As I submerged myself into the water of Green Lake, it felt so familiar to me; like an old friend embracing me and asking me where I had been.
It has been close to 30 years since I dipped my toes into these waters, but as I waded out deeper and felt the water rise up my body, a flood of memories rose up with each and every step.
As a child, I had come here with my family, to Jenkins Beach — the family friendly portion of the lake. I remember the long walk from the parking lot to the beach, the hot sand underneath my bare feet, the plastic pail and shovel at my side, ready to build a sand-castle I could only hope would go 100 feet high.
I remember the dock that extended out from the left side of the beach, and the boats that would roar out onto the lake from the far side of its wooden planks. Roped inside to the right was the beach area, and on the right side of the dock was a metal slide that would whip laughing children straight down into the water. It also allowed the perfect launching pad for those ready to cannon-ball their friends once they emerged from beneath the surface.
Up the right side of the beach was a row of small cabins — mostly yellow in color, if I remember right — overlooking the shore of the lake as they disappeared into the distance.
Today, I’m spending a week at one of those cabins — though mine is much farther up shore from where Jenkins Beach-goers still enjoy a family-friendly time.
I have come here this week for one reason, hidden in the guise of my vacation.
I could have gone anywhere, you know — New York City again, Washington D.C. again, Boston again, North Carolina again.
But instead I chose Green Lake in Dedham, Maine.
Thirty years later. That’s three decades to you me.
I have come here for all the reasons you go on vacation. The rest. The relaxation. The escape from the real world.
But I’ve also come here to dance with ghosts and think back to a time when life was so vastly different and my whole future was still an unknown journey ahead of me.
I’m trying to enter this next portion of my life with a healthier outlook on things: Physically, mentally, meta-physically.
On Monday, as I lay on my back in the waters of Green Lake, feeling the fish nibble at my legs, feeling the pockets of cold water rush past me always followed by the soothing warm water rush that rolled by next, I looked skyward and remembered everything that this lake meant to me so many years ago.
The Diet Pepsi Girl
My freshman year in high school, I fell head over heels in love with a girl named Theresa Lawlor.
There was just one problem, though.
Theresa Lawlor didn’t know I existed.
Well, that’s not quite true. She did know I existed because I was the dumb kid who rode his 10-speed bicycle eight miles from his home, all the way to the Dairy Queen where she worked just to order a Fudge Brownie Delight.
I had first set sights on Theresa during the fall sports season. We were both cross country runners, though we went to different schools.
I attended John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor. She was a junior across the river at Brewer High School.
The first time I saw her in her Orange and Black uniform I was smitten. Hell, for a 14-year-old boy who didn’t know the meaning of the word smitten, I was in love.
She was small in stature with short dark hair and she could run like the wind. If I remember right, she was the second-best runner on a very good Brewer High girls team which won the state championship in the fall of 1980.
I could only run well with a tail-wind behind me.
It didn’t matter, though. I had a better chance of winning a state championship cross country race than I ever had getting her to notice me in a boy-girl way.
But, the first time I saw her working at the Dairy Queen, I knew I’d be back.
It was, looking back on it now, perhaps my first battle with addiction. But, was I hooked on the fudge brownie delights? Or perhaps it was longing for another smile from the adorable Theresa Lawlor.
But I digress.
That’s who Theresa was and how she caught me eye, but it was the day I saw her at Jenkins Beach on Green Lake that jumped out at me yesterday after I had jumped into the proverbial deep end.
I was there with friends — including some Brewer High students, who personally knew Theresa — and she was there with some of her friends.
In a bikini.
Now needless to say that shouldn’t surprise anybody since we were at a beach, but let’s remember I was this now 15-year-old kid who didn’t exist in her mind, but I had always seen her in an orange singlet with black shorts, running by me in a matter of seconds, and suddenly here she was in a bikini.
Oh my heart!
That day, laying on the beach, Theresa Lawlor was drinking a Diet Pepsi.
That was also the day I started drinking Diet Pepsi for an entire summer. (If I had known about stock portfolios back then I would have suggested buy, buy, buy!)
These days, I’d probably be considered a stalker, but in the innocence of the early 1980s, I was nothing more than foolish kid in love with a girl who didn’t have the time of day for me, except for when she waited on me at the Dairy Queen and would give me that smile and say, “Thank you” and “Have a great day.”
Little did she know, just by seeing her, I already had.
So, Theresa, thank you — for the memory and for the summer of Diet Pepsi, because who knows how much weight I would have gained that year if not for cutting back on my sugar intake.
The Jersey Girls
Part of the tradition behind Green Lake is if you go enough times over the years you graduate further up the beach.
As a family, you go to Jenkins Beach.
Once you have your own mode of transportation, you go to Violette’s Landing; which is where the high school and college kids would hang out each and every summer.
It was the cooler place to be.
Now Violette’s Landing was vastly different than Jenkins Beach. It didn’t have a dock that rolled out into the water off the shore. Instead, it had a float complete with a slide and a raised diving board that was perhaps 25 yards out into the water.
This was big kid territory, without a doubt.
During the Summer of either 1982 or 83 — my word, age does a number on the memory’s filing system — me and my buddies befriended two girls who hailed from New Jersey. They were also the nieces — or was it granddaughters? — of the family that owned Violette’s Landing.
They were close to our age, so for most of that entire summer, we had new friends to visit every time the sun would become too much and we wanted to cool ourselves off.
And every time we went there, we would see the girls — not just new friends for the summer, but feeling like old friends, as well.
Of course, all these years later, I couldn’t tell you their names. Their ghostly images in my head fade in and out of view as I try to even think back to what they looked like. Nothing is there, but I know they were real.
And I do remember they made that summer something special, right down to the very special good-bye kiss I got to share with one of them before they returned to New Jersey for good.
It’s been more than 30 years since that summer, but it’s a memory that has never left me, a ghost that can still come back to dance with me from time to time.
More than 30 years ago, we frolicked in the same water I was floating in on Monday morning.
The Red-Headed Girl
Once you start to grow up and break free from the bonds of home you find that you have this freedom to make decisions. You do what you want, when you went, how you want and sometimes those decisions lead to something epic.
And I mean Epic.
One night — perhaps in the Summer of 1985 or 86? — I had one of those nights at Green Lake.
This wasn’t a beach night. This was a party night at a camp on the southern-most tip of the lake.
Names will be withheld to protect the innocent — and perhaps the embarrassed — but in summary three girls invited three boys to one of the girl’s family camp.
The three boys brought alcohol (none of us were of age yet) and a good time was had by all.
It was one of those nights where stories are told decades later and everybody involved can give a knowing nod as to what transpired in the glowing light of a camp-fire, and under a moon that glistened off the lake.
For me and red-headed girl who became my friend that night, we’ve popped in and out of each others’ lives ever since.
In the immediate aftermath of that night, I would visit her at home, where her parents — like all parents when I was a teenage boy — hated me.
A year or so later, she stopped by my apartment unannounced and we caught up with each other again.
A quarter of a century later, we found each other again through that God-sent/Devil-built thing called Facebook, and we’ve been stayed in touch for the last half decade.
On Monday afternoon, hours after I had pulled myself from the familiar waters of Green Lake, I sat on a picnic table overlooking the lake with the red-headed girl at my side.
She won’t fess up to it, but she looked as beautiful as she ever had. Me? I still need a strong tail wind to walk fast.
We watched as her own two children — her oldest right around the same age as she was when I first met her — climbed into a canoe and rowed away from the dock and out into the water.
We talked — not about that night on the other side of the lake; that was from another lifetime — but about today and tomorrow and what lay ahead for both of us down the road.
I’m hoping this week and this lake can give me some answers, which is part of the reason why I picked this place to get away.
She was on her own journey and, hours later, it was time to leave.
As the red-headed girl and her two kids drove away from the camp, I went out to the porch and looked over the vast expanse of water.
Once upon a time this was our lake. I think it belongs now to our memories.
I honestly don’t think I’ll ever set foot in Green Lake again before I leave it behind one more time.