When I was little, our family would go boating on Lake Michigan. Summers blend together in my mind—fishing on the edge of the dock out front, catching frogs with my bare hands, waking up before the crack of dawn to bike down to the little pond at the end of the street, listening to the cricket lullabies mixed with the neighbor’s drunken laughter, puffing out my chest to look older when we boated past a crew of older men, countless mosquito bites and cheek sunburns, playing mermaids in the sandbar on Fox Lake and, most vividly, being lulled to half-sleep by the boat’s steady rocking and UB40 on the stereo.
Remembering my childhood is like looking through an old filmstrip, like discovering the negatives from a camera in the back of a closet, tinted by sunlight and dust. Each memory is slightly shadowed, blurred by a mix of reality and my wild imagination.
I remember, so vividly, finding a tiny animal skull in the reeds behind our camper. I remember the texture, the brittleness of the bones, the way I felt like an explorer, but also like an intruder all at the same time. I remember how slimy the frogs were between my fingers, and how they could be the only possible explanation for the warts that suddenly popped up all over my hands that August.
I remember the lake waves, the way the sun glinted off each of them like thousands of little diamonds. And the woman who lost her engagement ring that year—I swear I could see it, all silver-white and shiny at the bottom of the lake every time I opened a corner of my eyes.
There are countless stories in my Lake Michigan childhood—ones I lived—playing with my sister, meeting my first summer crush, tubing with the neighborhood boys, fearlessly searching through the brush behind the house for wild bears and foxes and garden snakes. And the ones I created—meeting secret forest friends, discovering dinosaur footprints, becoming a mermaid every time my legs touched the water, coaxing turtles to the lake’s quiet surface.
The summers of my childhood bring back an almost entirely different person than the one who exists now. One who spoke the language of the Midwest earth with ease, never questioning whether animals had souls and if they listened when we spoke. One who didn’t regard the opinions of anyone else, and wore a different color of patterned duct tape over the warts on every finger proudly, even when the kids on the playground teased.
One whose days fell endlessly and blissfully into one another, without any regard to time.
This morning I turned on my speaker—a reggae playlist, purely because the sun was shining before noon and this particular Saturday felt beautifully open and slow. The song, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do,’ UB40, echoed through my quiet apartment. And suddenly I was brought back to those summer days, to the steadiness of the boat, to the hum of my parents’ voices as they shared mudslides and dreams.
I have never understood how music has the power to pull you back—to suddenly take you from the present moment and spin you back in time to people and places and feelings you’d long forgotten. But it’s wonderful, nonetheless.
On the opposite side of the country, on an entirely different time and vibe, I was suddenly replacing ocean waves with crickets and Midwest wind. Suddenly remembering the scratch of the life jacket on my skin, my mother’s soft hands rubbing sunscreen into the spot in the middle of my upper back I could never reach, my dad’s scratchy kisses on my cheek, smelling like beer and Old Spice and home.
Listening to that simple song, I can taste the mudslide I snuck from the cooler in the back of the boat, the sticky-sweet marshmallows from late-night campfires with the neighbors down the block, the fresh bite of a pickle from the glass jar in the fridge.
There is so much that comes back, so many feelings, smells, sounds.
All with a simple song I am reminded of who I was, of maybe who I still am underneath it all. Of how much I was loved, and still am loved with such tenderness, though I am long out of the house and those lake summers have now become filmstrip memories.
All with a simple song I am reminded how sweet it is to be young and directionless, each of the endless summer days stretching into the next. And how I don’t have to be held captive by time. Today, like any other, I can choose to close my eyes and let the music slow me down.
Featured Image Credit: Paul Rysz