From where I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I watch cars blurring between two rental homes. An eighteen-wheeler’s noise slithers under my door. On the streets around me, 188,000 people commute to work, drink at our bars, pray in ours churches—none that feel like mine. Another 600,000 people live own the condos and row homes that besiege this city. Someone might tell me they live in Standale or Ada or Kent, but I cannot find those towns on my mental map. I don’t know this landscape. I’ve never lived in a city before; I’ve never lived on flatlands before.
I only know that the river runs so polluted no one swims in it, all the old growth trees have been milled, and I am not sure where the nearest trail is to my house; it’s at least a twenty minute drive through stoplights and honking horns. And there is a lack of topography I’ve never known before—a flatness stretching from here to forever.
Justin knows my struggle to find home in the Midwest. He understands my heart-need for mountains or canyons or tight valleys. He says he will take me lake surfing. He almost says it will teach me something. By noon, we stand beside Lake Michigan and slip into wetsuits. It is February and 30 degrees out. Justin says the first slap of wave will be the worst. We cradle our surfboards and step into a lake that looks exactly like the Atlantic. The water stings in a way that reminds me of cold nights in a tent or a mountaintop wind. This means something to me.
We dive in and icy, chest high waves crash over our boards. We paddle until we look back on the lakeshore, the sharp rise of dunes, the scattered beach houses (my house thirty-three miles away). When we search over our shoulders for waves, we spot a solitary loon. Is there a way to live forever on the buoyancy of a surfboard?
The only noise is water meeting sand. I wait for a first wave to carry me toward shore.