I cannot follow you, my love,
you cannot follow me.
I am the distance you put between
all of the moments that we will be.
From “You Know Who I Am,” by Leonard Cohen
Danae leaned over protectively as her toddler son ran with little awkward steps into the bubbles and bronze sparkles of the quiet waves. The sun was setting over Lake Michigan. The western sky was limned with streaks of grenadine and pink, orange and lavender, and the surface of the lake glowed. A path of fire seemed to lead from the shore to the point on the horizon where the sun had just dropped out of sight.
It was summer, tourist season at this resort north of Glen Arbor, Michigan, close to Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore park. Here at the northwest point of the mitten, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, it seemed another world, another state entirely, from the environs of Detroit and Flint, where Danae had grown up.
She took the boy’s hands in each of her hands, holding him still for a moment as she straightened, and scanned the waters. A strand of her hair blew like a shower of gold in the twilight breezes. She glanced to her right, to the hotel where she worked, sitting in the distance with its docks and decks and turrets and red-and-white faux-lighthouse. It was time to return to her cottage, where she lived on the grounds of the resort with her son. Danae lowered herself, grasped the child in a hug, and then stood, lifting him and placing him on a hip with one fluid motion. She ambled back towards the hotel, kicking the sand, the boy playing with her hair and talking in a baby sing-song kind of way.
As she passed through the guests congregated on the outdoor terrace next to the dining room, where a band was playing and couples were dancing, she received a nod and a smile from one of the housekeeping supervisors. Danae was barefoot, wearing cut-offs and a bathing-suit top under an open white, fluttering shirt. Her little boy was naked. Danae’s golden brown skin and golden hair gleamed as she made her way through the guest area, turned a corner, and headed for some steps that descended to a path that led to her small, comfortable home.
Danae smiled to herself. She knew everything would be okay. Ever since she’d run away to this place — pregnant, alone, seventeen years old — her life had changed. She set her son down as they approached the cottage, and held his hand, making him do double-steps to keep up with her as she approached her front door.
Soon she was bathing the child, and while she worked on him with a soft washcloth she sang something she made up herself, about God and babies and shafts of light and voices in the air. Her boy tried to sing along with her, splashing and laughing with pure joy.
Danae put her son into his crib, cuddling with his favorite stuffed bear, and sang and humned to him softly as he fidgeted then quieted into sleep. After making sure the boy was content, she took her own bath and draped herself in a loose, white robe. She went to her closet to select a uniform for the following morning, and hung it from the hook on the closet door. Then she looked in her refrigerator until she found the plastic tub of left-over food she had brought home from the hotel restaurant the previous day. She heated it in the microwave, grabbed a fork, took the entire plastic container into her living room and settled in her favorite armchair, her legs curled under her.
She felt more than just relaxed. She felt triumphant. Every day that she was free, every day that she lived with her little boy on her own terms, was a victory over her father. She put the crab-meat stuffing into her mouth and tasted the flavors, the texture, enjoying it all to the fullest possible extent. Her father was one of those vice presidents of something or other at one of those American car companies, who had enjoyed the perks, the bonuses, his status, the good times to his fullest possible extent. Danae had known so little about what the ordinary workers were doing or feeling or going through in Flint and Detroit; she had been sent to private schools, isolated in a huge house, kept in a select social circle. Her father had tried everything to keep her close.
But she had found her own hero. She had gotten pregnant anyway. And one day, she plotted her escape from her exclusive girl’s school. She had been so afraid — her father had told her, if she tried acting “crazy,” if she embarrassed him in any way, or behaved like one of those “trash” teenage girls, she would be treated like the mentally ill garbage that she was. Sent to an elite mental institution where she would be made to see the error of her ways.
Danae licked the fork clean, unfolded her legs, stood up and padded into the kitchen. She poured herself some decaf coffee — fresh brewed from a fresh grind of her own choosing. She held her mug with both hands for a moment, feeling the warmth of the bright-yellow stoneware, inhaling the hardy, potent odor. She gazed out the window over her kitchen sink, to where she knew sand dunes and grasses waited in the dark, and thanked God again for her good fortune. Because it was strange, ever since she’d gotten here, how things just seemed to work out. A lost, frightened, pregnant teen had found work, friends, and a home. She was respected, even loved. She had given birth in the local clinic, and returned home the next day, and the birth had been nearly painless, flawless, with feelings of hope and comfort almost tangibly floating around her. After a few weeks, she had gone back to work, her baby watched by the hotel’s employee daycare center.
Danae finished her coffee, rinsed the mug, and set it upside down next to the sink. She tiptoed into the curtained alcove where her boy slept, checked on his breathing, examined his face and the blue fuzzy blanket around him. She backed away, smiling to herself, and moved to her own room. It wasn’t yet ten, but it was time for bed. She had to be up very early to help prepare the dining room for breakfast.