Where does the good go

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean

“Is there a beach?”
“You see that black nothingness out there,” Binda answered, pointing toward the horizon, “that’s it.”
I haven’t been in the ocean since the day after my grandfather’s funeral, when my cousin Alex pulled the car over to the side of the road and the four of us (me and his two brothers) got out of the car, ran across the sand in our bare feet and kept running until we were floating in the middle of the Atlantic in our shorts and tee-shirts.
That’s how grandpa taught us all to swim.
One morning, he’d shake you awake and ask if you if you wanted to go for a ride. You’d rub the sleep out of your eyes, smile and get ready. Walks with grandpa, sure. Dime. Dozen. But a ride?! And you’d be off in his rusty brown car down the streets of Panama. We’d park and he’d take your hand, lift you up onto his shoulders and you’d giddily ride piggyback into the ocean. And then, suddenly, you were sucking down salt water and flailing your arms for dear life.
The Henry rite of passage.
They tell me that he only lost two grandkids that way, but I never believed that story. Had to be five or six at least.
But laughing and splashing each other that day after we buried him, I just knew that the next generation of Henry great grands and great great grands were going to learn to swim exactly the same way. Alex, Leo, Freddie…they would see to it.
I never swim outside of pools when I’m in New York, mostly because Coney Island is a dirty, filthy cesspool of disease and death. And while, one of my friends has a beach house, I wasn’t allowed to go there when I was a teenager, lest some other of her friends discover I was black, so I won’t go now that having black friends is the new…um…black.
So part of my attraction to the destination wedding was the chance to swim in the ocean again.
It looked dark and ominous staring at it in the darkness from the rooftop party, but the next morning it glistened in the dawn. I was excited and couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t go swimming because Saturday was the day of the wedding and salt water would wreck pure havoc on my hair, but I was definitely going the next day.
I ate breakfast really early. Some weird Mexican egg dish and freshly squeezed orange juice – which I usually don’t like, but for fifty cents, how could you go wrong?
I planned a whole day in Playa del Carmen, but Elena invited me to go along with the bridal party to the resort where the wedding would take place. Godfather rules of not saying no to the bride on her wedding day trumped my $20 massages and sightseeing. The wedding was great, I converted an entire contingent of Swedish boys from not caring a fig about American football to indignantly believing the Patriots were robbed because why should they even have had to play a Superbowl when they already had such a vastly superior record to any other team in league? “What you say makes sense. That does seem unfair!” They said nodding their heads.
And they offered to write letters.
Speaking of which, I’ve got some follow up emails to send.
The wedding was a mash of Taiwanese and Swedish traditions. Taiwanese: Drinking a shot of 100 proof vodka that basically melts your insides. Swedish: All the women have to kiss the groom when the bride goes to the bathroom. Who started the chant “Dawn, Dawn, Dawn, Dawn” when Elena left, so that I had to kiss him first…I don’t know, but they’re going on Dusky’s enemies list.
Speaking of which, I’ve got some additions to make to that list.
We got home after midnight and while I’d like to think I made it to my bed, I’m pretty sure I remember waking up on the steps in the middle of the night and walking to bed at 3. Ish.
I had arranged for a tour of the ancient Mexican ruins the next day, so I could do my Dawn Summers’ “checklist” thing.
You know, where you go places and do things so you can say ‘yeah, I did that. Check.’ The two big sites nearby are the Tulum ruins and the rainforest park at Xi Ha. I agreed to pay $70 American dollars for the combination all day tour, with English speaking guide.
I asked surprised and horrified.
“Yes, but Ms. Summers, it is all inclusive. You will not need to bring anymore money. $70 and you will have the best day of your life.”
The tour van came to pick me up at 9. I was up, but suffering. I threw a change of clothes in a bag and grabbed a thousand pesos for the day. I figured $30 was enough emergency money since everything was already included.
Well, the guide informed me that the tour was actually $90. And if I was paying in pesos, they only gave 9 pesos for each dollar, instead 10 everywhere freaking else in Mexico. So, I was immediately out 990 pesos. $1 emergency money was less good. And since I was traveling alone, I didn’t bring any credit or ATM cards because I didn’t want to leave them anywhere.
The van picked up about twelve others for the tour.
When we got to Xi Ha, the guide told me I had only paid for this part of the tour and I wouldn’t be allowed to go up to the Tulum ruins.
I spent twenty minutes dropping mad 10th grade Spanish, interspersed with words my cousins taught me when I was little, just to watch my grandmother chase me with her wooden baking spoon.
They finally agreed to let me go with the group to the ruins.
Here’s the thing about my English speaking tour guide. Yeah, not so much. He spoke English like I speak Spanish. And I don’t speak Spanish.
So I basically followed a Mexican guy in cargo shorts around looking at shells of long destroyed buildings.
(There was a French couple on the tour and apparently, they had paid for a French guided tour…and let me tell you, this guy didn’t speak no French. That’s when I realized that this was just the go-to tour that hotels booked for their guests. No matter what you asked for… “all day” “half day” “French” “with dinner” “without dinner,” this was the tour you were given. Sneaky bastards.)
We were at the ruins, in the hot sun, for an hour and a half and I was sincerely regretting arguing against just staying at the rainforest resort all day. What on earth was I thinking? “No, I don’t want to stay at the beach…I want to go hiking in the sun through ruins! Ahora!”
I bought some tacos for 5 pesos at Tulum. Plus my seltzer water: agua con gas, cost another 5. For those of you keeping track at home, Dawn Summers was now penniless in Mexico. If I missed the shuttle back for some reason, I was royally screwed.
We got back to the rainforest at 1. The bus was picking us back up at 5:30 pm.
Scuba diving was free, but you had to leave a $20 deposit for the scuba equipment. You know who didn’t have $20?
Thaaaattt’ss right. No Scuba diving for me.
Instead, I stripped down to a bathing suit and life jacket, locked up my things in a plastic baggie and took a plastic inner tube down the river.
Here’s the thing about a plastic inner tube. It’s plastic. I set it down in the water, and climbed in.
It slipped away and I was quite suddenly sucking down saltwater and flailing my arms in the water…sans grandpa.
I got ahold of the thing and finally got aboard.
Okay, this is cool. Lalalalala…
I’m staring at the sky, opening and closing my eyes and then I’m watching other visitors at the park swim pass, face down, with fins and snorkel masks.
Hold up.
What are they looking at?
I peered down into the murky water and I swear I saw something move.
AHHHH, I jerked my feet out of the water.
And again, I was free falling through the water. I bobbed back to the surface, spit out the water and swam furiously back to the inner tube launching steps. (That was the absolute best part, so you get to the park, they literally give you no guidance whatsoever…you want a tube, you got it. Enjoy. Vaya con dios. There aren’t even liability waiver forms or anything.)
I climbed up the steps and tried to figure out what to do next. I was barefoot the entire time, by the way, so I’m trudging up and down wooden planks, staring at the ground and watching out for nails and splinters. There was a bike rental place, so I picked out a bike. Now, if you’ve ever tried to ride a bike in the rainforest wearing a bathing suit, without shoes, you know that I immediately put that bike back.
“Donde esta el tren?” I asked looking for the tram that circumnavigated the park. I got on the tram and headed back to the start of the river. I grabbed another inner tube and figured that if the sea life ate feet they wouldn’t let people go down the river in a tube…I mean…even in Mexico.
So, I got into the tube…no mishaps this time and started down the river again. It was nice, relaxing even. I watched these little blond children throwing their tubes down the river and then swimming after them, while the adults floated along in the back.
“Moom, look at me!”
“I see you, sweetie. Good job,” said a woman whose eyes were most definitely closed.
They had a few “rides” along the way down the river. You could pull your tube over, climb up these stairs and then jump from a cliff back into the river. Oh, these children loved to do that.
Over and over again.
“Mooom, hold my tube! I’m going up!”
“Just a minute, Chad.”
That one was named Chad.
“MOOOOM, hurrrry upppppp!!!”
I watched this scene replay itself with Darcy and Dawson and then Chad again a few more times.
Kids, I thought, always in such a rush. Don’t they know they have their whole lives in front of them.
All the falling children was making the area a little rough for peaceful floating, so I paddled away from them and caught up to this elderly couple in a tandem inner tube. The man was paddling and the woman was kinda sorta kicking her legs.
I decided to race them.
You know, in my head, it’s not like I revved my arms and challenged them or anything. But I’d let them get a bit ahead of me and then I’d paddle away till I was ahead of them and I would repeat this again and again.
And you just know they were thinking to themselves, why are thirtysomethings always in such a rush, don’t they know they’ve got two-thirds of their lives ahead of them?
That made me laugh and I almost fell out of my raft. It wasn’t until I tried to steady myself that I realized it wasn’t my inner monologue throwing me off, but I was now paddling against the stream. I don’t know who plotted this route for the inner tubes, but the current was pushing me hard, back in the direction from which I just came. I did not want to return to that area. So, I paddled. First hard and then harder. I thought I was doing quite fine, until a life guard was swimming beside me with one of those orange rescue plastic thingies that The Hoff always had under his arm in Baywatch. That’s right. I watched Baywatch for The Hoff. And Frankie from Days of Our Lives. I don’t even know Pamela Anderson’s name.
“Estas bien? Necesitas ayuda?”
“No. Estoy…um… just fine.”
I couldn’t be sure because I was half submerged and heading for some rocks, but I’m pretty sure he shrugged his shoulders and said something like “it’s your funeral, we don’t have tort liability in Mexico” and swam off.
I guess watching him disappear into a dot on the shore made me realize I was in a bit of trouble, so I ditched the inner tube and swam after him. I made it back to the steps where I ditched my first inner tube, spit out the river water and decided I’d had enough of Huck Finning it. I wanted to swim in the ocean, dammit.
I checked the maps, “estoy aqui” means “you are here.” I was about a mile from the beach. And still barefoot.
But off I went. I walked and walked and walked. And when I finally got to the sandy shores, there were red flags everywhere, the surf was smashing against the rocks and there was not another living soul anywhere to be seen. What zee ‘ell man?
Now, I’m no nautical expert, but I eventually figured out that red flags and abandoned shores meant no swimming. I was bitter.
I paid $90 to drown in a river.
They offered a kayaking service, so I went over to the kayak place and waited for someone to hand me a kayak. After ten minutes of watching others just untie the kayaks from the dock and climb in…I realized that this too was ‘do it yourself.’ So I untied a kayak and climbed in…I then vaguely remembered something from camp or Scouts about putting the weight in the back of the kayak, so I slid my bum across the seats, until I was in the back. And then I started paddling. There was a big warning sign that said that kayaks were to stay in the black lagoon. “DO NOT LEAVE THE BLACK LAGOON.”
My paddling isn’t that great, so I was a little worried about somehow leaving the black lagoon. Until I realized the black lagoon was basically a pond. If you wanted to leave the lagoon with the kayak, it would have to be strapped to your back as you hiked away with it.
Annoyed, I decided I was going to get my $90 worth of laps around the lagoon. Patrons lined on the shore as all the other kayaks changed hands multiple times, but I was still spitefully going around in a circle. I probably spent an hour in the lagoon…got pretty good at steering, if I say so myself, until my shoulders were so sore that I had to pack it in. I still had two more hours to kill at the rainforest till the bus headed back to Playa del Carmen.
No more river. No more kayaking. No beach swimming AND I have no money.
I decided to go into a restaurant and get a glass of water.
I ordered one.
“Would you like a Corona?”
“No tengo dinero.”
“Oh, it is all included Senora.”
We drank the afternoon away and then made it back to the bus.
I was supposed to meet up with some of Elena’s graduate school friends that night for dinner, but I was kinda tired and um…yeah, didn’t feel like it. I don’t know why, but I inexplicably decided to pick a seaside restaurant in Mexico, to see if I was still allergic to lobster.
I ordered a three pounder, scarfed it down with some butter and mango daiquiri and went for a stroll. My stroll took me next door to Haagan Daaz. Where I ordered una bola de helado strawberry cheesecake.
Side note: last Winter I discovered Ben & Jerry’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream. I became obsessed with it. I deemed it the best ice cream, nay dairy product ever in all the world. I scoured Brooklyn far and wide looking for it and basically ate half a pint everyday for months. Well, the Haagan Daaz strawberry cheesecake ice cream kicks the Ben & Jerry’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream in the face. And the chest and stomach and then spits on it and laughs. It was so good that I went back and ordered otra bola de helado strawberry cheesecake. And I know the chick behind the counter was all – why didn’t you just get dos bolas to start with. Well, I didn’t know I was going to like it that much, and who the hell are you to judge me Haagan Daaz girl.
Just give me the ice cream and nobody gets hurt.
But just about then, I started to itch and my tongue felt heavy and yes, huh, look at that, we are indeed still allergic to lobster. Great.
I went back to my hotel room around the corner, put the ice cream on the night table, because I couldn’t really taste anymore and I headed back outside to look for una farmacia.
The Mexican pharmacy had EVERYTHING over the counter. Xanax, Zoloft, Levitra, amoxicillin. You name it, there was a Mexican form of it for like fifty bucks.
I scoured the shelves till I found a bottle of Bendryl. I took it to the counter and asked if he had it in pill form. He shook his head.
I grabbed an orange Fanta and bought them both. I ripped the box open and poured a dose into the cup in the box and drank it. I quickly followed that with a swig of Fanta. I took another half cup of the medicine and then finished the soda.
I went back to the room and turned on the TV. I can’t say what I watched or what I did, I just know that I woke up the next morning and my ice cream was melted in the cup on the night table and I was still wearing my clothes from the day before.
Oh Benadryl, how art though sold over the counter?
I changed into my swimsuit and flip flops and walked down to the beach.
There were few people around and I started to worry about going swimming alone. That’s how Dane bit it in Thorn Birds. I walked along the beach for a little while. The sand was warm and I just threw caution to the wind. I’m sure someone would save me. I put my room key on top of my sandals and ran into the surf. The water was warm and I dove under a few times. I headed out a little ways and looked around at the water and the sky.
I was swimming in the ocean. It was 84 degrees, I was in Mexico and I was swimming in the ocean. I said a prayer for my grandfather and my mom and the new husband and wife.
And then I disappeared beneath the waves.

7 Responses to “It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean”

  1. Casca Says:

    Pretty good, except the overly dramatic ending. BTW, how do you get away with walking around without a keeper?

  2. Fisch Says:

    Hahahaha. Pretty good, except for the overly dramatic beginning and middle. HAHAHAH you wrote a long post and you got a “pretty good” pity comment. HAHAHA. How many follow up comments does that comment have to spark in order to become a good one (and I know your “no such thing as a bad comment” rule…but that one HAD to be the exception!)?

  3. Dawn Summers Says:

    Wrong. No bad comments is a rule. There are no exceptions. Definitely only 93 percent intelligent. I hope you don’t teach logical reasoning for a living.

  4. Casca Says:

    Easy there, I’m a hard grader.

    WTFO? Where’s the obit for your fellow Yalie? Surely you’ve read God and Man at Yale?

  5. Dawn Summers Says:

    Yeah, Fischel stupidface, he’s a hard grader and I have three blogs.

  6. Karol Says:

    “And while, one of my friends has a beach house, I wasn’t allowed to go there when I was a teenager, lest some other of her friends discover I was black, so I won’t go now that having black friends is the new…um…black.”

    Dude. You had to be home by like 3pm. And that’s about the time I used to roll in from the night before. Blame your mom. And being black is never cool, you know that.

  7. Karol Says:

    And hey, where’s MY prayer?

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