I remember when I thought Lake Erie was the ocean. I was a teenager, and my sister, who was early twenty-something, had taken me with her on the drive from Salem to Cleveland in order to go swimming at big Lake Erie. The only other swimming we had done was in the municipal pool in Salem, overcrowded with urine-liberated kids and horny, pubescent youth, or at Guilford Lake, which was just outside our town and had brown water with hard rocks on the bottom and fish swimming around our legs. I don’t remember the specific reason for our trip—the effects of age and alcohol being what they are—but I do remember seeing the water for the first time as we neared and having this idea, albeit incorrect, that it was the ocean. It was, after all, blue, and capped with waves and all manner of aquatic recreational vehicles. From a distance, I felt as if I were seeing the ocean for the first time.
As we arrived at the beach, my impression continued, with the khaki sand and red-and-white-covered beach stands and the numerous beachgoers vying for the best spots. My teenage angst was borne of the excess weight I had begun to accumulate since junior high and the back acne, both of which wreaked havoc on my self-esteem. My sister, however, with her long, straight hair down to her ass, and still in beautiful physical condition after bearing two children, was at the same time a source of comfort and of envy to me. I tried to mimic her the best I could. I watched her move as she changed positions on our beach towel and tried to be as poised as she was. I felt jerky and simply awkward. So I decided to focus instead on the water and the experience.
It was a gorgeous Ohio day—probably 85 degrees and slightly overcast, as most summer days in Ohio are. And the water, as previously mentioned, appeared blue. At some point I realized—or maybe my beautiful older sister tersely corrected me—that Lake Erie was a LAKE and not the ocean! Then my perspective began to change. It shouldn’t have. It was still beautiful and huge and blue, like the ocean, with waves and swimmers and boaters and water-skiers…and it was bigger than Salem’s municipal swimming pool, and it was bigger and cleaner and prettier than Guilford Lake. But it was when I realized it was just a lake and not the ocean that a wave of sad realization washed over me. I thought it was probably the closest I would ever get to the ocean–being poor, from a small town, and no plans for college or leaving home in my future.