“You gotta write about the Florida stuff. You know. When you were out on the island alone with the kids and the manatee scared you and you fell off the boat.”
“And you scraped your foot on the barnacles and couldn’t come back to Atlanta ‘cuz you couldn’t drive because you wouldn’t get stitches?”
When something happens and I say I might use it, someday, my mom only remembers the version that comes out of the shaky end of the HP printer. Often friends and family members have over-invested, over-blown ideas about what I’m writing.
(There’s times when they totally ignore it- this is not one of those times)
I crunch my Trader Joe’s corn chip. Mom has just come from Atlanta for Labor Day. I don’t want to disappoint a woman who just brought me six jars of Chipotle salsa.
“I saw your foot,” she says. “I know a nasty barnacle scrape when I see one. You needed stitches.”
There’s a reason for that. Our little gulf island has no bridge. You must have a boat to get here and there are no cars. The only consistent business on the island is the golf cart repairman. That’s how we get around. Golf carts on sandy paths of crushed shell. You bring your groceries over on your boat, put them on your golf cart. Your house, whether you’re renting or have the *luxury* of owning, was probably built circa 1970/80 and stands about ten to fifteen feet off the ground.
“It was almost dark,” I remind her. “Who wants to leave after sundown for the ER with a boatload of kids?”
We have water. We have electricity. We steal ice. It sounds poetic, but translate: summer camp at the beach.
“You are quite cavalier when it comes to stitches,” she says.
“I had steri-strips. I had Percocet.”
“You had sand ground into a wound four inches long. You limped around for over week.”
Understand why I’m reluctant to tell the tale of FALLING off my boat.
Last month, my neighbor, Adventure Woman, makes a late-night Publix run with three kids under the age of eight. This is nothing new to her. She lives here full-time. She tosses everybody in her cute little cabin cruiser, which she’s dubbed “the mini-van” and takes off.
On her way back, she sees the ferry, with my in-laws and about forty other people stuck in shallow water at ten o’clock at night. My mother-in-law will tell you she “doesn’t like to wade, much less swim, Honey”. (How she has a house on an island is for a whole other blog post.)
“You need help,” Adventure Woman tells the ferry boat captain.
(Not, “Let’s call for help.” Not, “DO you need help?” No tip-toeing around his ego. That just wastes time.)
She jumps off her boat into chest-deep water like it’s nothing, walks up to the knee-deep where he’s got the ferry stuck and ties the ferry to her boat while the captain protests. A little.
All the people on the ferry start whispering, IT’S A WOMAN. My mother-in-law whispers back that she knows Adventure Woman, gave her sweet tea when she was pregnant with the youngest baby.
Adventure Woman’s three little boys stand proud, watching Mom be a She-Ro. She hops back onto her boat, fires that baby up and pulls the ferry, loaded with whispering people off the flat.
The ferry boat captain will never live it down. I won’t mention his name because as I type this, one of my boys is paying Lego’s on the front porch with one of the other ferry boat captain’s grandsons and they are still completely mortified ON BEHALF OF THE GUY. Sheesh. I’m sure the ribbing will go on forever. The story will be told at his funeral. I have no doubt.
“So, if it wasn’t a manatee,” my mom asks. “Why’d you fall out?”
“I couldn’t reach the weight when I was tying up. I stretched too far and… Splash. I could tweak it, but-”
“That was you first summer on the island. You’ve gotten better. I don’t even worry about you anymore.”
“I’m not Adventure Woman.”
She frowns at her salsa. “I liked the manatee aspect. Now, I’m suspicious of your stories.”
“You should be suspicious of everyone’s stories. You have to look through what they’re not telling you. It’s fiction.”
Her eyebrows come together. “Like, what was Adventure Woman doing out at ten o’clock on a Tuesday?”
“Mom,” I say. “That’s not what I meant. She was out of diapers.”
She raises an eyebrow. “And your barnacle injury?”
“Out of chips and salsa.”
“Ah,” Mom says, crunching away. “Island necessities. Still, you should put that in your book.”
I giggle until salsa starts coming out my nose, thinking of the line from DANCES WITH WOLVES.
Kevin Costner is sitting at the campfire, scribbling away and the other guy has just had enough. He lets one loose and delivers the line: “Put THAT in your book.”
Sometimes we don’t have to step farther than a family reunion before Aunt So&So is elbowing us about Uncle Jimmy’s Sad Tale. “SO tragic. You have to write it. Like Nicholas Sparks.”
Ever had your arm twisted when someone was desperate? Has a friend ever gotten screwed over by her company and called close to tears, wanting you to write her Blockbuster screenplay, but you don’t write screenplays?! “I swear this is like THE FIRM.”
Or vindictive. Has your ex ever emailed an article: “This was so freaking weird, I thought of you. Sounds like your obsession with cemeteries.”?
I’m curious. Class reunion? Funeral? Someone has bent your ear.
What’s your “Put THAT in Your Book” story?