My earliest exposure to Lake Erie made me never want to return.
No, it did more than that. It made me wish the whole damn lake would dry up – and maybe become the sight of a correctional facility where juvenile delinquents dig holes all day long.
I was 13, and I’d been invited to tag along on a friend’s family vacation. They rented a house on the lake’s shore in a remote area – the ideal place for a horror film, now that I recall.
We spent most of the week staging the perfect MySpace photos while listening to new Nickelback songs – things that were common practice in 2006 yet make me cringe now.
When we weren’t embarrassing our future selves, we hurled ourselves off the dock and swam for hours.
I’ve only swum in the ocean twice, but I can tell you it is in no way, shape or form the same as lake swimming. Oceans may hold sharks and jellyfish and sand hotter than Hades, but lakes have two features arguably just as hazardous to the human body: rocky bottoms and bacteria. Lots and lots of bacteria.
Every time I stepped out of the water I had to thoroughly wash my feet and apply antibiotic ointment to the cuts that covered them. Whether the cuts came from rocks or broken glass I couldn’t be certain. Either way I went to bed looking like I practiced Chinese foot binding.
One afternoon the wind blew so fiercely it created sizable waves. In turn, the water’s motion stirred up a variety of plant life. I ended that day’s swim at the neighbor’s house, pointing a garden hose at my head and picking seaweed out of my hair for two hours.
Needless to say, there was no love lost when the vacation ended. I wanted to go home, heal my feet and hope that the green tinge would leave my hair. I was ready to move on from the mostly negative experience.
Evidently, though, I brought some of Lake Erie home with me. Within days I developed an ear infection. My doctor nodded knowingly after I told him where I spent the week prior.
If you’ve never had ear infection, it’s similar to the feeling you get when you push a cotton swab too far into your ear canal – if you replace the cotton swab with a switchblade. I lay on the couch for days, cursing the god-awful lake that caused me such grief.
Surely pain that acute and that close to my brain meant imminent death, or so I thought. I mentally prepared my will, leaving behind a slew of sweet pea-scented body lotion and Aeropostale T-shirts. (Seriously, middle school is the worst.)
Spoiler alert: I lived. The infection went away, and years later I chose to attend college not five miles away from Lake Erie. In fact, I now can say that Gannon’s proximity to Presque Isle is its biggest selling feature during warm months. I try to go as often as possible. I just keep my head above water.