A swim in the moonlight in Lake Ceto, birds pollute the quiet with hoots and hollers, shrill and bass notes. A warm breeze flutters the leaves and bends the tall grasses. The water is warm with a rippled surface and a silky caress.
It floats me back twenty-five years ago to when it all fell apart.
* * *
Glo, short for Gloria, and I were twelve and lived for the summers at the lake especially for the swimming and sailing. My fraternal twin was a stronger swimmer and a math freak, but I was a better sailor and a geography whiz.
Mom swam on her high school and college teams, and our father grew up sailing and racing sailboats.
Glo and I shared ownership of The Trident, a ten-year-old Flying Junior racing sail boat that we purchased with our own money.
It was fully dark when we tied up at the little pier and made The Trident secure and shipshape. We could walk about a hundred yards to where our parents were grilling, or we could swim less than fifty yards. We always elected to race that fifty yards. We were in the water waving to our mom to be our starter.
"Flash, I bet you five dollars and the loser washes dishes for the next seven days. And brother, as a special once in a lifetime offer, I will spot you a twenty-second lead. OK?"
Glo's eyes were so bright; her teeth were silver white in her brown face. I really wanted to erase that smug grin. The best way to do that was to take her bet and win it. Glo had won the last eight races. I was going to end her winning streak. I swore it.
"Gordon, did you feel that?"
"Feel what?" I was paying attention. Glo is serious when she uses my first name instead of 'Flash,' my nickname.
"Feel it! You have to feel it." Glo was clutching my arm as our mother yelled "Go." I took advantage of Glo's distraction to pull loose from her and kick for the beach. I know Glo waited to give me the lead because dad was yelling for her to get in the race.
About twenty-five yards from shore Glo caught me, stuck out her tongue and passed me. Mom was yelling for me to kick. I looked away for a second, and when I looked back, there was no Glo.
She had dived underwater to really show me up. I kicked harder, but she didn't surface, and I got this weird feeling. I looked to the shore, and mom and dad were running into the water.
But there was no Glo. The water was only five to seven feet deep along our race path. There was no tide, or undertow or trick current. There was only a mild breeze and no Glo. Nowhere at all.
We swam every inch of the inlet until we were past exhausted.
The next morning every available boat searched the lake. We never recovered her body.
We never recovered.
* * *
We avoided the bays, the rivers, creeks, streams and lakes. The water was a thief, a murderer, a dark fiend and a traitor.
My parents sold our house with the huge pool and we sold our two sail boats. We moved inland.
The mystery of her disappearance dazed us, left us in a state of shock and diminished us in almost every way. Death we might have come to terms with, but this, this leaving with no trace challenged our sense of order and security in the world.
We were unsettled and went through the motions of life until three weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday. My parents sat in the closed garage with the car engine running until it ran out of gas, and they ran out of life.
I stumbled on and drifted into and out of relationships, two marriages, and a dozen jobs. At thirty-seven I'm back here swimming that same racing lane during the same time of year. My first time in the water in twenty-five years. I do not race. I set a slow pace. It feels right. This is where I'm supposed to be. Swimming is natural, coming home, sweet and calming.
I will not leave here without Glo. I will drown here on this lovely night, but I will not leave without my sister. I know she's here. I don't think she ever left. Maybe we abandoned her.
* * *
"Gordon, did you feel that?"
"Feel what?" I was paying attention. Glo is serious when she uses my first name instead of 'Flash,' my nick name.
And we have a second chance! A do-over! I don't even want to know how.
Mom yelled, "Go!"
"Gloria, what is it? What do you feel?"
She digs her fingers into my arm and grimaces as if in pain. "Come back for me, OK? OK?" She releases my arm. "I'm going to count to twenty. Flash, it will be OK. Please race. You have to. OK?"
* * *
I was on the shore, on my back, spitting up water. Dad was yelling at me to breathe.
Mom was cradling Glo's body in her arms. I knew my sister was dead.
Glo had a seizure of some kind.
I had passed her and was winning for the first time in nine races when I turned back and pulled her thrashing body toward shore. I had nearly drowned before my parents got there to help me.
We all got a second chance courtesy of the dark water.
Her body was dead, but Glo was in me and alive and glad to be alive. Almost as glad I was to have her back.
* * *
We just don't know how to explain it to our parents, but we will figure it out. I know we will.
* * *
The funeral is past, and the relatives and friends have gone. The four of us sit at the kitchen table. Mom in her black dress and dad in his old blue suit, the one Glo said made him look like a movie star. I catch them looking at me oddly, a concerned look.
Dad clears his throat. "Gordon, son, I know we all express grief differently ... But I, I ... You --"
Mom cuts him off. "Honey, you, you seem more preoccupied, more remote than sad, depressed, or in mourning. I ... I just want, we just want to make sure you are OK. Are you OK?"
Glo and I have been trying to find the best way to tell them. We have decided there is no best way. Whatever we do will make us look sick or crazy or both.
We get up and cross to my mother. We kneel down beside her chair, and we take her hands in ours. "Mom, listen to this."
Glo whispers something in our mother's ear. It is a secret between them. I don't listen in. Mom's hands tighten on ours. She gasps and sobs at the same time. She snatches her hands free. She slaps us in the face harder than we have ever been hit in our lives.
I don't remember the rest. I know Glo and I went for a walk. We talked and talked and talked ourselves out.
* * *
It's our dad. He's standing in the doorway of my bedroom. He turns on the light and sits on the foot of my bed.
"What happened this afternoon? What did you do to your mother?"
I don't know what to say. Glo speaks for us. "Do you recognize my voice --"
Dad is on his feet instantly. "Fuck! Jesus Christ! Gordon, no, no. This is beyond sick beyond ... Oh no, no."
He backs out of the doorway with tears in his eyes.
* * *
"Glo, I don't know what to do. Everything we do just makes things worse."
"I know. I know, but we can't just stop. We have to make them believe."
"We are going to wind up in a crazy house pumped full of meds. Shit!"
* * *
"Gordon, why are you doing this to us? We love you as much as we loved Gloria."
"Mom, we --"
"We? We! Gordon --"
"Shut up! Shut up! Don't, don't try to imitate your sister's voice, please, please." Mom staggers to her bedroom and slams the door.
* * *
"Hello, I'm Dr. Park and I have met with your parents and I would like to talk to you. Please have a seat. Good. Are you comfortable? Now tell me what is happening to you and your family.
"Gordon? Or should I call you Gloria?
"If you do not cooperate with me, you narrow your parent's choices. And these narrow choices are all worse than talking to me. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
We do and, still, we remain silent.
* * *
A week later we get our breakthrough.
"Gordon, please come here and explain this."
We come into the kitchen. Mom is holding weekly math quizzes papers.
"I went to see your teachers and Mr. Zorn showed me these. He says your grades have skyrocketed since, since ... How do you explain this?"
We say nothing. We hope and pray that she will see what we can't tell her. She looks at us so hard for so long. Finally, she lays down my last two perfect scores quizzes. She sighs and lays down two of Glo's perfect quizzes. The handwriting is the same exactly the same, no doubt about it.
Mom flips the papers over and looks at numbers on the back of the papers. She closes her eyes and balls her hands into fist. "What is 238 times 56?"
"789 times 456?"
Mom's tears are flowing now. Her face is all distorted. Her voice is all chocked up. "Gloria, Gloria is that you?" Is it? Oh, God, let it be you."
And then we are hugging and crying and all three of us are trying to speak at once. It is a mess. The second best mess in my life.
* * *
"Just because Gordon can now do some of the things his sister could do doesn't prove that, that she's alive. And, even if Gordon revealed a secret to you that Gloria would never reveal to her brother it's not proof, not proof of anything."
Our father is adamant and so scared of losing his wife and son after losing Gloria. We cry for him, all three of us, but it is all in vain.
He won't believe, and mom can't accept him not believing. We try to hold our parents together, but they split. We fear for him and want to go with him to keep an eye on him to comfort him. Mom understands and accepts our choice, but he will only take us if I get counseling, therapy, and treatment of some kind. We stay with mom.
Six months later he takes his own life.
Mom is so full of guilt and grief that she too is on the edge of self-destruction.
* * *
Here we are, back for another swim in the moonlight in Lake Cato. Owls, Crows, and songbirds are our soundtrack. A summer breeze warms our skin. We slip into the water. It's like coming home again.
"The third time is a charm, right?"
"God, I sure hope -- Gordon, Gordon did you feel that?"