Lake Ontario, ON - Gord Downie

My Watermark is Lake Ontario.

My older sister Charlyn did not want to take me. She pleaded with my mum; "The kids will all be older there; Jack (her boyfriend), will be there!?" It was a hot day in August. She and her friends were going down to the Lake, to the flat rocks at Fairfield Park, to swim, to hang out.

My mum sorta begged her to take me. And her friends couldn't see the harm. So I went. Walking 30 feet behind, my sister and her friends paid no attention to me. Though, one of my sister's friends, Cindy, held my hand to cross the busy highway.

When we got there, my sisters' friends claimed an area and started stripping down to their bathing suits and ran toward the water. My sister found her boyfriend Jack sitting on his motorcycle, leaned way over on its' kickstand.

It seemed like everyone from our town was there. Everywhere I looked, towels and blankets were spread out on the dry, yellow grass. People were picnicking, sun-tanning, throwing frisbees, swinging on swings, making out - happy. I saw some guys sharing a cigarette sitting on the hood of a gold car parked in the shade of a tree. I heard a song playing on a small radio. I recognized it from my sister's 45 collection. 'Is It My Body' by Alice Cooper.

I wandered down to the water's edge. I looked out.

It was endless, all blue and grey and purple and pink waves sparkly on top and darker on the bottom. It was Lake Ontario. One of the Great Lakes. I knew that. I stepped into the water. It was clear and shallow and really warm. The flat rocks were entirely emerald green, carpeted in seaweed, gently swaying in the waves. It was so soft on my feet. I wandered out further. There were many kids in the water, splashing, chasing, yelling. And I thought in the water you are alone, and I wasn't a swimmer.

I saw a seagull, floating in the water, a little away from me. I splashed at it. It just looked at me. I moved closer. It still didn't try to fly away. I started to say, softly, 'Hello-' - when the bottom I was walking on, fell away. It was the drop-off. I'd always heard about it. I'd always been warned about it and now I was passed it. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next.

The water closed over me. I wasn't sinking, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't get back to the surface. I just sorta hung there. It was so quiet. The water was colder out there, it was different shades of green and shot through with silver shafts of sunlight. I could still hear the kids splashing, chasing, yelling but now they seemed really far away. I guess I was drowning.

I saw a flash of white, close-by. A thigh. I shot my arm toward it and missed. I was sinking lower. I lunged again and my finger hooked the string of a bikini bottom. I could hear a muffled shriek from above - like the sound someone makes when something unseen - or from the dark - bites them. An arm plunged down, grabbed me by the hair and pulled me up, blinking, gasping, to the surface.

It was my older sister, Charlyn. She was mad. Maybe a little afraid. “I told Mum,” she said, “I told her you shouldn’t come to the lake.”

Lake Ontario, ON
Mark Mattson
Gord Downie

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