A Boy at Sea with Me
Victoria Van Huystee
We’re driving down the freeway with the windows down, Milo and I. It’s still a little cold- the wind is definitely carrying a chill from the last of the snow melts farther up in the mountains- but down here below the summit, the sun is peaking between the trees and warming the earth. The playful beat of “Losing My Grip” by Junior Mesa is blasting from the speakers. Neither Milo nor I have shoes on, and my feet with toenails painted a fluorescent orange which are usually hidden inside sensible shoes while we are at home, are propped up on the dash of the van, being warmed by the light shining through the windshield, while he drives us through the twists of the mountain road. There is a never-ending smile on Milo’s face every time I look over at him. His smile is accentuated by the little crinkles at the corner of his eyes and the slight scrunch of his nose and forehead. The sun bouncing off his mirrored glasses is reflecting specks of silver into his auburn hair, which lifts in all directions as the crisp breezes from the windows swirl into the car. This moment feels so familiar- because I have experienced it multiple times already- but it is igniting an excitement within me that I have been missing most of the time in this past year. The wind whipping through my fingers, where they dangle lazily out the passenger side window, is promising that we are on our way to something great, even if it is simple.
This trip is an adventure Milo and I have recreated every year since the day we met, over eleven years ago, when we were both thirteen years old. We’ve changed a lot from the scrappy, young boy eager to see the world and the unkempt, wild-child girl who couldn’t possibly sit still. Back home in Nevada, down the mountain and four hours west, he and I have our lives all put together; two people living a seamless, balanced lifestyle that looks too perfect to be possible to most people. The two of us fit together like a well-oiled machine and our routine is consistent and air-tight. But out here, we are taken back to another time in each of our lives- a time when we didn’t have so much figured out. On this trip, we don’t have to have it all together still and we are free to breathe. As the van comes around this next bend in the road, I will be able to see the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, and I will be able to feel eleven years worth of memories like they were just yesterday.
The weather had started heating up a few weeks before, so the air was warm while the water was still brisk to the touch. This lake was where Milo and I first met. Milo was visiting the lake with his family for a nice spring break vacation. They had already been staying at a little cabin on the lake that was being rented out by an older couple who couldn’t live out there year-round for several days when I finally arrived.
Two months prior, my grandfather, who had lost my grandmother a few years before, had a fall at his house and agreed with my parents that it was time to stop living alone. So, my two nearly grown-up sisters- Violet, the nearest to me in age, was seven years older than myself- had whisked me off to the lake to keep me out of the way while our parents helped move our grandpa into our house. I didn’t mind going away for a few days; we had talked about going to the lake for several years but had not gotten around to it yet, so it felt like the perfect opportunity, and it was something new and exciting for me to do. Back then, I was almost never at home. I was always running around and exploring our neighborhood with whoever I could rope into joining me- I was certainly a handful for my folks.
My 25-year-old sister, Georgia, pulled our dad’s rickety, red jeep into our campground area, and before the car even stopped rolling, I launched myself out of the back seat and towards the slender stretch of beach fifteen feet from our site. Kicking off my tennis shoes, I was prepared to go racing right into the water, clothes and all, but Violet happened to be on the cross-country team at her college and easily caught up with me and snatched me back by the arm before my toes even hit the wet sand. She and Georgia insisted that I help unload the car and change into my swimsuit before I go swimming. They sounded like my parents, being so bossy, which I did not fail to mention to them while I grumbled through unloading. I was very little help with the actual set-up of our campsite, though, mostly just standing around with my backpack, waiting to throw it into the tent and get into my swimsuit.
When Georgia finally let me go, I shot off toward the far end of the beach, where a group of rocks were blocking off part of the shoreline. I climbed the rocks barefoot, not at all concerned with being careful and impervious to the cool breeze from the lake that was raising goosebumps on my exposed legs. I didn’t slow my climbing until I neared the top of the large formation of boulders. From the peak, I could see the cabin several yards away- the one Milo’s family was staying in- on the other side of the beach, and look down into the dark, lake water.
Floating on a bright, white block of salt just a few feet from the rocks was a boy. Where I stood looking down at him, I could see whisps of caramel in his floppy, auburn hair, accentuated by the sunlight that beat down on his back. His face was shadowed by his mop of hair, which was swaying about with the wind. He was hunched over on his hands and knees. It seemed like he was looking into the water for something, but from my vantage point, all I noticed was that he was completely unbothered by the fact that his salt block was drifting closer to the rocks, which would make it teeter in the water and probably send him splashing in.
Curious to see what he was so intently looking for, and coming to his aid before he crashed, I climbed my way down the other side of the rocks and unceremoniously leapt into the water, paddling rowdily over to where he was floating. As I approached, I could make out that he seemed around my age, and he finally noticed me coming over. How he had not heard me before with all the splashing I was doing is still a mystery to the both of us. He looked over at my swimming form and smiled, waving me to him.
When I reached the block of salt, I began to push it farther from the rocks, kicking my legs fiercely under the water, while he introduced himself to me as Milo. When I finally had him floating in a safer spot, I told him my name was Kora through heavy pants, and he helped me hoist myself up with him on the salt block, the two of us sitting beside each other, facing opposite directions with our feet dangling in the water. He told me he was looking for fish, and I laughed, knowing no fish would be able to live in this salty lake, which I had to explain to him. After that, we floated on our block of salt and talked for hours. Eventually, the sun started to go down and Violet was hollering at me from the beach to come help make dinner at the campsite, so we said our goodbyes and swam from the salt block to our respective stretches of beach, all the way turning to wave to each other until we were both out of one another’s sight.
Every day for the rest of each of our vacations, Milo and I were the first ones out on the beach each morning, so we could swim around and explore together. I would race wildly through the trees and around the salt flats, while Milo followed along anywhere that I led, pointing out rocks and creatures that his keen eyes picked up along the way. Had I been running around with my sisters, I never would’ve stopped to look at any of it, but Milo had me slowing down and mellowed out my crazy energy. He didn’t realize he was doing this of course, but he also didn’t seem to mind trying to keep up with the constant speed at which I lived my life.
By the time his family was preparing to leave, we were already best friends- the kind of friendship that only children could form, solely out of curiosity, but that would last for ages. We exchanged emails, the only form of communication either of us had at the time and spent nearly half an hour sitting on the rocks, planning how often we would talk back at home. Over the next several years until the two of us finished high school, Milo and I emailed each other daily, and then eventually shifted to texting and calling when we had both acquired cell phones. Our conversations were usually nothing serious, just how our days had been or what we were learning in class. But there were still the rare moments when one of us needed a shoulder to cry on, and though we couldn’t be there for each other in person, we did our best over the phone because both of us had come to trust and rely on the other very much.
To make up for our distance the majority of the time, with a thorough dedication to planning and probably obnoxious persistence, we convinced our families to make the lake trip an annual event so that we could meet up again every year. Some years only my sisters and I went together, and he with his brother and cousins, while other years our whole families joined. But the two of us were always there without fail, and our friendship continued to deepen. After graduation, we both went off to the same college- unintentionally, you’ll be surprised to know- where we finally gave in to the impossibility of us ever being apart and became a couple. The next four years, now that we were old enough to go on our own, we had spent every spring break driving out to the lake to go camping.
Now, four years after our college graduations, we’re still taking our annual trip. We borrowed our friend’s old Volkswagen van, which he had refurbished into a cozy setup for car camping, with the intent to use it as a place to sleep when his band went on tours. It is this silly, mint green van that I am waving my arm out of at this very moment, on the way to the same cabin that Milo’s family stayed in when we were thirteen. The couple that originally owned it had sold it, but we were lucky enough that the new owners also planned to rent it out as a vacation home, so it was still open for us to use. Being in the exact same location makes the trip even more nostalgic for us. We can even spot the place tucked into the rocks on the beach, where Milo and I had used a purple sharpie to try to write our names. Half of it has faded away from weather by now, but a few letters are still visible to remind us of the old days. When we finally park at our campsite, we will walk down to those same rocks where I found him and look for it.
We agreed a long time ago that we would always come back here, to remember the magical beginning of our story and the people that we were. Milo is still the ever-practical organizer in our relationship, taking the time to go slow and work out the little details of our busy lives. And I am still pulling him every which way to see new things with me, running wild and impatient as always. But after so many years of getting to know each other, we have found our perfect balance together. Of course, who knows how our story will go as we continue to return to this lake over the next eleven years, and all the rest after that. It could end in a huge, blowup fight three years from now. Or we could still be slowly crawling through these mountains in a little sedan when we’re eighty years old, headed to the same cozy, wood cabin. Either way, when we’re here, we’re just the two thirteen-year-olds who are meeting their best friends and starting a story that will go on writing itself for a lifetime.