Florida

I travel pretty often for someone who doesn’t travel much. I was anxious about leaving, anxious because I don’t like taking a break from my fitness training. Although, it was a trip that would be less than a week and January in the Midwest is frigid so I left for Florida to visit family and it ultimately made me realize that everything I need I have right at home.

Arriving at the airport before the sun was up left me stunned. I was stunned because not only had we made it in time for our flight but we were early. I am not an early woman. At least back then I wasn’t. That day though, for that flight, I was. I was stunned that I was able to rush through the icy parking lot and bounce in place at the bus stop to try and stay warm. We made it. Me, my dog and my little brother who may as well be my big brother because he’s more than a foot taller than me but also because I look up to him in both the literal and figurative sense. We were so early in fact, that we had time to get food at the gate. Unfortunately, it was barely 5 AM and the last thing my body thought it was time for was food. Nevertheless, I stood in line. At the neighboring McDonald’s line, a woman with a cluster of children went back and forth between encouraging them with the promise of food and then threatening to spill their chocolate milk on them. I get it. It was early and she was outnumbered. Traveling solo was difficult, I couldn’t imagine being responsible for others. I had Teva move so the kids would see him and momentarily be distracted from tugging on their mother’s clothing. Now they wanted to pet the dog more than they wanted to eat. She turned and smiled at me with the little energy she could muster. I waved them over. “It’s no trouble,” I said. “C’mon guys.” The kids rushed over and pet the dog.

“Thank you so much,” their mother said, trying to keep the kids from getting too frantic.

“Of course,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another woman eagerly approaching from the other side. Whenever I invite people, it tends to create a line and I can only stand in one place for so long. I hate bursting people’s bubbles but my legs were getting sore and I had to make sure Teva still paid attention. The line moved up and we moved with it. I could just tell her he’s working, which he was. I didn’t though because there was a sense of pleading in her eyes.

“Could I,” she began, walking towards us, sandwich bag in the hand that wasn’t reaching out.

“Sure,” I said. She came over and stroked his head.

“My dog passed away recently,” she said. Only looking at Teva as she said it.

“I’m so sorry,” I held my hand over my heart.

“Thank you,” she nodded. Ever since losing a dog the way I did, I have immense empathy for others who suffer the loss of their best friend. I was glad I didn’t let my impatience get to me in that airport line while waiting for food. I was glad she got to love my dog and that he got to love her back. That’s what we’re all truly here to do anyway, isn’t it? Love and be loved.

Once I had a breakfast sandwich I sat near our gate to try and trick my body into thinking it was breakfast time. The too early attempt at eating was perpetually interrupted by the mom I had met earlier. From the seats behind us, she scolded her brood of children in both English and Spanish. When she wasn’t doing that she was bilingually chiding her doormat of a husband. I felt bad that we too often use our words to cut down rather than raise up. The switch between languages was impressive though. My children will be bilingual as well, English and French. Multi-lingual if they want.

Preparing for takeoff with the dog tucked by my feet, in the back of my mind I thought it somewhat ridiculous that so many of us readily trust a metal tube to stay in the air while being flown by someone we don’t know, yet the idea of letting Jesus take the wheel is too much to fathom for some. By the time we landed, it was the kind of early morning I am used to but my body still wanted to go back to sleep. My brother and I waited in the warmth that was around a sixty-degree difference to what we had felt back home at 3 AM. The heat is why I came. I couldn’t care less about Florida. However, my distaste for the cold trumps my aversion for this state. The chill of Chicago makes me tense up and already having Cerebral Palsy involving spasticity, makes things almost unbearable. In the heat, however, I literally loosen up. I may be sweaty and uncomfortable but at least I’m not locked up. The family arrived to pick us up from the airport and from there we traveled to the place my wonderful aunt had up and left me for. Originally, she didn’t plan on moving here but now one of the people I counted on most for advice on life lives thousands of miles away. They bought a place on the water, something small yet spacious. Redone with dark hardwood floors and brand new furniture. It was nice. It was modern. It was calming. The house they had sold in a hurry to be here, the house that was a landmark of my childhood, was massive. Peach brick, three stories with a second level loft area that seemed to have a designated space for a grand piano. Every time I visited I always pictured it being so nice if black and white keys were able to play to the open level below, chords echoing throughout the home. How beautiful it would be to come home to a live rendition of Mozart? Sometimes I think I should’ve been born about one hundred years before I was. Ironically, I don’t remember any music ever being played in that wide open home. Not even when my aunt hosted Thanksgiving or Christmas with my grandmother smiling and laughing at the head of the table or gazing at her many, many family members from her where she rested in the armchair. Those moments only exist in our memories now as that house is gone, and my grandmother is too. My aunt moved to my least favorite state so my uncle could occasionally see a dolphin pop up. If I wanted that I would just watch an aquatic documentary.I moved from the granite-topped island, steadied myself and then walked out onto the balcony. My brother looked out at the water, both hands rested on the rail, curious. He’s an explorer. I got on the ground in a pigeon stretch. Traveling is strangely exhausting. “Is that your CrossFit for today?” My aunt asked, appearing behind me in the doorway.

“Oh, no.” I laughed, “this is nothing.” She asked me what’s going on in my life in her most endearing tone and I took the time to fill her in. I missed my aunt. I love her dearly. I didn’t tell her that. We talked outside like we used to. She used to help me see how my life is messed up then guide me towards solutions, not bothering to issue orders. She was clever like that. I miss having her around.

Back in the kitchen, the family was discussing dinner which sounded like it would be grilling at the house, the discussion was disturbed with a loud thud. I burst out laughing as I saw my dog ram his head into the glass of the balcony door that someone had closed. He was fine so my reaction wasn’t entirely cruel. The poor baby couldn’t have hit that glass any harder yet he didn’t drop his toy for a moment.

“Awe bug, ” I said.

“He better calm down. You better control your dog. He really needs to calm down.” I looked at my uncle, still smiling, thinking he was kidding but he was stone-faced.

“What?” I laughed, “he just,” I pointed toward the door. My uncle was in no mood but I wasn’t about to apologize, it was an accident, nothing got damaged and if he couldn’t see the humor in that Three Stooges-style collision, that was his problem. I shook my head. Lord, may I never be so serious. Over the next few days, I struggled with the humidity, tried not to complain and wondered if I should find a CrossFit gym in the area. It’s tough to be in eighty degrees when the thickness of your hair is comparable to Mufasa. At one point I was so physically restless, I grabbed two support handles while we rode the bus and started doing knees-to-elbows mid-transit. Activity wasn’t much outside of exploration and eating. We were able to visit a manatee farm to my delight. Walking across a planked pathway led us to the sight of blubbery floating masses doing nothing. Il dolce far niente. It fascinates me how manatees exist to eat. Sometimes I feel like that’s me. Fortunately, I’m not enormous. Those guys are thick and wide and they know it. Probably as tall as me and four times as wide. Gray blobs like unarmed walruses floating happily as could be beneath the murky water.

Exiting the manatee farm, mentally checking that off my ‘not dead yet’ list, there was a rustling in the bushes. Immediately, I got excited thinking it was a squirrel but no, what emerged from the leaves was larger than a squirrel with oval-like ears and a rat tail. “It’s an armadillo,” I told Teva shaking his leash, he flinched excitedly as if the animal would explode any minute. He sniffed the air. “It’s okay,” I said, he caught my eyes for half a second and then his attention was glued back on the creature. “C’mon.” We moved closer, his ears were standing at attention. Curious Teva is an adorable Teva, I laughed. “C’mon.” He’d rather sniff it than be able to touch it. Understandable. I agreed. I had no idea where the armadillo had even come from. “It’s not a dog,” I said. His diamond eyes caught mine and then he sat down, waiting for me to explain but I had no answer. “I don’t really know what it is.” He sneezed a little and glanced down at the pavement as if he were deliberating options of what he thought it could be. The sunlight reflected off his long eyebrow hairs. He has the sweetest face. Cocoa eyes that plead like the woman in the airport we met earlier, black fur like velvet. Silky with a gold cast revealed in the sunlight proving his Retriever blood mixed in with Labrador. My lovely, little, loyal one who curls up in corners like a Russian Blue and hasn’t a clue what an armadillo is.I feel honored and humbled, warm and grateful when I think about the people who made me and raised me. I’m so thankful for my parents I feel like I should be holding a golden statue of a nude, bald man and expressing gratitude first to God and then the Academy. At some point, my mom and I were able to slip away on our own and explore some other beach town in Florida. I’ve had as many best friends in life as I have fingers on one hand but the truth is, my mom is my best friend. She has been whether I’ve had another one or not. Now they’re all gone and she’s still here. Who do you think will get the good stuff when I’m rich and famous? My mother deserves an empire. Both my parents and brother do, I owe them everything. She and I wound up at some shack that was good enough because they had burgers and I rarely pass up a burger. We sat at a table for two in the crowded restaurant that was open to the warm air outside, wooden slats made up the floor. Ice cold water was delivered sans ice. We sat and drank and talked about the trip so far. I watched my mom’s pretty face as she discussed the trip. Blushed cheeks, straight dark hair with a swoop half bang, not a single wrinkle despite her being thirty years my senior. She’s crazy and she’s wonderful. “Hurry up, finish your burger, the sun is setting.”

“Yeah,” I said, lacking her enthusiasm, it happens once every day.

“I want to go see it,” I was enjoying my pickle, she was signing the bill.

“Really?” She nodded. She told me again to hurry so I quickly ate the last of what was a really good burger and struggled to keep up with her pulling me out the back of the restaurant towards the beach. Crowds gathered on the sand facing the ocean. “Excuse me,” I said, maneuvering around people as we walked by. A couple I didn’t want to bump into responded in an accent I didn’t recognize. “Where are you from?” I asked them.

“Greenland,” he said.

“Chicago,” I replied. “All the way from Greenland and you pick Florida?” They laughed.

“It’s warmer here.”

“True, nice to meet you.” My mom and I traveled down further and the sky showed hues of oranges and pinks. A warm contrast over the cool blue water. It’s the kind of thing that reminds one of the Master Creator. What’s more is that this is His regular show, nothing exemplary, it happens roughly the same time every evening and it will until He decides otherwise. Strokes of peach and rose, citrus and strawberry. A watercolor painting floating above the sea. Bravo, Jesus, bravo.I’m an infrequent traveler who travels frequently. They’re short trips, long enough to enjoy but not so long that they become trite. I despise travel preparation but I love getting to the places. If it were solely up to me, I probably wouldn’t leave the suburbs but I take the opportunities when I can and hopefully, one day, there will be an opportunity for Paris. This time around, there was the opportunity for me to leave the winter weather and see manatees coupled with gorgeous sunsets while watching my dog dart across the sand through the shade of my sunglasses as I savored the meal in front of me. My phone rang, it was someone unexpected. “Hey,” I said.

“Hey, Genevieve, how are you?”

“I’m having an actual Krabby Patty by the ocean, how are you?” I asked, looking down at the patty topped with tomatoes, pickles, and buns, joined by a side of fries. Teva ran ecstatically with my brother in the distance.

“Oh, really? Where are you?” He asked.

“Florida,” I said.

“Nice, well you might be wondering why I’m calling.”

“I figured there was a reason.”

“I have an idea for a film and I’d like your help as a writer.”

“What’s your idea?” He briefed me on the synopsis and I was intrigued.

“Great. Let’s set something up when I get back.” I wished him well and then hung up the phone, looking forward to the start of a new project. Teva came back to me and laid down at my feet, smiling and panting, showing off his red bandana. “Good boy,” I said, then lifted my head, it was so bright. Life was all so bright.

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