They had been here before but not with this view.
Before, it had been a complicated journey fraught with tension and anxiety. Old rivalries flared like gunfire in the night, and the night was always short this far north in the summer.
It was here that she’d tried one last time to make the marriage last. And it was here that they’d celebrated a last anniversary, peppered with as much hope as they could shake onto the table.
This time, he was gone and the air was clear. Clearer than it had ever been. The same cottage was more peaceful, the air more breathable, the children even happier as they ran with their cousins on the wet grass.
On the first day, she took the children sailing on the big lake. It was choppy but sun-glowing and the boat rode the waves with ease. The oldest boy steered the ship, awash in six-year-old lost-tooth smiles.
But when they left the channel and sailed onto the open lake, he lay down on a cushion and closed his eyes. It wasn’t long before the younger children were asleep on their mother.
And she lulled into the motion of the boat, an arm around each child, a serene smile dancing at her mouth.
This type of freedom – of thought, of motion, of adventure-seeking – never happened when he came along. The serenity, the peace – the one feeling she had sought all the months of the tumultuous divorce – was conspicuously absent all the years of the marriage.
Later, she would reflect for a brief moment on their wedding day but only for a moment. It was when she had stood on the dance floor, hands clasped in front of her fluffy white satin dress, watching him perform with his college friends. He was 30 and she was his wife and he sang into the microphone like it was a show he’d been waiting for all his life.
She stood there, not sure what to do, bopping to the music, a smile pasted on her face. Looking out at the sea of people, she saw women in their long sleeves in August, some wearing hats to cover their hair like religious women do. This was the world she’d chosen, and he was her first mate.
She knew then what she knew on Lake Michigan – that patience would’ve gotten her farther, that there is no way to rush the natural course of the elements. That, given time, she’d get where she needed to go, and be happy to arrive.