The Best Damn Part of My Day

By Valerie A. Nelson '09

Sawdust is in my nose. It is etched in every line of my face. It is underneath my eyelids, embedded under my fingernails. It’s drying out my mouth, gritting in my teeth, varnishing my tongue.
Sawdust has coated my white paint shirt and my light blue paint shorts. It is in my shoes, my socks, between my toes. I can feel it clinging to my scalp, my sweaty forehead; it is behind the skin of my knees. I imagine sawdust in my lungs, circulating through my veins, falling like ash from Mt. St. Helens in my brain. My eyes itch and burn, my skin suffocates.
Sitting in the sun, work over, I wait for my sister. I reek of sawdust, sweat, and paint thinner. The sweat is rolling down my neck, my back, my legs; dirty little beads of liquid sawdust.
A suburban rolls up in front of me, an exhausted navy behemoth also sweating in the sun. No air-conditioning, no CD player, a glove compartment full of pieces that have fallen off, our suburban has almost 300,000 miles on it.
I open the door to the passenger seat and pull myself up, my arms sore and tired from using an electric sander all day. Larissa asks if I want to stop at home first, I shake my head no, and she says–me neither. We don’t say another word. We don’t have to.
We are going directly to the lake; do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. We are going to the water.

It’s ungodly warm for North Idaho in July. I sit slouched down, my bare feet and right arm stuck out the window, all angles. I punch the tuning knob on the radio, changing stations, feeling the sawdust and the paint and the sweat.
We drive down to Third Street, the docks there. Docks with signs “no swimming” and “no running”. I am out the door before my sister has the key out of the ignition. I hit the ground running, barefoot and sticky. The asphalt is black and burns; I run on the balls of my feet, hopping across white parking lines. Larissa catches up and we hit the wood walkway to the docks at a dead even sprint.
Down the ramp, sharp left, soft left, off the ramp and onto the dock. We run past the speed boats, white and shiny and fast. Our identical strides heading to the open water at the end. Our paint shirts go up over our heads, ripped off in step. I hear the keys hit the wood of the dock with our shirts; they are the only things we have brought with us. Towels are for tourists. And we are locals. We live here. This is our lake, our water, our everyday. We don’t believe in towels.

I just want to get in the water. To wash off the dust and the paint and the sweat and the work. Wash off the soreness and the boredom and all that damn sawdust. We run to the edge of the dock and I step up on the rim, the wood is rough and warm underneath the soles of my feet. My toes curl, my feet arch, my body tenses as I stretch my arms above my head. My fingertips hit the water first. I dive deep, deep, feeling the sawdust leave my body.
I surface and laugh. The water encases my tired body, envelopes, restores. I dive again and swim as deep and as far as I can towards open water. I feel clean and pure, refreshed, absolved. I swim and splash and scrap my arms and hands, making sure the sawdust and paint come off, flake into the lake, dissolve and disappears.

“Well,” Larissa calls to me, “if this isn’t just the best damn part of my day…”

"I'm not disappointed at all," Kip said. "In fact, I'm proud that he has turned out smarter than his dad and grandpa. That's a good thing."