A wave of melancholy washed over me, despite the beautiful summer evening, as I relaxed on the dock with my nearly grown girls on the eve of my fifty-second birthday. I hated the idea of celebrating my birthday without Mom. Many “firsts” following the death of a loved one create peaks in the ebb and flow of our grief. This one felt especially poignant. There would be no “Happy Birthday” wishes from her the following day. What would my birthday feel like without her?
Unwilling to allow the all-to-familiar blues to take hold, I meandered off the dock, leaving my girls to their fishing. I’d let writing distract me. As a new author, I was blogging weekly to improve my skills and attract new readers. Months earlier, I’d scheduled out my blog concepts, deciding the prompt for my birthday week would be “Gift of Night Waves,” the title to a pivotal chapter in my first novel. In the book, my protagonist stumbles upon a priceless gift as ocean waves lap at her feet.
Standing on the shale shores of a murky reservoir in the middle of the country might not yield the same level of inspiration, but birds were twittering their night song, and a soft breeze caressed my face, smelling of fresh-cut grass with an undercurrent of fish. I needed to open my mind to ideas for a post to match my blog title.
Stepping carefully on the shifting shale, I scanned the shoreline. Tiny bubbles popped to the surface mere inches from my toes, and the darting shadows of minnows hinted at a hidden world below. Something bobbed nearby. I paused, bending over to investigate.
At first, I thought it was a flat piece of driftwood, but the shape wasn’t quite right. Curious, I picked it up. As I turned the item over, my mind flashed back to another July evening, three years earlier.
We’d just returned from our maiden voyage in new kayaks. I wasn’t yet accustomed to getting in and out of the torpedo-shaped craft, and capsizing was a legitimate concern. Two yards from shore, I plunged one flip-flop-clad foot into the water to avoid scraping my new boat along the sharp shale bottom. Slimy muck enveloped my foot and encircled my ankle. I clumsily swung my other foot over and out, placing it more carefully on the slick surface below, intent on keeping my shorts dry.
I stepped toward shore; my left foot rendered bare as I pulled it from the sucking sludge, my shoe still buried. Unconcerned, I safely stowed my kayak, then turned back to retrieve my sandal, hopeful I’d be able to wash the clinging mud off my favorite shoes.
Returning to the exact spot, or so I thought, I probed first with my toes, then with my fingers, refusing to consider what else might be trapped in the quagmire below. My actions did little more than cloud the water with sediment, rendering my eyes useless in the search.
A flip-flop couldn’t just disappear. It had to be there. But where? As the sun dipped below the horizon, I admitted to temporary defeat. Waiting until morning would allow the disturbed lake bottom to settle. Hopefully the shoe would be revealed in the bright light of day.
The following morning, clear water and sparkling sun revealed nothing. Had my buoyant little shoe floated away on the waves? I refused to believe it.
Searching for my lost shoe became a family affair, but not even the twenty-dollar reward offered to the kids would be enough to discover my shoe’s hidey-hole. Mom would shake her head over the ridiculousness of my silly reward, finding my obsession over finding my cheap, missing shoe absurd.
Too soon, autumn chased summer away. While winterizing the cabin, I considered tossing my single remaining flip-flop. But I refused to give up on my quest.
Eventually, the lone sandal fell to the bottom of the shoe basket full of castoffs. Someone would occasionally joke about searching our bay for my missing shoe when they needed spending money, but there was likely nothing left to find.
“Mom, what’s that?”
My mind ripped back to the present. The aqua, pink and white striped straps and the cork-like bottom of the dripping shoe in my hand matched my now infamous missing flip-flop. There was only one logical explanation.
“Did you two put this in here?” I accused, rounding on my daughters, cold water trickling down my arm as I held my discovery high in the air. I could read the confusion on their faces. If they were trying to trick me by planting my one remaining flip-flop down here, they were doing a masterful job of masking their scheme. Unable to accept that I might be holding the missing flip-flop, my mind jumped instead to my husband. Or our son. Who was trying to trick me?
Spinning, I half-ran, half-slipped up the shale embankment toward our cabin with my find. The quickest way to prove my theory was to confirm the sandal I’d kept was no longer in the basket. Dropping my muck-covered discovery on the patio, I hurried inside.
I tossed the collection of shoes onto the kitchen floor in my haste to disprove what I was starting to consider, …and there it was…waiting patiently for me at the wicker bottom of the basket.
No one had tried to trick me by stashing a flip-flop along the shoreline.
I headed back to the patio with the clean shoe, struggling to comprehend the likelihood of a ten-dollar sandal staying in one piece for three years, stuck deep in the mud of a bay that freezes hard every winter, where waves pound and water levels fluctuate. Yanking out a length of garden hose, I rinsed the clinging mud from my discovery. A metal grommet bore heavy corrosion, but beyond that, the shoe still looked nearly identical to its mate.
When I skipped back down to the water’s edge with my reunited shoes, the girls' dubious expressions revealed little elation over my find. The possibility of the twenty-dollar reward had evaporated.
Pondering what had just transpired, I reclaimed my spot on the dock and felt a sense of contentment flow through me. The night’s waves had delivered unapparelled inspiration for my blog post, although capturing the scope of the experience felt daunting. Logic defied the sequence of the evening’s events (the shoe surviving harsh elements for so long, my being in the exact right place, at the perfect time, before my miraculously freed flip-flop could float away.)
My eyes traveled over the clouds dotting the horizon above the surface of our lake, and I accepted that logic didn’t belong in this story. I believe the flip-flop was symbolic, a sign sent from my mom, giving me the most precious of gifts for my birthday: a reminder to never give up, despite how daunting things may feel, and never to forget that she’s still watching over me, celebrating life.
It's been three years since I found my missing flip-flop. I decided to keep the reunited pair in a shadow box in my home office as a constant reminder that mystery and inspiration always surround us. And Mom is still cheering me on!
Allow yourself to be amazed by the gift of the unexplainable, Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!