The Moonlit Kayak - published (TWICE) in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
A few months ago, on a business trip, I met a handsome doctor. He is visiting Miami and wants a tropical outdoorsy date. I am a chunky, short, redhead who considers shopping at a bargain store, exercise. If I’m feeling exceptionally motivated, I park far away from the entrance.
“You have to do something exciting. Get out of your comfort zone. He wants an outdoors tropical adventure. Bienvenido a Miami, baby!” My sister says when asked for advice.
“How about going to Pollo Tropical for dinner? We can sit on the patio with a bowl of tostones.” I reply. “In this heat, I think that is tropical enough.”
Ignoring me, she goes on, “go camping or play beach volleyball or hiking or…. kayaking! That’s it! Kayaking! My co-worker just went full moon kayaking and says it was very romantic. I can get you the information.” Sis reaches for her phone.
“Let’s see, outdoors, exercise, water, mosquitoes, alligators, it is so NOT going to happen.” I declare with certainty.
The next day my sister and I are wandering in a gigantic mall trying to locate a sporty outfit that looks like I kayak all the time. Apparently, I also need (pretty) waterproof shoes. Isn’t pretty waterproof shoes an oxymoron?
I pick up Dr. Jack at his hotel. I am wearing some kind of elastic black sport shirt with cranberry colored shorts. On my feet are ridiculously expensive pink plastic Mary Jane’s that my sister and I found at the Crocs store. Fifty dollars for plastic shoes, this guy better be an awesome date.
The drive out to the bay is wonderful. My companion is charming. The conversation flows with ease. We arrive at Oleta River State Park and find a parking spot near the full moon kayaking hut. I place car keys, iPhone, and a lipstick in Ziploc bags inside a small plastic purse. Of course I need lipstick! I AM on a date after all. We get paddles, life vests, and watch a kayaking safety demonstration. (Something that of course I do not need this being my 250th million time in a kayak.) The guide explains the correct way to get in and out of a kayak, how to paddle, and tells us that the taller you are, gravity and all, there are more chances of tipping.
Jack is 6 feet and 5 inches tall. I might lose my cool composure.
There are about fifty kayaks bumping into each other as we slowly leave the mangroves toward Biscayne Bay. Every time someone gently hits us I think my heart will dive into the water. What will I do if I fall? Are there alligators in these waters? Orange paddles everywhere seem to miss my face by inches. Once in open water the ride becomes smooth. I loosen the deadly grip on my paddle. This is when I first look around me. The moon is breathtaking. It’s reflection on the bay reminds me of a poem in Spanish that I heard in high school. The breeze is warm and makes my red curls dance around my face. The lights on the tall buildings in the distance twinkle like far away stars. And, there is a lovely man sharing a yellow kayak with me. Guides everywhere watch over our group. I stop worrying about falling, being an alligator’s happy meal, or getting paddled in the face. I am alive and blessed. I am doing something totally uncharacteristic and I am loving every minute of it.
We arrive to a beach with a campfire. Jack pulls me out of the kayak, smiles down, and kisses me. It is a fairy tale and, like Cinderella, I am wearing awesome (albeit plastic) shoes. Leaving our kayak and life vests on the shore with the others, we sit on the wet sand. Jack and I kiss, sip wine, munch on S’mores, and listen to a guitar playing guide sing Margaritaville and Brown Eye Girl under the light of the full moon.
We stay until the end so there are only a few kayaks left. Someone took ours so we grab another.
I end up with a diminutive life vest. I am only able to hook the bottom part of the vest, the one that belongs around my waist, tucked under my breasts. Forget about latching the top. Who needs it to fit anyway? I am not going swimming.
While gliding over the water with the satisfaction that I am now an accomplished outdoors athlete, Jack gets cute and rocks the kayak. Someone screams. Swallowing water, I realize I am the one making the Banshee-like noise. Slow motion. Thoughts cross my mind. The small life vest cannot hold my weight since I am definitely not floating. I am grateful for the LASIK that allows my eyes to open under water. I am regretful for the LASIK that makes me clearly see the darkness, algae, and muck. I kick my feet. I feel my fifty dollars Crocs slipping. Oh no! I can get back to the surface using just my arms. I feel for the purse I attached to the life vest. Car keys, MAC lipstick, and my loyal Siri are still with me. I send God a “please let the Ziploc bags work so there is no water damage” prayer. I spot Jack at a surprising distance, holding to the back of our kayak, calling my name. How long was I under? Why am I so far away? One of the tour guides is with him, her kayak parallel to ours.
The sound of coughing murky water makes them look my way. Slowly, I reach the kayaks.
We are alone. It is very dark. I am scared. The gig is up. Words come out at once. “I will not be able to get back in this thing. I am a wimp. I have never been kayaking in my life. I have never done anything remotely athletic at all. My shoes are new and slipping off my feet. I bought them yesterday with the outfit so I could look cute and sporty. If I lose the shoes, my sister will make fun of me forever!”
The guide smiles. She is totally calm. What is wrong with her? Can’t she see this is a crisis? “Hand me the shoes.” Her voice is a sweet lullaby. I do. “They are pretty. I will not lose them. I promise.” She places them inside her own one person kayak. “Hold on to the side of your kayak and I will pull you up from the top latch of your vest. I will have you sitting in the kayak in minutes.”
She reaches for the vest’s top latch and grabs a handful of my breasts.
“Your life vest is too small!” she is surprised. Where is the lullaby voice and Zen-like peace?
Panic. More words. “Someone took our kayak and our life vests. We had to take one left behind. This vest obviously belongs to a girl that does not eat and has no breasts. I could not hook it over mine because I love donuts.”
She is calm again. “No worries. Let’s try this. Pull yourself up while your friend and I steady the kayak. Once you are halfway, I will grab the bottom latch and get you in.”
I pull so hard Hulk has nothing on me.
I am still in the water.
I am never leaving Biscayne Bay. I should arrange for my mail to be delivered and call my pet sitter.
Jack chuckles and swims behind me. “I will push you up.”
I am mortified. Jack is loudly grunting near my left ear from the effort of trying to lift me out of the water. He has one hand on my ass, the other, who knows where. I am going to die of embarrassment. When there is movement, because my date is, undoubtedly, Ironman, the guide instructs to quickly lift my right leg over the kayak and push. It is not easy, or pretty looking. My grunts are now harmonizing with Jack’s. It works. Between the pushing and grunting and pulling, I am straddling the front of the kayak.
I am a beached whale in cranberry colored shorts.
It is over. I breathe. I am safe.
“You have to let go of the kayak and get inside the seat.” Oh God it is not over. “Why can’t I just stay hugging the kayak? I love it so much.” I ask in a Minnie Mouse squeak. Both Jack and the guide patiently convince me to let go of my new love. After earthquake-like movements I am, once again, sitting in a kayak.
Jack gets in like the flutter of a butterfly’s wing.
We slowly start on our way back, “You know, Jack, if you wanted to grab my ass all you had to do was ask.” We laugh. I relax. The three of us fall into pleasant conversation. It is all truly beautiful. Jack and I will never forget this wonderful night.
On dry land, I hug and thank our guide, and am reunited with my pink Crocks. Jack and I, dripping water, holding hands, laughing, and listening to the squishy sounds of our shoes, walk back to the car.
In life, we stay away from experiences that might end up in the disasters we build inside our heads. Sometimes we are right. What we fear the most actually happens. We take a risk and end up falling out of a kayak into a dark bay. Isn’t that just fantastic?