One block away from the gate, my heart started fluttering.
“What if they don’t let me in?” I asked, fiddling with the straw in my iced coffee. “They may not remember me. I mean, it’s been three years. Everyone I know may be gone.”
Mike rolled down his window as we approached. “Don’t worry about it hon, you’ll be fine.”
I knew he was right. What was the worst they could do, turn us away? I swallowed the golf ball of fear in my throat and leaned across to talk out the driver’s side window.
“Hi, I’m alumni. I was here about three years ago. We’re just here for a visit,” I explained to the guard, a middle-aged woman in jeans and a pink shirt with a pleasant smile. She could be anyone – a mother, a wife, a daughter, a college graduate, a high school drop-out. I wondered if she was an alcoholic, or maybe a pill addict.
“Oh, okay, well I’ll go ahead and breathalyze you,” she said, passing it to me. That was easy.
“Just blow on the straw when it zeros out.” I knew the drill.
“How long have you been here?” I asked, waiting for the numbers to count down.
“Eight months. I’m doing Team 7 after that, try to get a job.”
“Oh, you must be so excited!” I said, remembering how I felt at eight months, like an expectant mother weary of swollen feet and lower back pain and ready to get this baby out.
The numbers hit zero and the screen blinked “READY.” For a split second, my heart caught familiarly, wondering if the stories were true. Could the vanilla flavor in my Starbucks make me blow numbers? What about chewing gum? I exhaled into the straw.
Beeeeeeep. Double zeros. My heart rate steadied.
“Okay,” the she smiled at us, “you’re all set! Have a good time!”
Mike pulled through as she lifted the gate. “Do you have to do that every time?” he asked me.
“Yes. Sometimes alumni come back here drunk, looking for help, looking to stir up trouble, old resentments,” I explained. I remembered how few came back sober.
He drove down the dusty road to the parking lot in front of the cafeteria. We got out of the car and walked across the road to the small lake. It was one of those clear, warm days that melted ice cream slowly, the sunshine kissing your forearms.
Mike followed me across the drawbridge onto the tiny finger of peninsula, both of us quietly searching the shoreline for turtles or ducks as we made our way to the point.
“Look, there’s one!” I said, pointing at the white duck flying low across the surface. Other than that, the lake remained smooth, silent, mirroring me now.
“It’s so peaceful here,” Mike said.
“Yes.” I inhaled deeply, air perfumed by warm grass and Eucalyptus. “This place saved my life.”
Mike pulled me tightly to him. “Mine too.”
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