A Boat with a View

I have a picture of the exact scene. The shot slightly blurry, the Chicago skyline is highlighted against the backdrop of dark night sky. The faint lightening- some call it light pollution- of so many buildings stretching so high into the sky can be seen behind the black towers. Small, seeming oddly insignificant, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel sits at the foot of the long line of buildings, the invisible waves of Lake Michigan lapping at its base.

I have the picture, but it’s the moment, the hours, behind the picture that I’d rather keep frozen, snapped on a camera roll of scenes and laughter, preparation and one hundred snippets of conversation.

Behind that picture, we’re three, then four, packed on wicker outdoor furniture. We’re on the top deck, the highest of two open-air areas, ornate all-weather furniture, heavily cushioned, strewn across both decks. Lower still, two indoor decks are lined with tables, their white table clothes long-since cleared of our buffet dishes, non-alcoholic bar drinks. There are two dance floors, one live band, and those two indoor decks are alive with the beat of the music, the hum and pitch of conversation, singing, laughing; voices rolling over and across one another, clashing and rising, and then falling to a hum once more.

Up on the top deck, the noise is different. The music can still be heard, but now it’s muted, vague through the textured steel below our feet. Instead, it’s the wind that we hear most up here. Whipping, blowing. It carries our voices the wrong way, words drifting away, immediately begging to be repeated. The conversations themselves are different up here, too. The chill and the blowing wind seem to bring about extremes; for some, it invokes yelling, loud exclamations punctuating the night air. Around us, small groups of people jump, spin, yell into the darkness, their voices disseminating quickly over the rolling waves.

For others, though, the vast openness of the lake and the cloud-filled sky incites a sense of closeness, of intimacy there in the wide open. Pairs, small pockets of threes, fours, scatter across the deck. Leaning against the waist-high railing, tucked into the canvas crevices of the couches. Their voices carry in the wind, but they are softened, morphed by the blowing breeze, and the sound that reaches us is unintelligible, gently undecipherable.

And we’re there on the couch, in the middle of the deck. The city before us, distant, seems tame from afar, but the glowing lights, the clean-cut skyline, hide millions of lives, stories, chaotic crossings of heart and souls. We’re four on the couch, isolated from the noise, from the city, from the world around us. I’m in the middle, shielded on both sides from the night chill. Two girls side by side, we’ve a suit coat tucked over our legs, generously offered by the guys sitting beside.

Tucked together, cushions over laps, shoulders curled together to guard against the wind, we sink into each other, exchanging words in conversations that we began months, years ago, and have picked up once more. I’ve not seen her in four months, after spending time together nearly every day for three years. She teaches and I teach and we learned how to teach side by side, practiced on one another, and now we’re arm to arm in the warmth of a couch on Lake Michigan, and the quiet conversation dips serious. She talks about her months teaching in New York, and she is honest and she is humble and I feel my heart taking in her words, her story, and I drink in her honesty, gulping down the assurance that this teaching and this learning and this following the Lord is something we all do, we all need grace in.

On the other side of me, the guys talk quietly, tossing words back and forth casually, kindly; their friendship stretches even longer than mine and hers, and they’re comfortable together.

And then someone, maybe one of the guys, stands, suggests a return below deck, to warmth and music and all the color-lit action of a cruise on Lake Michigan. And we go, standing huddled by our table, snacking on leftover desserts, sipping down pink lemonade that’s gone just a little bit flat.

And soon, when the boat docks and we all step off, we take an hour to wander through Navy Pier. We stop to take pictures, stop to chat, stop to rest heel-clad feet. And later still, after a too-long Uber ride back to school, we sit in the lounge in our sweats, suits discarded, fancy curled hair long since fallen down in the wind, and we play SPOONS with plastic silverware from the kitchen, and we’re laughing and calling out, right there at 1am.

And there are games and studying, laughing and snacking all around us in that late night campus lounge, but we’re in the middle of it all, relishing the last hours of a wonderful night on the lake, on a boat with a view.

~Natalia

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