On a night when what’s going on in the world seems like an episode of 24, I am sitting at the small round table in our second floor room at the 1950’s era motel in the Florida Keys where we’ve stayed more than twenty times in the thirty years we’ve been married and where my husband came with his family for all the years he was growing up. When he was a kid, he broke his arm falling off the roof of one of the units. That’s deep.
We used to tell this to the clerk when we checked in, thinking maybe that it would give us a special aura. We felt aura’d and still do. So much of our family history is here. In my mind’s eye, I see our older son as a 10-year old standing at the end of the dock for hours. He stood just slightly askew, his spine bending, a weak S from his slight scoliosis, the comma of his heart surgery scar more prominent as he became more tanned. He would stand and cast for hours, the sun on his curved, comma’d back, concentrating so intently on the fish below the dock that it sometimes seemed like Ahab in search of his whale. His back would burn standing on the dock but telling him to come in would make him angry, convinced he’d been singled out for unfair treatment. His face would go dark as if he had lost the one thing that was important to him. So it was easy to let him stand there and cast. He was happy there. That was more important to me then than anything else. To suspend my need to mother him constantly and just let him be.
It was from this quirky little motel on the Florida Bay that we launched our ridiculous inflatable raft, the one that took an hour to blow up using a air compressor loud enough to bring all the bay’s parrot fish to the top of the water to shake their heads and screech at us. Undeterred, we put the raft in the water with its two small oars and an outboard motor that ran on a battery which started smoking within minutes. I saw the raft in a magazine, an inflatable way to go duck hunting. What could be better, I thought, than a boat we could put in the trunk for our two-day drive from Wisconsin to the end of Florida and then just magically blow it up and go boating. Be on the ocean in our boat.
The raft was stressful. In addition to the cable from the motor to the battery smoking constantly, there was the ever-present suspicion of a leak. Once in a smaller raft, one of my sons had secretly pulled the plug just to see what would happen and even though he was older now and more mature, I worried constantly that he might revert. Just for fun. We would forgive him, of course. He could do no wrong, don’t you know, a very loved boy he was.
The people on real boats, big white boats with rows of fishing rods and coolers full of bait and beer, would wave at us with indulgent smiles. We were the rubes from Wisconsin. We might as well have been wearing Badger sweatshirts and matching hats, us, the unseaworthy people from up north. Our choice was between being mortified or being proud of our derring-do. We wavered. I wavered. My husband kept busy with the flaming battery, my kids covered their faces or looked for plugs to pull.
And then the dolphins came.
They swam and arched around us, the sun sparkling on their silver backs while we sat in our smoking raft just being lucky.
This morning I saw this plaque on a bench in a wildlife refuge. It was on a bench that someone’s husband or children had donated to commemorate their loved person.
That could be my plaque, I thought, but it would need to be in a different place.
I know exactly where to put it.