We all took turns being the spotter. He was the one who stayed in the back, just behind the boat's driver, watching the water to prevent a quick death. Of course, your ostensible role was to shout out to the skipper 'he's down!' when the skier smooched waves; our actual role was more blatant and grim -- make sure that your friend does not somehow die on your watch. Not that we thought in those stark, gruesome terms. Consciously. I don't think we thought about much of anything out there, let alone death. Consciously. Yet it was a good role to give to a teen who has barely begun to sprout hair on his pubes -- that of an aquatic designated driver, of sorts. One felt as if life had bestowed upon you a certain regard.
The way it worked, the skier would sit in the water, bobbing. The life-jacket you wore let you sit on your butt in the lake and just bounce like a buoy, with the yellow rope stretching out from the boat now lined up between your two skis, your knees half-submerged, the triangular-handle, identical in shape and size to a pool table's racker, clutched tight in your hands as your fingers found grip. Clutched as one would a baseball bat at the plate, with a similar kind of nervous anticipation, only here you controlled all the motion to come. You started everything. When you were ready, you gave the o.k. Usually: "Hit it!"
Then you were up, almost like that. Years of practice had make a two-ski start pretty basic. The boat had to rev rather quickly to allow you some lift-off, but if that boat gunned it good, you could spring up like a pogo stick bounced on pure rock. On top of a lake, riding the wake, feeling light, almost vapid. Eventually, after a fair bit of cruising and coasting, you might decide to lift your right leg to signal a drop -- that semi-reckless urge to go slalom, letting one ski simply slip right out of our foot, with all the ease one might have as one kicks off a flip-flop. You moved your bare foot, pink and now dangling, behind your wet ass and into the slot on the back of the one ski you had left. Balance now became its own form of gravity. Often, you fell, face-first, fast and blunt. The sensation not unlike ramming into a closed door, only at a car's racing speed, with your body declaring a pretzel's strange form has its own charm you should trace. Once you were down, your arm would then raise, waving. (What's that old line -- 'not waving, but drowning?' Here, the opposite.) Signalling: All is okay, I'm still here, not yet dead. Full motion to stop, an instant's harsh curve. I often wondered if this was how a page's sentence must feel when attacked by a period, so sudden and final, all that rhythm now blunted.
The spotter must see this. He should notice everything. If he doesn't, the boat's driver will think that the skier's still skiing. The boat will keep going. If you get too far away, it becomes physically hard to see your friend in that water, alone, floating. (An orange life-jacket's glow only extends a short space.) You, the spotter, are supposed to sit there and wait for a fall. That's all you're there for.
And there is always a fall, each time, no exceptions. Either the skier crashes into a wave and goes flying in spirals, or he finally gets too damn tired, dropping the rope, sinking right down. An odd image, that -- to see someone on top of the water slowly sink like a fruit slowly dipped in some chocolate. Smoothly, the lake wrapping his shape in its whirling wet cloak, a rapid descent. There's nothing that you, the spotter, can do. Only watch. That's your position.
Sometimes, as a spotter, I'd drift away from my duty. Only for a few moments. I"d reach my hand out, over the side of the boat to stroke that wet joy. When a boat is booming, the rush of the waves on one's skin has a crisp restless slink that creates its own suction. You almost feel that the water might grab you and yank you right out of the ship. Alas, the boat is too fast, the water too fluid. As long as you stay in your seat, the overboard option is moot. I'd stare transfixed at the water, white and blue in its tint, the sky and the sun's gentle gift to perception. The roar of the motor and rush of the waves both combining to make my own mix-tape of sound. Please let me stay here forever, in a boat on the water. When the boat slowed down to a stop, so, too, did the waves. No more rush on your forearm from that collision of motion, only placid water so still it almost felt plain and disheartened. I wanted thrust, action, immersion. Was that too much to ask from a life still just starting?
A slight bump would jolt me right back to my self. My friend was now in front of my gaze, behind our small boat, relying on me to make sure he stayed safe. I felt adult in intention, not yet mature, but beginning to fill up with life's small rewards of ascension. Soon, I, too, would be floating on those same skis by myself, and this seat would be filled with my friend's own tired focus. He, in turn, would look out for me. Roles reversed; each integral. There was something ennobling within that shift of duty.
Yet both of us still young enough and dumb enough to hoot and holler when a great spill off the skis was performed with dumb luck. Mock-clapping and shouting 'good job!' with great glee. Teenage snorts all around. Levity our one goal. Necks getting red with the summer's harsh sun, that slow aching sting our one proof of good health.
Dusk fast approaching, though. Our mums both cooking dinner back on the beach, the grill getting ready, our dads kind of bored by the boat's endless circles. Enough time, if we're fast, for another short spin. Both of us still agile and eager, but there's also exhaustion's first yawns, in spurts, almost stealth. You can only stay up for so long on those skis before your arms get all weak and your legs just give way, letting you sink.