It is mid August of 2007. I am pedaling my bicycle back to my grandparent’s house after a quick workout at the gym. The sun is glistening and I feel rather unsatisfied about my current plan of seeing whether or not it is too early for Ghost Hunters to be on Sci-Fi. Then I remember that in the past two weeks I have made attempts to find some place that is across from a marina (vague, I know.)
I keep pedaling along Long Beach. It is past five, so I swiftly turn my bicycle into the first open gate. The breeze off the sea feels good and I am humming to myself. I think: if could make it a little further today than last time I will be satisfied. All along the beach are families that do not have beach stickers and people who are starting to barbeque. No one in my family knows where I am, though if I had wanted to tell them I would not have been able to explain exactly where I was hoping to end up.
The end of the beach is now in sight, which means that a very steep hill will officially mark the beginning of my journey. I pedal as fast as I can, but struggle to maintain forward motion. I stand and pedal, which thankfully gets me over the hill, though a little out of breath. The bike lane has become notably smaller than it is at Long Beach and I struggle to keep cars from swerving to avoid me. I do not hum and have both hands firmly pressed on the handlebars. After the first minute of being able to breathe normally there begins a slow, pleasant slope downwards to Cromer’s (which is a small family owned market. I spent my whole freshman year of college at Ohio Wesleyan University confused and irritated by Kroger’s, which is a large chain of supermarkets.) On past attempts I have stopped here, purchased a beverage, and abandoned my mission. I am excited to at least pass the market; I look at it and think: If I stop now, I’ll turn back.
I keep pedaling. I pass the pizza place and the deli. Then, on the right side is a marina. I am elated and dart my eyes across the street to see some woods. I must have overheard incorrectly, maybe it’s not here after all. Upon hesitantly turning away, out of the corner of my eye something white and metallic flashes: “No Life Guard on Duty Swim At Your Own Risk.” I hop off my bike, jump up and down, and uncontrollably squeal. I stand still letting my bike lean against me and put both my hands above my head in a symbol of disbelief at my own success. I look for a break in traffic and dash as fast as I can, dragging my bike beside me.
There is a small, rectangular, green street sign for “Ruggs Path.” A foot or two past the sign is a wooden walkway. I step on the walkway and it feels like my left foot is stepping into another time and place. My right foot, body and bicycle follow after eagerly. Lilly pads, I see lily pads! Dragonflies of turquoise blue begin to settle on top of them as well as mill about the rest of the area. The sunlight is perfect, like in a Pre Raphaelite painting. This is actually better than I was imagining. That never ever happens. That never ever happens! Of course today is the first day I did not bring a bathing suit, even just incase. My hand grasps the end of the wooden walkway and I slide it along various names of couples engraved in the wood. There is one man swimming laps in a wetsuit. I am almost relieved he is here. I walk with slow, delicate steps believing if I should press more firmly the foundation would shatter and the entire setting would vanish.
I notice a small ladder, and as I go to climb down, the man speaks: “Hey! Beautiful evening. Have you been here before?” “…No…it’s actually my first time.” I answer rather slowly and calmly. “Oh, well it’s a great place. Enjoy. There is a turtle though, but she probably won’t bite.” I am watching him swim away and waiting for him to get into the middle of the pond. Instead of using the ladder I decide to scoot my butt forward off the edge of the platform while sitting, and slowly lower my body into the water. It’s cold it’s cold it’s cold. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. I plunge in up to my neck and I stand with one toe anchored on the sandy bottom. One…two okay, okay once more…one…two…three.
I duck underwater; it feels icy cold. I open my eyes and wait for the sting, but it never comes. This is my first time swimming in fresh water. I realize something very fundamental: If I move here, then I move exactly here. I hold my nose and force my body downward with one arm and both legs while still facing up. From here I can see the entire world through a distorted and romantic filter of clear water; I am reminded of those old photographs where the lenses were smeared with Vaseline. I look directly at the sun and it does not burn my eyes. This is perfect; this is what life should be. I emerge and exhale, then inhale deeply. I look at the sun outside of its watery encasement. I drift over and my hands grip the wooden platform off of which my body was so recently propelled.
Both my arms and my right leg hoist the rest of my body out of the water. I pull my t-shirt away from my body, but as soon as I let go it is sucked back on to me. I have no towel, for I was not expecting to end up here. I drip and leave large round puddles all the way to my bicycle. The man who told me about the turtles is approximately in the middle of the pond again. I grip the handles of my bicycle and feel my wet palms slip on the rubber. I walk the bike and remember when I was dry and unaware that the lily pads and dragonflies towards the entrance would lead to something more spectacular. I look one last time as I approach the dirt that will lead out of “Rugg’s Path,” onto the concrete, back along the beach and towards home.
Towards home, where no one will know where I have been or understand what I have done or discovered; I am happy to have this secret all to myself. The ride back is mostly downhill and seems a lot shorter than the journey there. The wind slowly dries my hair, though my clothes are still sopping wet. When I arrive at home, my mother is outside on the porch watching the sunset. “Ma! You will never guess what I have found…” The satisfaction of keeping the pond a secret has proven to be ephemeral. I divulge to my mother every last detail, and she walks me into the house for dinner. I glance at the puddles left from my hair and clothes leading up to the porch and give a half smile to them as my mother shuts the white metal screen door behind me.