Night Swimming

We emerge from the lake, our arms tired from pushing water back and out of our way. Two best friends walking wet down side streets, late night. The moon lights our bare feet on the concrete, slapping the road. Her toenails are blue, mine are pink, and we’re not wearing much else. We hopscotch around the streetlights, trying to hide from the small, darkened vacation homes turned into all-year houses. Their windows are empty, but we move quickly, afraid of being seen.

Maura shivers a little, the skin on her shoulders rising to the occasion, goose flesh feeling for the hot-house summer that had been with us just hours before. Before the moon, and the lake, and nakedness had stripped the warmth from our bodies. We had driven around all night until we finally parked at Lake Quinsigamond. The whole summer had been made up of bodies of water. We took an old rowboat out to the middle of a lake in Charlton at sunset. We broke into the pools at the Holiday Inn and the Crown Plaza after hours. Tonight, there was an island we had passed by hundreds of times as children that needed to finally be explored.

It took us a half an hour to swim there, much longer than we expected. We traversed the island, which was mostly just brush and beer cans, and found that on the other side the water remained shallow until the opposite shore. “I want to walk back,” Maura had said. I nodded my head in agreement.

My clothes, shoes, and half of my underwear sit in a pile a half-mile away. They were left in the care of a silent dock connected to one of the silent properties lining the lake. Not one of the old cottages from the ‘50s, but one of the towering wonders of glass and stucco that had swept through the area. Neither of us like them, but it was much easier for us to park in front of and sneak behind an impersonal house. We could never trespass if it seemed like a real home.

It’s late August and in a week I’m leaving for college. I’ll only be forty-five minutes away, but I try to take in every detail as if it’s the last time I’ll ever be here. We giggle at what we are doing, but inside, I am trying to memorize the way Worcester looks under the stars, compressing the moments into memories as I live them.

The night carries sounds of cars much farther from where they actually are. The sound of a motorcycle passes and I wish for my pile of clothes. The moonlight illuminates stretch marks, blemishes, and toothy smiles. We clutch ourselves tighter, imagining how much a headlight would reveal. How scared we were? For each other and ourselves? Would it show our friendship, the bond of six years between these two bodies? Newly-shaped girls of flesh and insecurities just waiting for summer to leave them cold in front of the rest of their lives? We don’t speak of it, but we know this is the last time we will swim at night. It’ll all change soon: the time, the place, our lives, and our bodies. Suddenly, we both let our arms go to our sides.

So much of our time up until now was spent pushing back against what was expected of us, but at least we knew what was expected of us. I had let it carry me along, past all the milestones that get girls to 18. What’s ahead is uncertain. I know nothing except this friendship built stringing together singular moments of aliveness. I stop trying to hold on and let myself run. Water, skin, pavement, it shakes my insides and feels true.

The car comes into view and Maura’s voice echoes out into the silent night cutting it nearly in half, “We’re almost there.”

“Yes,” I say.