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We turned a corner and found Nowhere Lake.
He was my boyfriend and he knew all sorts of things about plants and birds and estuaries and wetlands. We had no one to support then. Our weekends were ours and we were free to wander down any path we came upon, but Nowhere Lake was the most interesting find of all, seemingly made for us and us alone.
The road was paved and then it was just gravel, gravel spinning out from the spokes of our bicycles and dust everywhere in our wake.
We passed two empty finished houses and then a series of three partly constructed houses and then, around the bend, a few lots with foundations partly dug, loose wooden boards, and some bricks heaped in a driveway.
A spur from the road led to the man-made lake and a rocky path curved around again behind the lake to rejoin the road. The lake was shaped like an enormous comma.
When it was hot, we sometimes argued about whether this was a pond or a lake.
We returned again and again and never saw a human being there, nor did we see the slightest progress being made on any of the buildings.
My hair was dark brown then with red streaks that were mostly natural. Nowhere Lake belongs to a time after I knew I could not live without him, and before a time when he said I would have to.
We swam in that lake. I stuck to the shallow area, but he struck out for the raft in the center, where he would sleep and sun himself and I would sit on the small rocky beach on my sweatshirt, hugging my knees and thinking how lucky I was.
I had spent my childhood unwisely exploring a similar development with my up the street neighbor. We climbed down on wooden two-by-fours into the foundations of houses, picked up metal things we could not identify, and rode our bikes around the curly dead ends of the streets as they were built. We took our hands off the handlebars when our parents were not looking, which was often. My neighbor’s housekeeper was theoretically in change of watching us from the kitchen window, but she had a lot of other things to do. These houses changed by the week and eventually people moved in with their grills, and deck chairs, and tricycles and sandboxes. In the winter, Christmas tree lights were visible from the street. Soon, there were no vacant lots or half-built houses to explore.
At Nowhere Lake, all was abandoned as if in midsentence.
One sultry day in late July, we packed a lunch and bathing suits and headed for Nowhere Lake. My shorts stuck to the bicycle seat and the air was suspended and immobile. On that particular day, I did explore the development on my own. I peered into windows at deluxe kitchen islands and staircases that stopped in midair. I found some bottles of soda propped up against one foundation and open paint cans in the driveway of one of the few houses that was almost complete. It took me a while to realize that I had stayed too long in the sun, and I could feel a burn coming on. My shirt was soggy, and I was looking forward to changing into my suit and feeling the water on my skin and even more to finding his hands on my skin.
When I returned to my sweatshirt, I could not see him anywhere: not on the raft and not in the water. There was no sign of his distinctive crawl stroke anywhere in sight. Nothing was moving. The telephone wires zinged, the only sound in the silence that had suddenly become oppressive. I grabbed my bike and circled the water on the path and eventually found him crouching in the shallows at the other side of the lake examining some of the plants that grew there. That was the day that it struck me that this frozen development might be the harbinger of hard economic times to come. That was also the last time we went together to Nowhere Lake.
Perhaps he has gone back to Nowhere Lake with someone else, perhaps the woman he married, perhaps someone he dated after me. But I have not gone back to that patch of earth. The hard times or the first wave of hard times did come, not right away but they swept down on a harsh wind from Florida or Arizona or some other place where house foundations stood in curved lines and where the hot breeze was filled with sand and gravel and dust from roads that were never paved and ended in piles of gravel and dirt.
I saw the second wave of harsh times coming one day when I was passing the long hours at a chess tournament where my kids were playing. In between the frantic minutes consoling a child and the time spent trying to divine the progress of a match from across the room, I picked up a newspaper and began to read an article about well-heeled financial types (all white men) who had found themselves suddenly jobless and bewildered. My sweaty shirt began to cling to the fabric of the round upholstered back of the hotel chair and the lights from the chandelier above me began to melt and swim together. I turned the page of the article and stared at the face of someone I knew, and I felt my blood racing around my arteries as if I was being pursued by a pack of dogs.
By the time of the second wave, I had a family to support. Consultants had begun roaming the place where I worked and the word on the street was that the people with their clipboards and seemingly harmless questions and pleasant demeanors were there to eliminate jobs and to pocket a chunk of the savings. I might be cut but as a manager, I might be forced to cut someone on my staff.
That winter, as the consultants prepared to wrap up their report, the streets had begun to be filled with the newly homeless. At traffic lights, people stood with signs and dove in between cars to retrieve the money that people held out from car windows.
One staff position in my area was eliminated, and I was assigned the task of notifying the employee. After he had packed up his things in a box and said his goodbyes, one of his colleagues told me that the man who had just walked out the door had two non-identical twin boys with serious chronic conditions. I walked slowly to the bathroom. My skin felt filthy and itched and my face in the mirror looked blotchy in the fluorescent light.
Why am I telling you this? It’s because I dreamed last night of Nowhere Lake. Trees and tall grasses had penetrated the bricks and wooden planks of the few houses that remained. In my dream, I walked the shore in my bare feet. In the distance, I saw what remained of the raft as it had broken in two and one part had drifted towards the small sandy crest beside the overgrown foliage. The water felt warm, and I waded out up to my waist and then floated on the water under a nearly full moon. The wind slithered between the grasses. Nothing else moved but the wind and the water.
In the end, we had moved on, all of us. My boyfriend had married someone else. So had I. The developer had likely made out fine, perhaps even well. The contractors had come to work one day and had been sent home before lunch. The person I had fired had perhaps found another job.
And Nowhere Lake? This morning, I found the familiar comma shape of the lake thanks to Google maps, and I hovered as near to the ground as I could. Most of the houses had been erased. I could not see the raft. The spur in the road was there but the road that circles the lake was covered in fallen trees and still led to nowhere, nowhere at all.
BIO: Anita Kestin, M.D., M.P.H., is a physician who has worked in academics, nursing homes, hospices, public health, and the locked ward of a psychiatric facility. She is also the daughter (of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust), a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a progressive activist. Although she has been writing for many years, she has only started to submit work (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) during the pandemic. Her first non-scientific piece was accepted when she was 64 years old.