I have here a letter from Marcus, who is getting married this Friday.
“I’m so nervous,” writes Marcus. “I’m thinking of calling the wedding off because I’m that scared. What should I do? I mean, I love her. But what am I doing? Am I ready for this? Should I get married?”
My wife and I have been visiting a place called Lake Martin ever since we were first married, shortly after the Spanish-American War.
You ought to go sometime. It’s magical. When you look at Lake Martin, you’re looking at 41,150 acres of freshwater within one of the top five cleanest lakes in the United States. You can see straight through this crystalline water and—literally—see the fish swimming among the Keystone beer cans.
Lake Martin is a seasonal lake. Meaning, lots of newlyweds go there to camp in tents because it’s cheap.
This is definitely a happening spot. In the busy season Lake Martin is overrun with tricked-out boats full of barely clothed teenagers listening to loud rap music that vibrates the shingles off nearby rooftops.
During the off-season, however, the lake crowds thin out, and the place feels empty and sparse. The leaves die, the lake level recedes like ditchwater in the Mojave desert, and many lake houses are vacant. It’s fantastic.
I remember when my wife and I came here after my wife’s father died. We stayed for a few weeks. It was the off season, so there were no tourists around. It was like being a ghost town.
I couldn’t bring my wife out of her funk. So I spent a lot of time fishing by myself. I didn’t catch much more than a sunburn, and I saw her crying whenever she thought I was out of eyeshot.
I ached for her. I wished there was something I could do.
So one day, I rented a pontoon boat in hopes of cheering her up. After mortgaging my kidneys to rent the thing, we packed a picnic, donned our bathing suits and climbed aboard the S.S. Gilligan. I wore a little white sailor’s hat for morale.
I sat in the cockpit, opened up the throttle, and we levitated along the vacant lake. We had all 880 miles of shoreline to ourselves.
My wife and I visited all the major sights. We stopped by Chimney Rock, the Silo, Children’s Harbor. We trolled near the lake-house mansions and made remarks like, “What kinda idiot would live in a house that big?” Because this is what broke newlyweds say.
We ate pimento cheese sandwiches on Bunny bread, and drank Keystone from the can. It was, quite honestly, a perfect day. My wife began to emerge from her shell of grief, and I was glad to see her smile again.
Then something happened.
Our outboard motor quit working. And I don’t mean it just quit. I mean the thing practically exploded and left soot marks on our exposed skin.
For two hours I fiddled with the engine, repeatedly pulling the outboard’s ripcord until, mercifully, the engine fired and ran for a grand total of point-three seconds before coughing, sputtering, and finally going to be with Jesus.
So we were stuck.
The sun began to set. It got cold. My wife and I bundled our half-nude bodies in beach towels and T-shirts. We were over one mile from shore, the marina was closed, the lake was empty, and worse, we were out of beer.
But that’s when something else happened. My wife stood, removed her towel, wrapped the bowline tightly around her fist, then plunged into the water.
“What’re you doing?” I said.
“What’s it look like?” she said. “I’m towing us to shore.”
Whereupon my wife began swimming like Jack Lalane undergoing a nervous breakdown. She kicked her feet and flung her arms at the water.
“Are you crazy?” I said. “We can’t swim this boat to shore. Look how far it is.”
She kept swimming.
I tried to reason with her. I pleaded with her to stop, but my wife is one of those women who, once she makes up her mind, ceases to understand English.
So I joined her. In a few seconds, I splashed into the water. Soon, we were side by side, doing the breaststroke, towing our heavy boat toward the distant horizon.
The shoreline seemed as though it were five states away, and the beach never seemed to get any closer no matter how hard we beat against the water.
But eventually, after what felt like 2,490 hours of Olympic-style swimming, we arrived on the soft sand. We were breathless and tired. But we did it.
We rolled our limp bodies onto the shore and we began laughing so hard that my wife started crying.
I held her in my arms and looked at the huge pontoon, then I gazed at the immense lake behind us. I couldn’t believe how far we had swum together. Two painfully ordinary humans had just done something pretty extraordinary.
And well, that’s marriage.