kill me,” I said, remembering the day I left Lake Superior almost a year ago.
I was on the far side of the lake then, the western tip, long past the horizon of water I stare at now. I remember spending the night watching the lights of Duluth glow against the black glass, not wanting to leave, not quite believing the lake had an end, never guessing I’d appear on the other side.
I slid into Whitefish Bay and watched the freighter disappear in the distance. The water held still as far as I could see, just faint ripples in a southern wind as if it were nothing but a pond.
This is the bay the Edmund Fitzgerald never reached. The lake swallowed her whole just outside the entrance. The Arthur M. Anderson was there that night, trailing close behind, and heard the captain’s last words over the radio.
“We are holding our own,” he said.
Then the radio went dead, the ship disappeared off radar, and they were gone.
The Anderson still plies the shipping lanes of Lake Superior. It moves like a ghost of that night as it carries ore to factories and passes through the locks in Sault Ste. Marie. People take pictures, read the name painted on the side, and wonder.
“I know that name from somewhere,” they think, their minds filling with a dim light until it snaps into focus.
But today the lake is calm, the water’s warm, and the thin clouds in the west will make a beautiful sunset. I stare out at the blue horizon, feeling overjoyed and terrified and so happy to be on Lake Superior again.