I come from a family of sailors. No, not the Navy kind. And not the America’s Cup kind. Just the kind that knows how to sail, and has a smallish boat, and appreciates the power of a good wind and the laughter of a salty splash and the pleasure of Not Running Aground.
You can go fast in a sailboat. You can. But not as fast as in a motorboat.
I come from a family that is traditionally just a wee bit hostile to motorboats. I don’t remember anyone cursing aloud about them or anything. But I think there might have been only a thin kind of tolerance and, sometimes, mutterings under the breath.
Motorboats are loud. They produce noxious fumes. They spill oil into the water; they use up outrageous amounts of fossil fuels; they chop jellyfish into eentsy pieces (all the better to sting you with, my dear).
But they go fast. You can’t water ski behind a sailboat, can you? Not ever.
Yes, a motorboat can give you a marvelous ride.
At the end of last summer, we traveled an hour north to Lake Gaston where our friends the Pedersens had a lake house, a motorboat, and jet skis. We spent the entire day tubing, skiing and jetting around that lake, just the five of us. We had a great time.
And the thing of it is that, despite my upbringing, I love a motorboat. I could do without the noise; I could do without the fuel bill. But the Speed.
What is it about speed? What, exactly, is the origin of that thrill? What itch does it scratch, what need does it answer that makes us want to go fast—to watch it all shooting past us, to fly only over the surface of the water, to see—out of the eyes’ periphery—all that singular green turn to a flat and hazy blur?
William and I rode that jet ski, he sitting in front of me, gripping the handles, and I behind him twisting the handle to make us accelerate more and more. We laughed together as we bounced over the water’s surface; we joked about how it felt to be now going twenty-seven and now thirty-four miles per hour. And even as we sped and bounced and laughed, I marveled at the sophistication of his humor, his appreciation of the specificity of our speed. It is funny to note that one is going thirty-seven miles per hour exactly, rather than to round it off to your basic thirty-five.
He was, that day, two weeks shy of his ninth birthday. Today—in fact, to be precise, in just about twenty-seven minutes—he turns ten.
He is not here today. He and his siblings are north of here, away to Pennsylvania for the week, enjoying these last days of summer and a pool in the back yard while I prepare for teaching, filling my days with thoughts of next week and the academic year unfolding. We have waited for this for so long, and I find that I am grateful right now for time’s insistence. It is a mercy, you know, that time passes, even though sometimes we hate it.
I have never not been with William on his birthday.
And where, I ask myself, did this last year go? Have there indeed been twelve full months since the last birthday, since his audacious move to being Nine? And while I’m asking, let me ask too if there hasn’t been some mistake? If we haven’t actually had Ten full years with our William, but maybe only Five?
They tell you, don’t they, when that baby is born that it Goes So Fast. He’ll be grown before you know it, they say. And so you try—God knows you do—to seize the day, and observe and watch and love and hold on to it all.
I am holding on still, gripping those handles with all the strength of my palms and fingertips, my forearms and shoulders, as this speeding vessel, on its own volition, shoots away and away from me.
I always said I preferred a sailboat.
But mostly I am laughing, awed, delighted. It is going Far Too Fast, but it is a Marvelous Ride.