It was 9:00 pm. We'd just finished packing the car and were making our way north from Astoria, Queens. The warm, humid air predicted rain and I crossed my fingers hoping for a clear ride. Alex's eyes already spelled fatigue and mine began to itch.
New Rochelle was our first stop. We picked up his mother and switched to a larger vehicle. Three and a half hours left. The roads were dark and winding, and visibility was minimal.
We drove on, with very few stops in between. Nancy slept in the back as I tried to stay awake and carry out my wing-woman duties, riding shotgun.
Late into the night, we arrived at our new home: the Juniper cabin at Silver Bay in Lake George, NY - the Adirondack Mountains. Tip-toeing past the other bedrooms, we each slipped into bed, drunk with fatigue. My eyes drooped as I stared at nature's shadows along my walls, picturing trees swaying at my window, swooshing lightly with the breeze.
His heavy breathing in bed turned to slow, steady breaths. I followed. And sleep arrived.
The next morning brought exploration. A quaint "Enter" sign was a sweet welcome. I toured the grounds' flowering green earth, overlooking Lake George, and smiled. The clouds parted ways to greet a clear blue sky and the mountains over yonder whispered my name.
Alex's mother played tour guide, knowledgeable about every path we crossed. She's been that way since I met her; always willing to keep me in the loop, eager to make me feel welcome. I appreciate that, although I am not sure if I express it enough. She showed us the places where prayer, meditation, and moments of silence take place, as Alex interjected with stories about his childhood mischief.
Silver Bay was a place that Alex's family went to yearly: a retreat for New York chapter Quakers. A place dear to their memories and a haven they were willing to welcome me into. I was honored to be invited, but slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of having to suppress my timidity in order to meet swarms of new people, like an innocent run-in with a beehive, hoping not to be stung.
Our first official family dinner was prepared by Fred, Alex's father. An exquisite cook who can eat by the ton and never gain a pound... as I glare down at my waistline. Smoked aromas filled our porch, with accents of nature's scent filling our nostrils, as he prepared steaks on the grill. He led a moment of silence for dinner and gave thanks for having his whole family together for the meal, accidentally including me. I blushed. Alex glowed.
Fred and Nancy didn't notice the slip.
That night Alex and his brother invited me to join them in seeking out their old Silver Bay friends. We headed to a cabin full of 10+ people and I quickly became overwhelmed. The friendly interrogations began and I tried my best to play along. My "cool" act didn't last long, though... Alex has this innocent habit of unknowingly tossing me to the wolves and forgetting that he's left me there. As he made his rounds, enthusiastically reconnecting with everyone, I sat on the couch with someone on each side of me, shooting questions like darts. Eventually, I could catch no more. I kindly explained that I'd just finished being bombarded with questions that weekend at his grandmother's memorial service and was simply worn out. The questions abruptly stopped. I slightly worried they would think I was unkind, but decided to be firm in my decision. I didn't want to talk about it anymore. For four months I'd been meeting people and answering questions. I needed a break. I'd spent a lifetime of living privately and I was beginning to feel in way over my head. I wanted this vacation to be spent finding peace and centering myself. Spending quality time with Alex and his family. Meeting new friends.
Luckily, they were understanding. "Yes, I can only imagine!", Kira replied, as she continued crocheting a hat for her brother Lisimba's long flowing dreadlocks. I smiled and learned he went to George School, class of 1998. Small world.
He greeted me with kindness and his wife joined in; an Afro-latina that I was quite pleased to encounter. Her, Kira, and I spoke of travel, school, airbnb and hair. I warmed up.
We carried on, as the others joined, our conversation leading to a new direction. We spoke of the things we loved and joked with each other in drunken glee, discussing New York / New Jersey rivalry, the difficulties doing kegels, and who was drinking the wine too slowly. Will, Alex's brother, interjected with: "What part of Jamaica are you from?" and the room replied, "Right near da beach!"
What the hell were they talking about? They laughed and explained the quote from the movie "Half Baked". The line stayed with us for the remainder of the trip.
The nights blurred into one another and we passed our time contra dancing and grabbing ice cream with the crew. Contra dancing was surprisingly enjoyable and expectantly confusing!
What the heck was a do-se-do? The instructor's complex guidance did not prove helpful. There was a live band, however, which provided most of the entertainment. Alex's mother joined us and we danced freely, entertained by her enthusiasm. Alex got a bit too excited and accidentally elbowed a baby in the head. The baby survived.
We spent our days exploring, trying not to waste an hour, let alone a day. We played shuffleboard and joined a friend's boat ride to jump off rocks (I only did it once... my two piece bikini wasn't very excited about the jump), and ultimately showed up late to the soccer game Alex and Will were to participate in. We ran down to the field, as I gave Alex a samurai ponytail, to keep his hair out of his face. I noticed the giggles and looks of confusion with his ponytail, and when questioned if I had an opinion of the hairstyle, I responded, "I support however he wants to wear his hair." And I meant that. I've noticed that no matter how far we are from home, friends, and people whose opinions we may think matter, we are so concerned with the acceptance of others that we waste our time worrying about insignificant issues like what a woman thinks of her boyfriend's ponytail.
I cleared up any ponytail questions and enjoyed watching everyone play as I sat on the grass, perched on a slight incline, overlooking the lake. I cheered in excitement whenever I saw the brothers make any sort of movement near the ball, and smiled deeply when they'd run to me for water.
The game was the Quakers vs. Silver Bay employees. We lost. But we did win an exciting reconnection on the field with yet another George Schooler. John, class of 2005, was also at Silver Bay and playing on Alex's team. He noticed Alex's George School shorts and inquired further. To my amusement, Alex responded to John, "Um yeah, we were on the same soccer team at GS!" After the game, I came over to say hello and catch up with updates on John's life. When it comes to George School, it is an extremely small world.
That night we all headed to Jabe Pond, a favorite Silver Bay pastime for Alex, Will, and friends. We drove through a bumpy dirt road, winding slightly deeper into the Lake George Wild Forest. We carried coolers, firecrackers, a grill, and food and set up chairs around a campfire. Will went ahead with setting up the fire and the rest of us began searching for more firewood. It rained the night before and most of the wood was still wet. Luckily, more friends joined and brought firewood along with them. They began making Cheddarwurst hot dogs and S'mores. I burned my mouth on one of the hot dogs and nursed my wounds with beer. Camping solutions.
Kira set off the fireworks at an alarmingly close proximity to the group and we watched in excitement and fear. I don't know which was the dominant emotion. The group stayed out laughing and bonding and I watched as Will sat near the fire, a countenance of pleasure, happy to be reunited with old friends.
We stayed out until 3:00am. Joyous and free. Nature has a habit of removing our first world worries.
Alex and I took our last night to appreciate the grounds alone. We traveled to one of the beaches, initially using my flashlight, and decided to let our eyes adjust to the moonlight as we walked through the blanket of darkness ahead of us. We could barely make out each others' faces in the night but our presence was enough. We could hear the ripples of the lake gently massaging the sand and the giggles of teens whispering through the shadows. We held hands and stared at the bright stars in silence.
Moments like these, alone with the sky, are the moments I live for. Reminders of the brilliance of this universe. I feel blessed to have my feet sink into the earth and my flesh wrapped by bodies of water, heat producing beads of sweat, and cold sending chills up my spine.
I feel blessed to be. I feel blessed to feel.
It is humbling to be amidst the elements and reminded: we are that of the universe. The earth is never ours to claim; we belong to this universe.
I hope I never forget that.