I hate waterskiing. I’ve always hated waterskiing. This has always pained my mom, since it’s one of her favorite summer pastimes. She was one of those people who just “got it,” like riding a bike, at a young age, and now, when she’s getting pulled by a boat she just looks like she’s standing there waiting for the bus. She likes hotshotting across the wake, dropping a ski, spinning around…whatever she can think of to keep herself from being bored while getting pulled across a lake, drunk, at speeds that would be illegal on most city streets with nothing between her and the whipping water but two slats of wood that are perpetually threatening to get caught at the wrong angle and break her ankles.
Mom has tried to buy waterskiing lessons for me multiple times, and I’ve never accepted. This time, though, we were at our annual family resort week without my sister to take any of Mom’s attention. I wanted to get out of the cottage and to interact with other human beings, and Mikey the toned, tanned 30-something waterskiing instructor was pretty much at the top of my list of people in the tri-county area I’d like to be in the immediate proximity of.
He’s the kind of flirtatious goof you know is in his job almost entirely for the captive audience. The kind of guy who knows his element and sticks within it, where he’s confident and relaxed and routinely shirtless. While he coached me on the proper stance, I imagined him tabulating the pros and cons of me in his head. Cons: snobby, pale, stringy-haired. Pros: young, available, maybe has drugs.
He does know his shit, and sure enough, I got up, hating every second of it. I did the bare minimum of water-skiing required of me by the informal terms of my agreement to allow my mother to buy waterskiing lessons for me—I calculated this was 30 seconds—and then let go of the rope, deciding I’d rather take my chances careening off into the depths versus getting involved in whatever was going to happen with my legs when the boat slowed down. I threw my skis into the boat, dropped my exhausted ass into the passenger seat with a loud squelch, and was invited by Mikey to swing by the lodge for cards with him and some other guests that night. Like a McMuffin, I thought: totally fucking predictable, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want it.
By 10:00 that night, Mom was almost passed out in front of the TV and Ron was deep into the latest John Sandford novel on his Kindle. I said I was going to take a walk, and neither barely noticed.
It was easy to find Mikey at the lodge: the front door was locked, but around back the kitchen door was open and Mikey was playing hearts and drinking Busch Light with two twenty-something guys and a blonde woman who I guessed was in her early 30s. Mikey enthusiastically welcomed me and introduced me—hand, of course, in the small of my back—to the team. The guys, Mark and Andy, were on a fishing trip, and the woman, Avery, was in the same situation as me: on vacation with her family, looking to escape.
Mikey tossed me a beer—literally tossed me a beer, probably the first person I’ve ever seen do that in real life—and the hearts game was immediately abandoned for King’s Cup. I barely paid attention to the game, drinking indiscriminately and watching the interpersonal dynamics. Avery was obviously into Mikey, but got the message that he was into me, so tried to get Mark and Andy to compete for her attention. Mark was the better-looking of the two, but Andy had a sly sense of humor that made him more attractive. They were both into me, but over the course of the night Andy started paying more attention to Avery and Mark started flirting, hard and ineptly, with me. Mikey deflected this, and as I sank more and more deeply into my buzz, I noticed how he started growing in stature in my mind. What a gentleman! What a looker! What a decent guy in this bay of buffoons! A hookup started to seem inevitable.
By midnight, Mark was puking. While Andy and Mikey—gallant fellow that he was—helped Mark, I talked about Oprah books with Avery and did relationship math in my head. Yes, I was sort of seeing John, but he’d never asked nor promised fidelity. Veronica says I need to hook up with someone else, and she’s an old friend who knows what I need. Maybe most importantly, having sex with the waterskiing instructor would make the vacation seem like a wacky teen movie instead of like the tedious hell it actually was.
Andy took Mark off to bed, and Mikey came apologetically back to the kitchen. Avery immediately suggested swimming, and Mikey immediately accepted. I was in no mood to offer resistance to anything, so I followed them down to the beach and dropped my clothes next to theirs. I glanced at Mikey as he jumped in, his ass as stupidly perfect as I’d expected. Avery did a lot of giggling and splashing, but I just swam out to the floating dock and back, enjoying the cold water and the solitude. I knew I wasn’t hurting my chances by playing hard-to-get.
And then we were on the shore again, getting dressed. Mikey said goodnight to Avery in a way that, drunk though she was, she correctly interpreted as a polite send-off. She shuffled back to her cottage, and Mikey turned to me and asked me if I wanted to grab a drink back at his place.
I’d planned to go. I wanted to go. I knew I should go. I found, though, that there was a line: an invisible line between me and the northwoods hunk, a line I couldn’t cross. I was invested in John—or if not in John himself, in the idea he represented that I could have a meaningful long-term relationship, a relationship I didn’t fuck up or get bored by or blow off. On Mikey’s side of the line was another idea, an idea of myself as someone who’s fun and spontaneous and wild, an idea of myself as someone who defies my mom’s idea of myself as a nerd…just so I can become more like her.
“I gotta go to sleep,” I said. “Thanks for the beer, dude.”
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Photo by Kate Gardiner (Creative Commons)