(1986, Stephanie and me. This picture was made about a month before my Island Bar experience.)
Many years ago when I was a young woman deeply concerned with keeping up my image, my husband and I took a little vacation to Florida. I was new to travel, a farm girl from a small country community
Kent checked us into an extravagant hotel. Toward one direction was the Gulf of Mexico. In the direction we faced was a massive pool. It seemed big enough to be the Gulf of Mexico to this country girl. It was gigantic. The water was as blue as I’d ever seen. In the middle was a bar. Its palm trees and a thatched roof made it look like a perfect little island in the middle of a clear blue sea. I was mesmerized. I stood giddy-like at the window watching the people play. Lovers frolicked in the water and then pulled themselves up onto the edge of the “island bar.” It was romantic beyond anything I’d ever imagined.
After we had settled into our room Kent said he was going to the bar and for me to meet him there. When I got to the pool, I realized that island bar was waaaayyyy out there. I’ve always had a bit of a phobia of water being over my head. (When we were kids my older brother got great delight in working up my panic as we swam in Rock Creek. He would get a devilish grin on his face and swim toward me. As I screamed, “No, no, please no,” he’d push my head under water and hold it there. After a few moments, he’d let me up - my fear and panic now full-blown. He would laugh mercilessly, let me gasp in a gulp of air and push me under again.)
I could barely swim; the swimming I did was actually more like a dog paddling. Back home, I felt like I’d done a good job if I got across the little pools I was accustomed to. This was a whole new paradigm. I stood on the side of the pool hoping Kent would eventually see me. He never did. As I waded in, the water quickly got deeper and deeper, leaving me with no choice but to dog paddle. As I kicked and struggled, my stamina and strength were quickly exhausted. I put my feet down to find that I was in way over my head.
There was a middle-aged gentleman about two body lengths away. He was casually floating, basking in this Floridian experience. My panic was growing as the seconds passed. I knew I would drown without this man’s help. Not one to appear needy, (it was imprinted in my being by my well-intentioned mother that a person should never lose his or her dignity), I swung and kicked, keeping my eyes on my target. Finally I reached it. I grabbed his tan and orange swim trunks and pulled myself out of the water with all my panicking power, pulling his trunks down as I rose to the surface. Terror flashed across his face as I wrapped my legs around his waist. “Hell, hell, what are you doing?” he yelled.
I was so embarrassed, but resorted to the vice I knew well. “Oh hi” I said with mock confidence. He swore at me.
Safe above the surface of the water, I realizing how undignified I looked (but gave little thought to how alarmed my new acquaintance was). I put my hands on his head and shoved him under the water (a trick I learned from my brother). Alas, my final touch was kicking him as hard as I could in hopes of propelling myself to the bar. The last I heard was some expletives that made me acutely aware that he wasn’t pleased to meet me.
This kick off did indeed get me much closer to the bar, but not close enough. A young couple was between the bar and me. Again I drew my near-drowning face out of the water as I dog-paddled furiously, and so as not to appear foolish, asked politely, “Can you help me?” They didn’t respond. I said, “Really, can you help me?” The man came closer and I grabbed him in panicked relief. (He didn’t know how lucky he was that I grabbed his shoulders instead of his swim trunks). I kicked off his chest, and that thrust got me to the bar.
I wanted to hang onto the bar, catch my breath and regain composure, instead, I quickly hoisted my shaking body out of the water imagining my new enemies right behind ready to verbally attack me.
I felt like an exhausted wet rat as I walked into the “island bar” which now resembled a torture hut. I stood there producing a puddle of water as I looked at each patron. There were eight people inside the dim little hut and each one was staring at me. I wanted nothing more than to fall into a stool beside my husband but my husband was not there. The tears were about to burst out of my eyes, so I walked through the bar to the other side, planning to collapse out of view of these gawking eyes. As soon as I got out of the hut I saw the sidewalk that connected the island to the hotel. Though chagrined to see a sidewalk, I wasted no time using it. Still shaking and now unable to contain my tears, I hurried back to our room.
When Kent entered our room I tore in, “Where have you been?” I tiraded for two or three minutes before he interrupted and replied with a smirk, “I meant the bar in the hotel.”