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Leeking Ink #31 COVER
How to Move Forward
On Being Pregnant
Maternal Poetry
Everything You Have Ever Wanted
After Birth
Gardening For Cancer
How Frequent Flyer Miles Saved Me From Becoming Margot Kidder
Permanant Obsessions
Crackheads Stole My Tofu
Food Stuff

How Frequent Flyer Miles Saved Me From Becoming Margot Kidder

Monday 8/14/07
The stress and anxiety in each of us erupted like verbal volcanoes with an ash cloud of mental instability. Something inside of me snapped. I looked into going to FL.

Tuesday 8/15/07
We acknowledged that the fight was irrational and that we are both complete messes. He will take the weekend with his friends in NJ and I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and booked a flight to Florida for Friday. It seemed an extreme reaction, but I needed some peace and snorkeling was the only place I could think to find it.

Friday 8/17/07
Leaving the airport and driving southbound on I-95, I felt like I was on my way to see a lover. I was anxious, longing, and hopeful. The last time we saw each other it was a tumultuous visit. I hadn’t been snorkeling in 2 1/2 years.

Sitting on the boat hours later, about to be reunited, I wondered how many of the 30+ people were there because it sounded interesting in a tourist brochure or if any others were there out of mad passion. I was the only one visibly pouring over my field guides, looking for all the words to describe my love’s wonders; reading the Latin names for fish as if they were sonnets.

This time, the water welcomed me. We were one instantly. The reef looked half-dead at first. A fallen forest with fish, but no invertebrates. Climate, disease, pollution and hurricanes have taken their toll. I swam alone, out and back and to the famous Christ statue. We were snorkeling North Dry Rocks on a charter out of Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

I saw a huge school of tang, which looked like a Macy’s display of Fiestaware dinner plates swimming. Trunkfish, barjack, a few huge French angelfish, and more swam with me in the idyllic water. My childhood made me believe the ocean should feel like a second skin, not the cold, callous water of the mid-Atlantic.

Back on the boat everyone looked tired, bedraggled and like they wanted to return to the tourist brochure. I wanted more. I needed more. How could an hour with my love sate me after years apart? A little giddy, talked to the captain on the ride back to shore. He suggested I try a scuba resort course. Scuba seemed the next logical step in our relationship.

I went to the dive shop when we reached the dock. The resort course was expensive and the weather for Saturday was iffy, but what the hell, I was likely having a breakdown, so I decided to go for it. There was only one problem. I was on a 48-hour reprieve from my life and you need at least 24 hours after scuba diving before you can fly. Our first step toward a deeper commitment would have to wait until next time.

I walked over to the small beach area, still wanting more. I scanned the jagged coral edges of the beach area and saw a few things that piqued my interest. I put on my snorkel gear and started exploring the murky shallows. There was a deep, black trench in the center of the beach area. That part of my lover scares me. I floated amid a school of thousands of tiny iridescent fish. It was like swimming among stars. I next found canons from a 1715 shipwreck. Fish were darting in and out of the canons.

I eventually left the park and went to the health food store across the street for provisions. I got some horacha (traditional Mexican rice drink) and dinner. I rented a kitchenette at the modest Key Lantern for about $60 a night. I showered went to the bar behind the motel for drinks. Several families were enjoying the last days of summer vacation. I watched the sunset over two rum drinks while reading the latest Carl Hiassen. I had never enjoyed being alone this much before. I worried about Patrick endlessly and I missed Garnet, but I seriously needed a break.

Saturday 8/18/07
Upon awakening I am immediately hit with the following thoughts:
1) I am dehydrated.
2) I have started my period.
3) I hope it is true that menstrual blood does not attract sharks.
4) Oh. God. Did this explain my reactions this past week and why I was alone in a cheap motel in Islamorada?
5) Where in the hell will I end up 28 days from now?

Rain had woken me early. I got ready to go back to Pennekamp with a quick stop at the Winn-Dixie to address my feminine needs. I found myself in line behind a man addressing his elderly man needs.

I signed up for the 9am snorkel trip and spent the waiting time walking the mangrove trail. There were little crabs everywhere. They are growing on me. There is something so spider-like about them. I was also enjoying my first Florida summer in at least a decade. I didn’t remember them as so pleasant, but then again a decade of Maryland’s humid-without-the-predicable-relief-of-thunderstorm summers had taught me to appreciate storms. I could breath deep, lung-filling air.

This trip out to the reef was much more enjoyable. The boat was faster and I was able to stand on the bow for the ride. I struck up a conversation with a 5-year-old scuba diver and her father. I kept thinking, “Ha! I am hiding from my life and it will never find me way out here!”

They stopped the boat at Grecian Rocks. The winds had begun to pick up and the captain said I had to have a buddy. An older male couple said I could swim with them. Or rather, one of them duo did and the other seemed annoyed that he volunteered. I stayed with them a while, but eventually took off on my own. I proved my worth later on when we met back up and I showed the one that didn’t want me along where to dive down to see a huge lobster and sea urchin.

This particular reef is good when the winds are up and there were lots of sea fans and anemones. I saw lobster, trunkfish, blue striped grunt, sergeant majors, yellow damselfish, French grunts, yellowtailed snapper, doctorfish, star coral, hogfish, stoplight parrotfish, balao, trumpetfish, black margate, gobys, blenneys, clown wrasse, Spanish hogfish and more. Then as I swam closer to the shallows I saw a nurse shark! It was exciting in a way that made me want to follow it…instead of heading for the boat, which is what many of my fellow snorkelers apparently did. They are harmless (to humans) big fish that happen to be sharks.

The waves were harder, but after the last several months I was harder. I swam and dove down to see as much as I could up close. I even rescued some woman’s errant snorkel.

On the way back I rode the bow rail again and asked the first mate if they were going back out to Grecian Rocks or a different spot on the 12pm tour. He said that it was the only place they could go with wind like this and that all the boats would likely head there. He suggested I find something else to do. I was down to my last 18 or so hours and I was going to make them count.

I got back in the car and collected myself. I called a kayak place about tours. I wanted something more adventurous than the park offered. They didn’t have any tours going out, but I could take the boat out myself and they had a mangrove canopy nearby. That sold me.

I went back to the motel, showered, grabbed lunch and was headed south to Mile Marker 77.5. They guy seemed fascinated by my trapeze school tanktop (literally the shirt, I’m flat as a board) and under-charged me for 4 hours and a hat. He gave me a map, a red kayak, and said that manatees and a giant school of jellyfish had been spotted the day before. I paddled all around the mangrove canopy, which was like a visiting a cathedral for me. I also saw two ospreys. After circumnavigating the mangroves I still had about 3 hours left.

I went back to the rental place, lightened my supplies a bit, and asked about Indian Key. Normally the trip over to the key would take about 20-30 minutes depending on how strong you paddled, however the wind was really pushing. I had never kayaked on open water like this before, but the guy gave me some great tips and off I went. As I hunched over, bobbing on the water and fighting the wind I realized that the last 6 months made me stronger than I realized. I never considered giving up, I just paddled and paddled. Occasionally I stopped to let the burn pass, but I made up that lost ground and reached Indian Key. I beached the kayak and started exploring the island. Indian Key, “dates from the time of prehistoric Indians to the 1830s, when this small key was the seat of newly created Dade County. The foundations of buildings and cisterns on the island date back to this prosperous time.” (http://funandsun.com/parks/IndianKey/indiankey.html). I felt like I was exploring a long deserted island. I found out that Perrine, one of the places I grew up, got its name from one of the early settlers on the key. I also found some tide pools in razor sharp coral along the coastline. I saw chitons (sort of prehistoric marine mollusks) and even found the most amazing hermit crab nursery filled with hundreds of wee crabs. That was so worth the work getting to the island. I felt like a man-o-war gliding the wind back to Matecumbe Key to return the kayak.

I stopped at a local bookstore and bought Garnet two books on my way back to the motel. I had a dinner of lentil soup, chips, hummus, and salsa while watching Miami Animal Cops. I didn’t want to go back to the bar, but I didn’t want to sit in the room, so I drove until I found a spot on the gulf side to park and watch sunset. I called and talked to Patrick and my family and just relaxed. I read, wrote a few postcards, and just enjoyed my last few hours. At dusk I returned to the hotel, tired from my exertions, but momentarily content. An older couple saw me returning and offered me some of their dinner. I declined and they asked if I was alone. I said yes, as if it was the most wonderful thing in the world, and they just looked at me puzzled. I knew what I had to return to in the morning, but the night was still mine.

Sunday 8/19/07
I woke early and drove north waiting for sunrise over the ocean. At first I was disappointed when the rain started, but then I began to enjoy it. I drove out of the keys with intermittent storms and then as I reached the mainland the clouds billowed and sunrise exploded. It was better than expected with all the storm clouds. I made it to Fort Lauderdale and flew home and straight to Garnet. Those 48-gloriously-freedom-filled hours are some of the best I ever experienced.

This trip also alerted me to a growing problem. Within a day of arriving home I thought about how easy I could breath while snorkeling and that I couldn’t seem to get a full breath back home. The anxiety was morphing into growing panic attacks, which were making me short of breath and causing chest pains.

Also, no one seems to know for sure about menstrual blood and sharks, http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/isaf/mens.htm, but overall women are much less likely to be attacked by sharks and it isn’t seen as an increased risk.

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