When you left me for Lake Huron, I didn't know how to take it. I thought things were great between us. I still do. I could, admittedly, understand wanting some space. I couldn't understand wanting to fill that space with 3 543 cubic km of freshwater.
I spent the first weekend in reactionary anger, expecting you to come back. Though I didn't know which route you might take. I plumbed the archives in city hall for a map of waterways through the town to plan a defensive. For the following week, I patrolled laps around the house, stomping from bathroom to kitchen to garden, inspecting faucets along the way to tighten and retighten each firmly into the "off" position. I turned the water intakes valves off and used bowls and cups to transfer the stored water from the toilet and tank down the bathtub drain. In the absence of functioning facilities, I began relieving myself in the most wooded corner of the backyard. I relished in my thirst for days until friends and family and survival instinct kicked in and, even then, I drank rarely. Whenever it felt as if the walls of my throat had cracked, I would huddle toward the corner of the living room and secretly sip or guzzle from cups of soda or complicated coffee orders or cough syrup, anything that contained water in only trace amounts while maintaining an appearance that looked nothing like the calm, clear water you had chosen to inhabit.
Watching the backyard on Sunday morning, I stared down the eave's downspout, which had for years dumped generous puddles along the back walkway after even the weakest spittle. Though we had, long ago, committed to a life of complaining about this localized flooding instead of fixing it, I now saw this rain routing as an affront, a path you might take to come back banging on the backdoor the next time it stormed. Still in my pajamas, I spent the morning bending and forming the downspout with a generous extension constructed from broken windowsill planters and that big crinkly shiny tubing that came out from the back of the dryer (I wasn't using the washing machine anyway). I propped the end of the makeshift channel atop the short fence between properties, so that you would be dumped promptly into the neighbour's yard should you come rushing back.
So caught up in my construction efforts, I had failed to notice the greying sky. The first couple drops signalled your return. I knew you would be back soon, riding the evaporation skyward from Lake Huron, floating among the clouds and later tumbling back down, expecting the back eaves to guide you the rest of the way. But I was still angry and was not prepared for you to come home. I raced inside and closed all the windows and shut the blinds. I carefully positioned opened umbrellas over the front and back door steps to maintain a dry forcefield around each entry. I began running a dehumidifier indoors constantly, plugging and unplugging it as I lugged it with me from room to room. Unfamiliar with its operation (you were the one who needed it to sleep), I ran it until it automatically shut off from a full reservoir while I passed out in the upstairs bedroom, curled up tightly to the pillows and sheets afloat in a lake of blankets and too many decorative pillows.
After a week of blue skies and dry air, cracked lips and chafed elbows, I thought you had suffered enough. I opened the windows and water intakes, watching the first flush of the toilet for signs of you. I pulled the opened umbrellas from the doorsteps and would have fixed my re-routed downspout, but earlier in the week my neighbour appears to have fixed it himself with his daughter's baseball bat and a lot of yelling. I let the taps run until the strange tinge accumulated from a week of disuse had faded and tentatively took my first sip of pure water in over a week. My body had found it hard to process and immediately attempted to eject it drop by drop from under my arms and eyes.
Had I been too harsh when you first tried to come back? I checked the weather reports hourly but nothing was predicted aside from clear skies and mid-20s. Did you no longer feel welcome? I consulted a local map, performing rudimentary topology on the small town of Kincardine. I cross-referenced the area between the shore of Lake Huron and our doorstep, circled in blue ink, with a vertical map of the irregular and severe slope down to the lakeshore I had found online. This multidimensional approach resulted in my plotting a tangential corridor of red ink that began at the highest point on the beach, climbed uphill to slice through a neighbourhood and our front lawn and terminated on our front step. I had become a civil engineer to bring you back.
Pulling into the gravel lot slowly, it was the first time I had seen Lake Huron since you left. I sat in the car for 20 minutes staring at the gentle blue rise and fall before ambling out and retrieving the box of garbage bags from the flatbed. At first, I sat childishly on the soft sandbar shore, legs pointed out in perpendicular, stealing glances up to the slow waving stretched to the horizon. Laying my forearm flat to the beach captured between my legs, I shoved piles of sand into the black plastic. When the area between my legs had been excavated to the wet, gritty sand below, I caught my breath and looked down the long expanse of beach, tired at just the thought of packaging it all neatly in plastic. Instead, I roamed along the shore for easy pickings, stowing away sandcastles with finely detailed turrets and doors and smaller irregular castles that didn't come out of the bucket mold correctly when families weren't looking. After the sparse civilizations of sand had been wiped flat, I resorted to filling bags with stones from the strip of eroded gravel beyond the sand and closer to the water line. I shook nervously being so close to the water, expecting at any minute for you to reach out and flood my ankles. But I remained dry all afternoon. You hadn't even made an attempt at my waterproof hiking boots. I dragged the bags of sand and gravel back to my truck and drove home.
Back home, I constructed a new front walk on the lawn between walls built from bags of sand and stone. I stacked garbage bags according to my inked map, obediently following the tangent of red ink delineating the lowest path to the front door, which barely overlapped with the route marked by laid cement stones constructed far before we owned the place. This warming plastic channel would funnel you back home should your water levels rise to meet me at least partway.
My neighbour across the street called the cops seemingly minutes after I had set the first sandbag onto the street. He persisted in tattling even when I showed him my map and convinced him that the shortest route from the lake to me was via a direct line crossing the street. I fear that he might have also noticed that this line passed right through his house or, in topological terms, his basement. You were going to have to cross the street yourself on the way home. I'm sorry.
The cops came back the following day when, I suspect, the same neighbour reported that I had left a bouquet of hoses on the doormat, their distal ends threaded to taps throughout the house, running fully open and pointed between the walls of black plastic in the front yard. If sandbags were illegal, I sought to complete your path home with water alone. I was charged with criminal mischief. Since when was it illegal for water to run over the ground? I asked. I was further charged with assault of an officer after the police refused to answer me when I asked who got charged with criminal mischief for the water when it rained, even though I asked clearly and repeatedly.
My hands legally tied, I decided to try advancing my end of your path home, opting to meet you back on your shores, keeping in mind it was me who was slighted in the first place. I first positioned my camping chair on the farthest inland reaches of the beach. As the waving beckoned, I shuffled forward, dragging the chair's metal legs first through sand and then scraping them across pebbles until they met water. I reluctantly undid the double knots in the laces of my hiking boots, plucking each off and tossing them in the sand behind me. The cool of water hitting my bare soles calmed my entire body. How had I stayed away so long? I muttered an apology out to the blue expanse and waited, but nothing came in return. I idly shifted my feet around underwater, digging toes into the clean gravel below, and watched for changes in the wave, but felt you nowhere. I angrily rose and collapsed my camping chair, dragging it and my boots back to the parking lot and throwing both into the back of my truck. Not wanting to feel like I had wasted my time, I retrieved your empty mug, teapot, and gym water bottle from the cab and filled them up in the shallows. But when I got home and gently poured the water out into the plugged sink, sifting my palms through its transparence carefully, you weren't there either.
Growing desperate for a response, I rifled through your dresser upstairs. I unearthed your magazines from deep in the shelves and under the coffee table. In the kitchen, I skimmed each page and ripped out those containing even a shred of relationship advice for the newly broken-up, stacking them messily before doubling back to read them. I extracted a common trend when trying to forget about "him"--travel. Were you off exploring the other reaches of Lake Huron?
Expanding my search radius, I began patrolling Highway 21 in a wholly unofficial capacity, eating peanut butter sandwiches and drinking bad coffee as I toured from Kincardine north to Lorne Beach and Southampton, stopping at Sauble Beach to trudge in between tanners along the shore. The next day, south, through Port Albert, Goderich, Bayfield, and Grand Bend, apologizing whenever I stumbled and kicked sand onto someone enjoying the sun amongst beach towels. But at every stop, I failed to notice a single sign signalling your presence. And every cup and mug and bottle I dipped into the shallows and emptied into the sink, contained only water. I spent evenings at Kincardine's beach, staring out at the distant coast, which I felt I could resolve if I squinted enough in the dying light. Though your passport sat unused on the kitchen table, could you have made for the border? Unfamiliar with the distant geography, I suspected you might be on vacation in Port Huron. Maybe the exchange rate was good and you were browsing the outlet malls like everyone's mom liked to do.
I reconvened in the backyard later in the night, staring blankly into the small fire I had started with your stack of magazines in the metal waste bin dragged out from the kitchen. I revisited the annotated map sitting on my lap, following the red ink corridor from our front door to Lake Huron. Whereas one end of this path made sense, ending directly against the front door home, I wondered if the other end seemed incomplete, stopping somewhere amid the sand before blue edges of water. I began to suspect that the scope of my appeals to bring you back were too narrow. But, when I had grown my patrols on land, covering much as much of Lake Huron's eastern coast as I could drive, I still failed. Was I expanding my search in the wrong direction? Was I wrong in assuming the blue edges on the map represented an insurmountable barrier? If you had easily passed from land to water, maybe my efforts had to as well. I scribbled red on the map, expanding the end of the red line into the lake. I brainstormed new approaches that would just begin at the shoreline and might extend into the endless (unless you squinted just right and resolved the distant shore) blue.
I soon thought back to high school, where we learned that water contained many of the same particles as air, but packed much closer together. I nervously eyed the air inside the bathroom as I filled the tub. Because these particles are closer together, I recalled, they transmit shouts and talking and sounds much more readily and for farther distances. I recalled summer days underwater on the beach, the strange tinny sounds of splashes and feet shuffling gravel and laughs transmitted from seemingly everywhere to your submerged ears. The tub now full, I dunked my head and screamed. Immediately, my ears pounded and I snapped up out of the water until the ringing in them died. Though strangely distorted and echoed, my underwater voice had commanded the small body of water in the bathroom, powerful and everywhere. I dunked my head back in and, this time, just spoke individual syllables beneath the surface like miss and you and sorry and come and back and understanding and gone. Amazingly, as each word left my mouth, it immediately returned not just to fill my ears, but also to lightly vibrate against the skin of my face and even in the bones beneath. Coming up to towel off my hair and face and eyes, I felt satisfied that my experiment had confirmed the communicative power of water.
Before sunrise the next morning, I postured on all fours in the shallow water and, as each wave came in, butted my head forward into the mass of water and spoke to you. Above the rhythmic static of waves crashing, I used each wave as an opportunity to apologize. In the first wave, I apologized for burning your magazines. Second wave, I apologized for breaking the downspout in the backyard. Third wave, I apologized for leaving all the taps off for the week after you left. Fourth wave, I apologized for letting you drink too much. I apologized into the Fifth wave, but it got difficult for me to hear what I was saying.
I collapsed back onto the beach to catch my breath, letting each wave rush up along the sides of my legs before disappearing back into the lake or into the sand below I hadn't thought about where the wave went. When I was done crying, I waded in deeper, where I could hold my breath and sit below the surface of the water awaiting a reply. Having sent so many words out to vibrate among all those densely packed particles, none were making their way back to my ears. The gentle crackling of waves underwater reminded me of all the humming silences you'd leave before responding in phone calls. This similarity highlighted the flaw in this approach--you hated talking on the phone.
I should have thought of it sooner. I manically crawled up the surf and barrelled for the cab of my truck. When you left, you had taken your phone, which you must have kept since it also was never recovered. I swiped my own phone from the dash and rushed back to the shore. Sitting against the edge of the tide, I sent you a text, something I had selfishly never even considered since you had left (I liked talking on the phone).
I imagined the typed words in my apologies leaping out from my phone and plunging deep into the lake, reappearing on the screen in your pants pocket. Then I worried--I had only ever sent texts from phone to phone via the air, a loosely packed volume of particles. Could such signals penetrate the unforgiving density of Lake Huron? My fears were confirmed by the alert on my phone stating that my text message could not be sent.
Desperate and wildly unfamiliar with the field of fluid dynamics, I panicked for insight into telecommunication SMS technology that could be translated by water. I stared helplessly out into the waves, noticing for the first time a strange inconsistency in their heights, defying the typical sameness characteristic of the calm surface of Lake Huron. I imagined watching the waves from different angles, hovering over the water surface and plotting the sporadic roll towards the shore along a continuous line. The word "waveform" flashed in my head in pure epiphany. I understood. The waves along the surface weren't driven by changing wind patterns but growing reverberations from your cries below. But I couldn't parse the changes in waves into letters and words and smiley faces and red hearts. I looked to the only tool I had on me, the phone gripped tightly to my side. I remembered last summer, when your cousins from the Ukraine visited and you took turns punching phrases into the screen for the other to read.
I sat back up in the water, leaving my phone on and holding it gently face down, such that the crest of each wave brushed against the screen. I hoped that the pattern of waves washing across the touch keyboard could decipher your replies. When I flipped my phone over, I caught a glimpse of the string you typed (3fiM4*Hom3E888888888) for just a second before the water had made its way to the critical circuitry inside and shorted out the screen. I shook the phone violently, cascades launching from its ports into the dry sand below, but it would not return to life. That was okay, one reply was enough.
I returned to the parking lot and piled into the cab of the truck, opening both passenger windows and the tiny rear one. I slowly eased across the sand and onto the stone floor of the lake, rolling forward as the water level rose up to the tires. As I drove into Lake Huron, I tried to mentally list the locations checked by dive teams in the newspaper articles, trying to avoid directions for which I knew you weren't staying. With the truck almost entirely flooded, my tires caught in a deep sandbar. I pushed hard against the sidedoor but it wouldn't relent like the open window had, which was allowing a constant blanket of water to pour in over its bottom ridge. I awkwardly climbed out through the window and paddled further from shore, shedding clothing as it weighed me down until only swim trunks remained.
The sun had fully risen by the time the parts of the truck still above water appeared to me as no larger than a single pebble on Lake Huron's shore. I began routinely diving under, grasping along the lake floor, fearfully retracting my hand when it brushed against vegetation or that weird jelly-like plant growth in the sand. I grew tired from no sleep and repeated dives, but continued outward with each plunge.
As tired delirium set in and the shore was no longer visible, I thought about my map of the path between our front door and Lake Huron. You had told me that it was drawn backwards. In this context, all of my problems made sense now: the illegality of building a channel across the street, the impossible battle against gravity to get Lake Huron to travel uphill to our door, the constant silence from you until I spoke through the medium of water. The line of red ink was not a path along which you would travel back to me, but a path I would take to you.
As I took a final breath and dove below the risen sun, enough light had penetrated the depths for me to resolve a small black rectangle. Getting closer, I instantly recognized the image held within the black frame: a picture of us that was held tightly between the back of your phone and its transparent case. Though, on closer inspection, we ourselves looked unrecognizable in it, waterlogged and swollen. While I knelt on the sandy floor, you snuck up to me from behind and lay your warm hand on my lower back. You rubbed in small, comforting circles as my body strained and tensed and jerked, shaking free the few remaining air bubbles it had hidden away in its deepest corners. I smiled and tried to inhale deeply before you slowly placed your other hand over my eyes.