If anyone out there reading this ever dated me, I’d suggest you get down on your knees and thank the deity of your choosing things didn’t shake out between us. I am, indeed, the worst girlfriend ever.
I love the Florida Keys and have a tradition of going there every year. El Cap, too, loves the Keys and from day one has enthusiastically joined me on my annual pilgrimage. This year I wanted to see the coral spawn, which happens on the reefs during the August full moon. As I no longer receive a regular paycheck, I had the (I thought) brilliant idea to go camping at Bahia Honda State Park.
Friday morning, we packed the RoadTrek with meals, reading material, cameras, and swimsuits. Friday evening, we arrived at the park, which – thanks to not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Tropical Storm Erika, remained relatively empty. Friday night, we used a touch of bug repellant and had no real issues when we took Calypso and Banyan for a walk to the beach by the marina. We swam, frolicked, gazed at a summer moon from the transparent water… basically, it was paradise.
And then we woke up Saturday morning. El Cap stepped outside to walk Banyan, and when I opened the camper door to go outside, he looked frantic.
“Get back inside!”
The look on his face was sheer alarm, so I did. My first thought – because this is where my mind goes first – was that he’d found a dead body behind our camper. My second thought – because this is also where my mind goes – was how shitty it was of him to hog a dead body all to himself. My third thought was that he loved me enough that he would never not let me share in the moment of finding a dead body. This last thought gave me enough peace that I stayed put until he returned inside.
“Mosquitoes!” he said, opening the camper door and ushering Banyan inside – along with a small colony of the Florida state insect.
“I’m sure once the sun’s up they’ll dissipate,” I tell him, and walk outside and cover myself in DEET. We take a bike ride, hang out in the camper, but the one thing El Cap is noticing (and I am not) is the way the mosquitoes don’t seem to abate. We are both covered in chemicals, but the chemicals only seem to work for me. (I should note that even when I don’t wear eau de DEET, I get bit less than most people.)
Saturday night, I want to repeat Friday night and suggest such. El Cap, at this point thoroughly not amused by the mosquitoes that he swears continue to plague him, dons his rain gear (yes, rain pants and jacket, and yes, it’s the Keys in August, so you can imagine how pleasant that was for him) and we walk down to the beach. Except, unlike the night before, the walk is punctuated by El Cap’s staccato swatting and slapping and puffing as he bats at what I am starting to suspect are imaginary mosquitoes. He is dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman and I am wearing a sheer sundress. I think all of four mosquitoes approach me, which leads me to believe these mosquitoes have somehow heard of me, or El Cap may be overreacting. I grow steadily more irritated at what I’m perceiving to be some made-up trauma, and I tell him in short, clipped words that once we get in the water, the mosquitoes will abate.
They do not. He removes the Gorton Fisherman gear and runs, screaming, into the water. This is a man, I’d like to remind you, who has been bitten by a rattlesnake. The mosquitoes, he said, chased him in the water and stayed there. He keeps dunking under the water to relieve their apparent biting, but he tells me, “I can only hold my breath for so long.”
We shower and return back to then camper, with El Cap’s self-flagellation growing increasingly more frenzied. The mosquitoes still show almost no interest in me. All I keep thinking on the way back to the camper is “He needs help, because he’s imagining things. Therapy can help him. He’s so stubborn. He’ll never admit the mosquitoes aren’t real.”
We get back to the camper. He removes his rain gear.
He has so many mosquito bites on him that his back, chest, scalp, fingers, toes, and legs look like the most severe case of the chicken pox you have ever seen. His face has so many bites on them it just looks like red, puffy skin with two nose holes, a slit for a mouth, and squinty eyes.
At this moment, I realize I am an asshole. I also realize we have anti-itch spray but not antihistamine. Why would we? I haven’t reacted to bites in years. I had no idea I lived with the human mosquito magnet.
“I know you didn’t believe me,” he says quietly, “but they really were biting me.” At least, I think that’s what he said. The puffy bites around his lips made it difficult for me to understand him.
Sunday morning, at El Cap’s gentle suggestion, I check Hotels.com to see if there are any reasonable hotels around. That’s where I discover the Islander, which is not only the first place I ever stayed in the Florida Keys but also a hotel I love dearly but rarely visit, has ridiculously low rates. It seems the same tropical storm that ruined my chances of a moonlit snorkel to watch coral reefs have sex also drove people away from the Keys, which may be why I snag us two nights at about half what I would expect to pay.
The Islander is atypical Keys lodging in that it has a hot tub, two pools, beach, restaurant, bar, screened patios, and – this is crucial – no mosquitoes. OK, so really, it’s the beach and the no mosquitoes thing that makes them stand out for us.
El Cap had a dream about mosquitoes chasing him last night.
This morning, though, the welts have started to fade, although the memory, I’m sure, will live forever.
If you attended the SunLit Festival’s Lit Crawl: A Pub Crawl With Literature, you may have heard poetry readings or an Ernest Hemingway re-enactor. Or you may have heard Jon Kile, Shelly Wilson and myself read Three Authors. Three Chapters. Many Bad Decisions.
We are not literature, but people laughed. Admittedly, they laughed harder at Bodega than they did at Green Bench, but perhaps that’s because I should know better than to mock craft beer at a craft beer house. I don’t. My feelings on craft beer are well-documented. In the piece below, largely.
So here’s how it worked: Jon wrote the first scene, and I had the freedom to do what I wanted in the next. So I did. And then I passed them both to Shelly, who had to tie it all up into a neat bow and bring her own writing style to the ending.
I am proud of what we did. It’s not Literature, not with a capital L. Anyone who knows me knows I am not that person. But we made people laugh, and – this is new – we made ourselves laugh. Writing this and reading this was fun, y’all. I mean, the kind of fun writers don’t always get to have.
I also may have scarred a young child who ran through Green Bench as I talked about breasts. He ran out again and returned with his mother. Ma’am, if you’re reading this, I’d like to apologize. In my defense, I never expected a preschooler to be in the bar. Outside, yes, because Green Bench is cool like that, but not inside.
So here is Part Two, which may or may not make much sense without reading Jon’s intro (feel free to go read that and then come back) and Shelly’s conclusion. Also, this takes place in Key West, because we all seem to find a way to tie the Sunshine State into our work and also because that’s where Jon wanted to tell the story:
No one ever tells you about the mosquitoes on Key West, probably because the drunk college kids and middle-age cruise passengers are actually so much worse, but the mosquitoes are a close third in terms of “reasons not to live here.”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek as the bartender apparently did his level best to drive home the idea of “Island Time” while getting my drink. I shook my hair, letting it fall over my face. Maybe that way he wouldn’t recognize me.
Look, I’m not that girl – the one who hops from relationship to relationship, always needing a man on my arm. Or, actually, a woman. I grimace and glance quickly at Ingeborg and then back down at the bar. I’d come to realize that as much as I supported equality, I really wasn’t cut out for lesbianism, or even bisexuality. This had been a crushing blow to my sense of enlightenment: The cold reality is, I can’t stand women. Women are too messy. All the talk about feelings and sweet baby jesus, lesbians were the worst, with their endless processing.
I thought leaving Irish Kevin’s and heading to the Orchid – one of the quieter, classier bars on the Isle of Bones – would keep Ingeborg calm. I figured a tiny, craft cocktail bar would be the perfect place to give Ingeborg the talk that started with “It’s not you, it’s me” and ended with the totally meaningless “We can still be friends.”
I never expected he would follow me. He clearly had his own problems. His girlfriend had just soaked him with craft beer. Certainly he had greater concerns than trying to place my face. That memory sent the acid racing up my esophagus faster than Richard Petty around the racetrack.
But I digress; I need to tell this in order of the many, many bad decisions that led to the best bar fight Key West had seen in 100 years, or so they would tell me later. In my defense, I really did try and avoid that fight. You’ll see.
As I said, I don’t need to be in a relationship, but I do like sex. A lot. And so when I was going on four months of abstinence – an unprecedented blight, in my opinion – I started to make less than stellar decisions when choosing a partner. It’s like wearing beer goggles all the time. So about ten years ago, I babysat this kid, Lucy. I was fresh out of grad school and had ideas that I would sit in sidewalk cafes and write. It was a grand plan, and it worked – until the letters from Sallie Mae started arriving. I needed cash and had never learned to bartend, so I worked odd jobs. This kid was one: The mom was a flight attendant, because apparently that’s still a thing, and her dad had a security detail for my dad. I watched Lucy when he had to work a late shift, because she was a teenager on the edge of disaster and couldn’t be trusted home alone. When her dad came home, she’d be in bed and not out drinking with her older brother’s friends, and I’d go home and write. It wasn’t ideal, but I was writing and making money, so it I felt like I was at least pointing my life in the right direction. A good decision, right?
Well, until the morning I ended up in bed with Lucy’s dad. There’s no way to make that sound better than it was, because what it was was pretty damn shitty. We started talking. He’d had a little scotch. So had I. Scotch coupled with my currently-celibate condition led to us making out. We were in the bedroom when we both realized what was happening, and we stopped.
See that wouldn’t have been such a bad decision… if I hadn’t slept with Lucy’s older brother the next morning. Which I totally did. I was tired, and the couch was lumpy and I thought, hey, her brother’s away at school, I’ll just use his bed, even if it meant sleeping under his creepy Dan Marino poster. But then the bastard came home and apparently didn’t realize I was in his bed, so he climbed in and he looked like his dad, and his dad was really hot, and it had been a long four months. He was naked, he was hot, and he was right there.
It may have been the celibacy talking, but it was the hottest sex I ever had, before or since. But then the dad – yeah, the same guy – came home and caught us. Needless to say, I got the hell out of Dodge, learned to bartend, and never looked back.
Except, of course, this guy I’d been having hot dreams about for the past decade was standing, soaked in craft beer – which, to be fair, is the highest and best use of craft beer – staring at me like he knew me from somewhere. Which he did. And I was there with my girlfriend, in the middle of the The Talk, the one where I wanted to break up with her and she wanted to talk about it because did I mention MY GOD LESBIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT IT, and I had a twisting feeling in my gut. We’d come into the bar before the dueling pianos started and I’d tried, in vain, to end it. When it became apparent Ingeborg was not going to just let me end things, I moved the party to the Orchid Bar. Certainly, I reasoned desperately with myself, certainly she won’t cause a scene here. I am not good at endings, largely because I’m a wimp. That tingling in my throat and tight misery in my stomach wasn’t a warning, I told myself. It was just nerves. It would be a crappy hour or two, but by the end of the night this would all be a horrible, distant memory.
Turns out I was half right.
If I want to blame myself – and all evidence suggests I should – I could trace it back to this idea that I was something like a three or a four on the Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, even though I’d never looked at a woman and thought much other than “I wish I had her hair” or “I wonder if those are real?” (As I had no breasts of my own to speak of, it was more than an occasional question.) I thought being bisexual was a hip and trendy, yet rebellious and outcast-y, thing to do, and so when I met Ingeborg and she seemed into me, I thought, hey, I can do this.
Turns out I’m even worse at same-sex relationships than I am heterosexual ones. I am a firm zero on that Kinsey scale. Poor Ingeborg. Poor nordic, blonde, perfect Ingeborg. If I were going to be with a woman, I caught myself thinking as I avoided the unrelenting gaze of the guy dressed in Key West IPA, it would be her. I winced as I realized I was: I was with Ingeborg.
I started to worry there was really no way out of this relationship. I wanted to end it, and Ingeborg – tall, blonde, and temperamental Ingeborg – wasn’t having it. I kept trying to tell her it was over, at first gently, actually using the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, but Ingeborg, having grown up in Oslo, didn’t recognize what I assumed was the universal brush-off line. She kept saying it was OK that it was me, because we could fix me, and putting her arm around me and trying to kiss me, and that’s when I noticed Lucy’s older brother had found his craft-beer-drenched way into the Orchid Bar and, apparently oblivious to the fact that a, I was with a woman and b, in the middle trying to break up with that woman, kept trying to catch my eye. I kept avoiding his gaze. I was suddenly very tired and where the hell was our bartender with my drink?
“Look, Ingeborg,” I tried again. “I think, you know, maybe I might not be attracted to women.”
“Don’t be silly,” she snapped at me, her patience finally wearing thin. “We had sex last night.”
“Well, yes,” I admitted. “But didn’t you ever notice that… well, you know, that I don’t really… you know, that I don’t really respond as, um, easily as you do?”
“Oh, that,” she laughed. “You are older. Older women take longer to get excited.” Ingeborg said this matter-of-factly, as if I were 70 and not 34. I tried not to be offended. The bartender put a glass of Bombay Sapphire in my hand as I organized my thoughts.
“I didn’t order this,” I said. “I wanted a beer. Non-craft. Cheap. Domestic. Nothing brewed with the tears of a virgin or the blood of a unicorn or any of that crap. Do you not have cheap, domestic beer?”
My patience for people was about at its end.
“The drink is from me,” a male voice said over my shoulder. I tensed; Lucy’s brother – Jesus, did I really not know his name? – had a similar drink in hand. Also, he looked even more like his dad, and even though he was marinated in craft beer, I was picturing him as I had last seen him, in all his tan, naked glory. Ingeborg, who just a moment ago seemed clueless as to my imminent heterosexuality, must have finally sensed something, because she put her arm around my waist and pulled me closer.
In retrospect, my next actions were not my wisest. I remember trying to ignore them both, staring at my oysters and, apparently, a lifetime of despair. Then Ingeborg giggled and grabbed at my almost non-existent breast, which is something she’d never done before, and a mosquito landed on my arm, and all of a sudden I had had enough: Enough of the crappy writing and even worse craft beer, of my long-ago Adventures in Babysitting that refused to go sit in the damn corner, of being even worse at being a lesbian than I was at being a writer, and most of all, the fucking mosquitoes.
I looked up at Adventures in Babysitting, back at Ingeborg, then down at the damn mosquito. Then, in a waste of some of the finest gin I couldn’t afford, I downed the Sapphire in one gulp. I slapped at the mosquito, pulled away from Ingeborg, grabbed Adventures in Babysitting, and kissed him. He kissed me back. It was the highlight of my evening.
That last thing I remember was hearing a sharp intake of breath. I broke off the kiss and saw Ingeborg had gone white. Well, she was a Viking, so she was kind of always white. She was just whiter than usual.
That’s when I felt the punch. Adventures in Babysitting’s craft beer hurling girlfriend was definitely not happy. Also, she hit like a girl.
Ingeborg, however, did not. Thankfully, she wasn’t aiming for me. Babysitting got the worst of it.