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CNF: The Lake’s Only Daughter

by Emily Lake Hansen

 

Both the Methodist church of my father’s casual religious upbringing and the Catholic church of my mother’s strict one believe in the concept of the Holy Trinity, that God is somehow a split, but single identity: the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit all a different version of the same god, like how we were all — even when separated by oceans — three people that made up one family. The Lakes it read on cards addressed to us at Christmas, as if we were a chain of individual bodies of water making up a cohesive group of lakes. A group of lakes is sometimes called a suite; other times a system. Googling us is nearly impossible — Emily Lake, for instance, is a lake in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

To explain the concept of the trinity, Catholics will sometimes refer to the three states of water, explaining that it takes the exact same constitution of molecules to make water, ice, or steam. Each of water’s three states of matter appears impossibly different and yet, when broken down, contains the same number of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It is all the same entity in the end, they say, and yet every day at school, my mother crossed herself at three distinct points, a fragile hymnal book resting on the folds of her plaid uniform jumper. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Though I made it to church occasionally as a kid — morning assembly at the private school I attended in the first and second grades, once a Korean service with my friend Liz in San Diego, even a lock-in once in Pensacola — my parents were never the ones who took me. We didn’t talk about Jesus’s birth on Christmas unless you counted my mother singing Silent Night, her voice cracking on the high notes. Easter was for eggs, not the resurrection. But when I told my mother I didn’t believe in God anymore — not the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit — she seemed devastated, as if I had pulled the Jesus-crocheted rug right out from under her.

My father didn’t mind my disbelief as much or maybe we just didn’t talk about it. After all, he had mostly waited impatiently through church service as a kid. As soon as the pastor said his final amen, he would gallop out of the building, loosen his tie into a dangling sash, and run all the way home, where his grandmother had homemade pies waiting on the windowsill, a different kind of pie for each of the three Lake siblings.

Although both of her sisters readily reclaimed their maiden name after their divorces, my mother kept my father’s. Why would I want to be separate from you? she said in explanation as if our name, our similar constitutions, the genes passed between us like batons in a relay race, was all it would take to keep us together.

But lakes do occasionally disappear.

 

Emily Lake Hansen (she/her) is the author of the poetry collection Home and Other Duty Stations (Kelsay Books) and the chapbook The Way the Body Had to Travel (dancing girl press). Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in 32 Poems, Hobart, The McNeese Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Atticus Review among others. A Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee, Emily lives in Atlanta with her family where she is a PhD student at Georgia State University and an instructor of English at Agnes Scott College.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Lake’s Only Daughter”?

“The Lake’s Only Daughter” is a part of a larger memoir project of the same name. I found, as I was trying to write a more conventional long-form narrative, that my experiences — the frequent disruptions of military life, the unnarratable messiness of childhood trauma — would not fit into that sort of straightforward storytelling. I begin to write vignettes or moments instead, often non-linearly, and found that the result was much more reflective of how I experienced my childhood and also of how I’ve processed it. In this particular vignette, I lean into the idea of my family as three distinct pillars meeting, the way beams of a house join together to create structure, and consider what happens when those pillars are out of touch with each other.

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