By Kendyl, age 17, Tennessee
"You've got to do it."
"It'll feel so good."
"Do it with us!"
I bite my lip as steam swirls around me. The hot tub bubbles inflate my bathing suit bottoms, a black balloon under the soothing water. The air smells of chemicals, and the jets revolve on my back like a tiny masseuse.
"You're being really difficult right now," says my strawberry-blond cousin, Tanner, as he takes a sip of his soda - sorry, pop, as they call it up here
. "We've both jumped in the lake twice already and we're fine," adds Ty, my gangly brother.
I tentatively look at the monster of a lake over my shoulder. Although it was June, I knew the murky Michigan waters were far from "just like bath water" and "warmed from the sun" as my relatives had promised. While I associate the warm swimming holes in my native Tennessee with lazy images of floating and playing chicken, this Upper Peninsula water is cold, bringing to mind the scene from Titanic during which Leonardo DiCaprio floats away like an attractive freeze pop.
We have to be dressed for a family dinner in five minutes, so there's no time for warming up in the tub afterwards; it's all or nothing.
But I am tired of always taking the easy path, staying in the relaxing jacuzzi with a can of Diet Coke. I'm tired of slipping into the same routine of studying, hanging with friends, and remaining warm. And I am tired of fitting into the same persona everyone has associated with me.
I make a snap decision. "Let's do it."
The boys shoot me identical grins, wicked with mischief. Tanner says in a low voice, "Three."
"Two." My brother presses the button to make the bubbles quit.
"One!" they scream unanimously and hurdle over the side of the tub, bolting away from me.
I jump out too and struggle to keep up with them as I run through the itchy grass. Ty is ahead of us and does a somersault past the flagpole as if he were a secret agent instead of a wild fifteen-year-old holding the added bravery of summer.
We reach the old dock in seconds, boards creaking under our weight. For a second, I worry about splinters but discard the thought with a smile. That isn't why I'm here.
I hear two splashes ahead of me and hope they move out of my way so I don't have to worry about hitting them.
I'm at the end now. How many times as a child have I stood here at the edge waiting for the courage to jump in? Fears of drowning, hitting my head, and being gobbled alive by northern pike had engulfed me. I would dip one toe, decide the temperature was too low, and retreat to the hot tub while the boys played hide-and-seek and freeze tag.
I don't even hesitate, no pause in my transition from run to dive. The brown water stretches endlessly below my flight. I close my eyes and fall.
I can't hear Ty and Tanner chortling a few feet away. I can't see the jagged rocks and clams resting on the mucky floor. I can't taste the dirt in the lake. All I can do is feel, feel the freezing water choking all the warmth out of my goosebump-covered body. I feel the cold biting at me in every possible location - in between my fingers, inside my nose, on my scalp. I feel nothing but cold.
I break the surface and gasp for oxygen, wet hair whipping over my head and slapping against my back. I scream over the laughs and teases of my playmates and chase them back to the beach, threatening their lives for tricking me.
But I'm not angry, not really. Now I'm cleansed of self-doubt and reclusiveness. Summer can finally shine on me the way it should for everyone who still possesses the treasure of a ten-week vacation. I'd taken a leap of faith, faith in myself.
And plunged right into my future.