The Lake of My Youth by Aaron Burch

When the cloud cover breaks, I am going to jump in the creek. 

When it stops raining, I’m jumping in.

I don’t want to already be wet before getting wet, is the thing. 

Once that cloud cover breaks, as soon as it stops raining and the sun comes out, I’m running straight to that creek, and I’m going to jump in. 

I’m going to jump in and then when I resurface, I’m going to flail around like I’m swimming. Like I’m celebrating. Like I want everyone to know how much fun I’m having. 

Everyone will look at me and go, look how much fun he’s having. Look at his exuberance of joy, look at the way he captures such childhood excitement!

They will remember that excitement of having just learned how to swim, that discovery of how one’s body can move through a previously inaccessible wonder of the world.

They’ll remember things forgotten. They’ll think thoughts they’ve never thought before. 


But the cloud cover never breaks. 

It never stops raining.

The sun never comes out. 

The rain comes down harder. 

Thunder shakes the ground below. 

The rain starts coming sideways, starts coming from everywhere all at once, from all angles—falling and shooting and swirling; back up from the ground even, this rain rising upward into the sky, back up toward the clouds, returning to where it came only to reset and do it all over again, which I know is impossible, or knew, before this moment of impossibility.


The creek starts flooding. Starts spilling over its banks, little by little and then all at once, water everywhere. The whole grounds, covered with water. 

The rain keeps coming, harder and harder. The water comes up to our ankles, and then already our calves, our knees. The water level keeps rising but then also it all starts moving—like the ground we’re on is more of an incline than I’d ever realized, or some kind of current or tide or some other unexplained force. The water is at my chest, my neck. I start swimming. 


I’ve only just started paddling—giant arcs through the air, one arm and then the other—when I look to my side and see myself on a shore I didn’t know was there, looking up into the sky, looking like a man hoping for the cloud cover to break, for it to stop raining, for the sun to come out so I can go swimming. 

I take a deep breath and put my head down and swim.


When I come up for air again, I see another version of myself standing next to my wife. It looks like we’re in the middle of a fight. We both look familiar, the fight looks familiar. I try to slow down and look closer but it’s already too late. I’m already past it. Past myself. I’m already bearing witness to an even younger looking version of myself yelling at our daughter, already feeling guilty and awful and like a horrible dad and person all over again, just as much so as I remember having felt at the time. 

I lose track of where I am, forgetting to paddle or kick.

I take a deep breath but my face is half underwater. I swallow a giant mouthful of water. 

For a moment, I think I might drown. 

For another moment, I come to terms with the idea of drowning. I don’t want to die, but if it’s my time, it’s my time. I’m at peace.


If your life flashes before your eyes right before you die, what happens if you die while swimming backwards through a time-traveling river of your life?


Teaching our daughter how to swim, watching my daughter’s first steps, my daughter’s birth, multiple roadtrips and nights out with my wife before we had our daughter, our wedding, roadtrips with friends before I got married, the first time I got high, my mom’s funeral, my college graduation, college move-in day…


What about some random nights of hanging out with buddies? Being a groomsman and partying at one of their weddings? One of those concerts I always talk about as having changed my life? A victorious celebratory sports moment or two? 


I’m already all the way back to my childhood.

Back in the lake where I first learned how to swim. 

I’m treading water, finally staying still.

And then, next to me, is the youngest version of myself I remember. Doing the same. Both of us, flailing our arms around in joyous abandon.

We look at each other and share a look of recognition.

He splashes me.

I splash back.


Aaron Burch’s first novel, Year of the Buffalo, was just released to huge acclaim and overwhelming praise*. He is the Founding Editor of Hobart (and Co-Founding of its more recent offshoots, HAD and WAS), and recent stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Rejection LettersMenagerie Magazine, Nurture, Complete Sentence, and Schuylkill Valley Journal. (*this bio was written a couple months ago, with acclaim and praise presumed, and with no desire to revisit and correct the record)