The 4th of July weekend, 1994, a bunch of friends gathered at a friend's lake home. Someone mused about how much fun it would be to try out a wave runner. Everyone nodded and murmured in agreement and the idea floated off across the lake, just one more pleasant thought on its way to oblivion until I snatched its little tail and jerked it back across the waves.
Why not? Why can't we try one? Someone must rent the things out.
All my life—40 years at that point—I had waited for other, more powerful people to make decisions, to plot my course. For the 16 long years I was married, I waited and hoped and subtly influenced my husband's decisions but made virtually none greater than what to fix for dinner. Now the divorce was weeks from final and the idea that on my own I could make this simple thing happen felt like a cosmic doorway swinging open, inviting me to step from shades of Kansas gray into a technicolored Oz.
After an hour on the telephone, a few hundred dollars, and signing my life away in case of accident or injury, I turned the key on a three-person Seado—bright green and purple and all mine for 24 hours. I screamed across the lake toward Ed and Sandy's house with no real idea of where I was going beyond a vague explanation from the bored hunk-o-boy at the marina.
White Bear Lake covers 2,500 acres—10 square miles of water. I had never driven a boat. I had never been on a lake alone. I had never driven or even ridden a wave runner.
I did have a good life jacket, five summers worth of Red Cross swimming lessons, and faith in the kindness of strangers if I got lost or something went wrong.
Finding the house wasn't all that hard. Hunk-o-Boy's explanation got me to the right cove with only a couple of slight detours and the shouts of my friends' children led me to their dock. (My children were with their dad for the weekend.)
We hooked up tubes and floaty toys and I pulled those kids around the lake until they begged for mercy. In wide swings across the water, we jumped the wake and played crack-the-whip. I turned corners so sharp and leaned so hard I got water in my ears as I laid the Seado on its side. I was brave and daring in ways I had never been. We stayed on the water until darkness gathered and even one more minute invited a visit from the sheriff.
All afternoon, I was both the good girl and the bad boy as Tom Petty sang in my head, I'm free....freeeee faaaalllin.... I screamed out loud with him, falling free through the white spray and the pure blue joy of being alive in the red hot summer sun on what was, in all ways, a Day of Independence.
I want more of that.