(Formerly: “Once Upon A Time. . .”)
This week’s blog (#50) is an updated entry of an early posting that I’m reblogging by popular demand. Even if you’ve read it before, the pictures have changed and I’ve added to the story. I am still on hiatus, rewriting my memoirs, but I will return next week with a brand new story. Hope you enjoy this quirky love story (it’s one of my favorites, and I think it’s one of the funniest ones I’ve written). Thank you for being such faithful readers. Because of you, I’m now blowing through 31,000 views at approximately 200 hits a day. Gracias!
Do you know what I’ve discovered? Years ago I realized that I was a star in my own reality show. My husband is my handsome co-star. We have grown children, but they have their own reality shows, and they don’t live with us anymore. This week’s episode (“You So Crazy”) features my husband and crocodiles, and the storyline outstrips anything those “biotches” from Atlanta can throw down on any given skanky day.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta||Hulu Pomo Photo
In the interest of full disclosure, my husband is a white man (I affectionately refer to him as “White and Wonderful” or “WW”). I don’t mean that he’s just any ol’ white man; I mean he’s a direct descendent of Governor Bradford of the Mayflower type of white man. (His grandmother – a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution – gave me papers to make sure I understood just what type of white man I was getting when I stole him away from all those white girls from his neighborhood.) He looks like a Republican and a Presbyterian minister, but he has a wicked Monty Python sense of humor and his woman is obviously black. I have known him for 38 years and have been married to him for 33 of those years. He loves me like no one else on this Earth has ever loved me, and he had my heart within 24 hours the first time we went to get a cup of coffee:
Barista: “How do you like your coffee, Sir?”
WW’s answer: “Hot and black, like my women!”
The major difference between WW and me is that I grew up as a ragamuffin of the Ward of the State in The Cleve, and he was raised by two parents in New England who made him think he would someday be president of the United States at the very most or a successful lawyer at the very least. He wasn’t born rich, by any means, but he was raised feeling a sense of what I call “white-man-entitlement syndrome.” There has never been any question in my husband’s mind that the world wasn’t his oyster — until recently that is. Our reality show has basically been a comfortable romantic comedy, but a few years ago, the storyline took a drastic turn for the insane when said white man lost his job for years and couldn’t get another one to save his life. On top of that stress, our older daughter, whom we love very dearly, decided to do a nose dive into her own reality show entitled: “The Lost Years.” At that point in our odyssey, we had no idea that our child would eventually come to her senses or that good jobs would appear on the horizon for both of us. No one ever tells you when you first fall in love and get married that “shit really does happen” to families that will end up rocking your world.
Interracial Marriage Shines||Yahoo.com
One morning a very depressed WW came into the kitchen and summarily announced: “I’ve had enough of this shit! The movie Men at Work was right: ‘This is a waste of a perfectly good white boy.’”
(As a black woman, I consider myself morally superior to my husband in all things involving suffering, so I responded in my best Wanda Sykes voice: “Weeeell, now you know how the black man feels.”)
WW shot me one of those looks that said: “Now is not the time, Woman,” and continued trying to articulate how he had attempted to solve his current dilemma. “I’m going to the mountaintop to pray. I’m going to demand of God just what the hell was he thinking when he allowed this mess to fall upon us. What did I ever do to piss him off? If I don’t get struck by lightning, I’ll be back in time enough for lunch. I could sure use some shrimp wiggle to cheer me up when I get back.”
“Shrimp wiggle—a white man’s canned shrimp delight. Sure, baby—whatever floats your boat! I’ll see you when you’re done communing with the Almighty. Make sure you take notes. In the meantime, I’ll make myself a gin and tonic and see if getting drunk might solve anything.”
Charlton Heston as Moses returning with “Tablets from God”||Google Image
When WW returned, he had the serene look of one who had taken the route of Moses and gone up to the top of Mount Sinai and had seen the face of God. He’d come back down to tell his peeps (namely me) what God had spoken:
“I have been to the mountaintop and I’ve heard God!”
“Oh, do tell.” I said in my slightly intoxicated gin and tonic haze. “And just what did God say to his ‘perfectly good white boy?’” I asked trying not to laugh.
“God said I’m to become an international adventurer and you are to be my sidekick.”
“Oh, Lord Jesus, this man done lost his mind,” I said as I banged my head against the kitchen table and let out a rather loud guffaw.
“Stop laughing—I’m dead serious!” said WW, trying to keep himself from cracking up at how ludicrous he sounded. “Our troubles are causing our life-story to get off track here. Our lives are being completely defined by loss—loss of employment, loss of our savings, and loss of a child. We need to hit the spiritual refresh button before we lose each other. We’re under enough stress to kill an elephant, let alone a marriage. I propose we start small. I suggest we take the rest of our savings and…wait for it…wait-for-it—get back in touch with nature and who we’re created to be by exploring a rain forest!”
There are times in a marriage when you just have to say: Yes! “Yes, I’ll follow you; yes, I’ll take your hand and jump into something crazy if it will help you (us) survive. Yes, I’ll trust you in this no matter how crazy it all sounds to anybody else because if we fuck up at least we’ll fuck up together.”
Because I love my man, I packed my bags, some mosquito spray, and said my prayers that this trip wouldn’t be the time I’d die—not just yet!
Author and WW entering rainforest
In the beginning, the adventure wasn’t so bad. As a black woman who believes that if God wanted people to camp he would have made us bugs, I set in place some ground rules as the “sidekick” regarding how I wished to “roll” during this adventure.
- Absolutely no camping! We could hike and explore until the cows came home, but come night fall I wanted clean sheets, a vodka gimlet, and a spa.
- Absolutely no danger! We could explore the rain forest and see “lizards and shit galore” but come night fall, I wanted mosquito netting, Egyptian cotton sheets, and a flat screen TV.
- Absolutely no water sports! I’ve always engaged in the time-honored tradition that black women just don’t “do water” because it gets our hair wet, and we spend a fortune grooming our hair. Throwing all that money down the drain just to frolic in water was a real deal breaker for me, not to mention the tiny fact that I can’t swim. (I eventually had to compromise on this particular demand because WW loves water and swims like a fish—so we slightly adjusted our itinerary. WW would snorkel and frolic with giant sea turtles if a way could be found for me to carry on my diva role while cheering him on.)
At first the trip was amazing and so romantic. We were greeted by a host in a lobby with no walls, while a gentle breeze whispered softly through our hair—“Welcome to Shangri-La, Mr. and Mrs. Tomczyk.” Our concierge gave us fresh squeezed, nectar-of-the-gods fruit juice to drink and moist towels to wipe the grime of the day from our hands. Our man, Jeeves, assured us that my spa appointments had been confirmed with their best masseuse, and that he had taken the liberty to set up our snorkeling trip, our river cruise, and our trek through the rain forest with his best tour guides.
The next morning, we toured the coastline of our host country in a catamaran—something I’d never seen before, and it wasn’t that bad. WW got to play hide-and-go-seek with giant sea turtles in a hidden cove while I sipped Planter’s Punches on the deck, ate fresh guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips, read a wonderful book, and cheered my husband on in his “Tarzan’s frolic-in-the-deep fantasy” while maintaining my totally-dry-diva-self on the boat. Maybe WW had heard God, I thought to myself. This wasn’t half bad. We wouldn’t have any money in our bank account when we returned, but “what the hell”—live and let live, I thought, if one could have a stress-free week or two and forget our troubles.
Diva does snorkeling
But on the second day (Isn’t there always a “crazy” second day?) things turned ominous when we took the river cruise. Now, when someone uses the words river and cruising in the same sentence, I automatically think Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, the Christina, which is why I wore my gold hoops. What I don’t envision is what I eventually acquiesced to: a rubber raft that had been patched in several places with duct tape, for crying out loud! I also don’t expect there to be rapids, and I certainly don’t expect crocodiles. For years afterwards, WW would swear that he had offered me the chance to take the “river cruise” on a rather large river boat that held scores of tourists, but I had opted for the more intimate tour for two, because I said “I wasn’t a child or an old woman – I was the International Adventurer’s sidekick.” Yeah, right!
Author floating down river in rainforest in a rubber tube
The moderate rapids didn’t scare me at all because long before I encountered them, I made the mistake of asking my rubber-raft captain why one of his guys was in a kayak a few yards ahead of us and kept making figure eights in the water.
“To distract the crocodiles if they decide to charge the raft. But don’t worry, Señorita, it’s too hot for them to venture out — they’re probably sleeping.”
At just that moment, a prickly log of about two feet long appeared on the surface of the water just off to my left, and two dark eyes fixated on my blow-up toy of a boat as it rose up out of the water and yawned. When I slowly realized that what I was seeing was just the head of a crocodile, I cautiously whispered to our guide, “So, what is the ratio of a croc’s head to the full length of its body?”
“Oh, about one ninth,” he replied, having just seen the same shady-eyed log.
“So that would make that particular ‘log’ 15 – 20 feet long — correct?”
“Si, Señorita,” he said as he began to frantically signal to his co-worker in the kayak, and they both began to stroke a lot faster. “But not to worry—we haven’t seen a croc bigger than 15 feet in Costa Rica in years because the larger ones have been hunted down and killed. Oh, look up at the trees, Señorita, there’s a Howler monkey. Isn’t he cute?” asked the guide, obviously trying to distract me.
Costa Rican Monkeys||adventuresofdiscovery.com photo
As I hysterically looked to the right to get WW’s attention, we both saw the shoreline riddled with baby crocs who were sunning themselves, and I instinctively knew three things: 1) where there are babies, a mother is not far off, 2) that kayak man frantically doing the figure eights was going to be snack food at any moment, and 3) the International Adventurer and his Sidekick were going to enter heaven at the behest of a momma or a papa crocodile right after the kayak man got eaten. Before I could utter the first syllable of the fox-hole prayer screamed by many a dying man (“Help me, Jesus, help, help me Jesus!”), the rapids were upon us and we slipped away into a safer waterway while trying to keep my bowels intact. (I would later learn that crocs don’t like rushing water which is one reason we got out of there alive; the other reason is that there really is an appointed time to die and I guess that wasn’t it, thank you God.) My diary that night had only one entry: WTF—I’m going to kill WW!
Costa Rican Crocodile||National Geographic
The third day our concierge had booked us on a walking tour through a section of the rain forest with a naturalist who would help us identify plant life and the age of trees. (“Now this is my speed —this is what I’m talkin’ about!” I said to my International Adventurer.) What we hadn’t noticed was that part of the rain forest journey included a zip-line tour. We’d never done zip-lining before, and at first I refused to go near any of this shit. But I could see that my husband was chomping at the bit to give it a try. The concierge boasted that all his clients came back raving about the experience. He hadn’t done it himself, but how hard could it be? “You simply hang onto a steel cable line, slide down an incline from hilltop to hilltop, and see a great view of the rain forest going down. Now please sign here, here, and here, absolving the resort of all responsibility.”
The first clue that things might go horribly wrong was when it took 15 minutes to strap the harness over my Dolly Parton boobs (DPs). Then my diva hairdo was flattened in a hairnet and a helmet was placed on top of the hairnet, which caused me not a little consternation. The final item of the attire was a stiff, weather-worn glove two sizes too big that I was told I needed in order to squeeze the brake to slow down my descent before I hit the landing platform. But the brake was two feet above my head, and the glove was frozen into a jazz-hand pose due to years of encrusted dirt — making it impossible to bend around the brake.
Now here’s the thing: when the makers of the zip-line (a.k.a “the death slide”) invented this demonic entertainment, they didn’t take into account what would happen to a person’s body that front-loads 38 GG boobs on their little pathetic hanger. The one skinny rope that is supposed to hold up the rider’s body is no match for that force of nature, and instead of me being able to hold myself perpendicular to the zip-line, the force of gravity from my DPs pushed me down horizontally and I couldn’t reach the brake. As I began hurtling down the line over the rain forest at 90 miles an hour, I envisioned myself whizzing right past the startled faces of WW and the rest of the tourists on the first platform and then barreling on down through the next 10 platforms of the zip-line as the operators screamed in horror: “RUN-AWAY ZIP-LINER CAREENING TO HER DEATH – GET OFF THE LINE, GET OFF THE LINE!”
Author on zip line death slide (blood pressure 220/110 and rising)
I immediately initiated the only calming things I could think of to control my bubbling hysteria: I closed my eyes and prayed while I started doing pregnancy breathing exercises (“pant-pant-blow/hee-hee-hoo”). But before I could do much else, my body came to a screeching halt in the middle of the line approximately two hundred feet above the tallest tree in the rain forest. I couldn’t go backwards and I couldn’t go forwards. At that point, as I began to swing in the breeze — neither here nor there — my tour guide who was a teenage boy and weighed all of 90 pounds soaking wet began to shout in a sing-songy voice:
“LA-A-TY, JU-U-U STU-U-U-CK! WOW, JES LUKE AT JU, SWINGING IN DE BREEZE! OKAY — GAME TIME IS OVER, NOW. UNSTICK JU SELF! REACH UP AN GRAB DA LINE AN PULL JU SELF FUWARD TO SAFETY.”
“I CAN’T,” I screamed back to the guide as I arduously tried to reach for the line and pull myself upward. Without something solid to brace my feet against, I couldn’t overcome the gravity weighing down my upper torso from my 38GGs. I needed to sit up in a perpendicular position, hugging the cable, so that I could glide down the incline instead of causing the line to dip into a sharp “V”. But it was hopeless. Plus the more I tried, the more I began to swirl around like an upside down propeller. “PLEASE COME AND GET ME, PLEASE – I CAN’T DO THIS BY MYSELF!”
“SURE JU CAN, LA-TY,” said my boy tour guide, as if he were speaking to a five year old. “JES TRY HARDER. I CAN SEE DAT JU JES NOT DOING JU BEST – DATS WHAT I TINK.”
As my body languidly twirled around and around, and my death seemed imminently near, I am not proud of what I said next to that child, but desperate times call for desperate measures: “LISTEN. . . YOU LITTLE SON-OF-A-BITCH; CAN’T YOU SEE I’VE FLAT LINED, HERE! NOW GET YOUR SKINNY LITTLE ASS OUT HERE AND PULL ME BACK TO THAT PLATFORM BEFORE I GO CRASHING DOWN TO THE RAIN FOREST FLOOR AND BREAK INTO A MILLION PIECES! SO HELP ME GOD, IF I FALL AND DIE, I PLAN TO COME BACK FROM THE DEAD, HUNT YOU DOWN, AND OPEN UP A CAN OF WHUP ASS ON YOU THAT WILL NEVER END! YOUR OWN MOMMA WON’T RECOGNIZE YOU WHEN I’M FINISHED WITH YOU!” And on that note, I began to wail like a frightened child lost in the middle of a dark forest, as my body twirled round-and-round out of control high above the forest floor.
I am discovering that our lives are a compilation of stories that sometimes we have little or no control over. But we do have choices. We can choose to hang tough with and for each other until we’re rescued from the middle of a zip-line or become a crocodile’s lunch, or we can give up and let someone else write our story.
WW had discovered a universal truth during his “mountaintop experience” that I didn’t know at the time, but would soon learn: our lives are stories that connect to each other and to a universal story. It is up to us to make sure that our storylines don’t get hijacked or become lopsided, and that we keep an authentic mix of love, adventure, sorrow, struggle, comedy, community, and worship if we want to remain vibrant and connected to each other and God. We can’t always control what others do to us, but we can control how we respond to any given tragedy, mayhem, or offense. We can’t know what the future will throw at us, but we can try to be as wise as possible about our choices – given that there are no insignificant ones. It turns out our personal reality shows need to be carefully cultivated into lives that are well-lived and brimming with love.
It has been many years since the rain forest adventure. Some type of employment returned (as it always does) and our errant child grew up and got a saner reality show entitled “What the Hell was I Thinking!” When my husband awoke the other day, he had such a contented smile on his face that I asked him what he was thinking. He replied, “I’m thinking how I could have never done this journey without you, and what a very, very lucky man I am.” And then he got a mischievous twinkle in his eye and said: “I’m also thinking of doing a Google search on African safaris.”
To which I replied in my best, Wanda Sykes imitation as I passionately kissed him good morning: “You so crazy!”
If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and rainstorm as though to say, “Enjoy your place in my story. . . .”
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
Photos by “WW” Tomczyk except where otherwise noted
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