Feb 14, 2009

ALWAYS SURFACE LAUGHING





















Rock Islands, Micronesia –  Ron is pulling out WWII whizbang facts, in front of the Japanese pill box. I focus on shooting photos, so I don't blurt spoilers like "Admiral Yamamoto" and "Battle of Midway!" Because when this man spins a yarn, you remember, even years later...

I recall the site well too: the graffiti, the hidden helmet, the roots throttling old sake bottles: the last-ditch Molotov-cocktail hoard, long abandoned. Faffing with a lens, I wave everyone ahead. Then I manage to, um, miss the path and claw over a jagged knoll. Which would be all fine, except Ron's warned us repeatedly about one thing.

"Do not get open cuts on an unsupported wilderness kayak expedition."

Around the bend from the group, I stop and try to rub away all the blood with spitty fingers: the height of jungle hygiene. Most of my comrades are parents or teachers. This technique's about as convincing as "the dog ate my homework".

So I bluster: "Where's my bento box? Bushwhacking's hungry work!"

***

Sometimes it's not so much about carrying off the subterfuge, as signalling, "please, don't fuss"...

***

Last year I accidentally strode off a dock into Italy's Lago di Como. Jetlag and rain-extinguished candles and 90-proof grappa all factored in, but, well, basically I muppeted.

I fell about 15 feet and hit inky, foul water, which reached the sternum of my satin, batwing jacket. I lifted my leather purse high – the EU Nokia cellphone survived, the US Virgin one didn't – and laughed, shouting, "I'm OK!" Then I swam over to a lower dock, where deckhands boosted me out.

Thanks to ankle straps, I didn't even lose my high heels. I did, however, stink like a vomitorium and have a bruise the shape and approximate size of Tin Tin's head. (Clearly, this is a travel omen. But the nuances are open to interpretation...)

Despite the applause, I was all hangdog, limping into the breakfast buffet the next day. Then an epic editor scolded: "in life, we can't prevent falls, we can only control the aftermath. Amanda, you stuck the dismount."

I perked up a little. Gymnast metaphors, after all, pretty much demand upflung arms and a quick bow. Maybe I could bob my hair, work my abs, really get into this shtick...

This editor knew the words to soothe any clumsy adventure writer. "All I could think was that if Tim Cahill were down there, he'd rubbing his hands together. Because now the story's getting good."

***



And that's the coda I repeat silently – a coda, a mantra even – as the jungle's microbes burrow and fester into my cuts.

"Now the story's getting good."

I trace my finger over inflamed welts.

"Scars are stories. Bodies should be lived in."

Go further...

"My body's a palimpsest."

Too far. Doh.

Thus I'm all philosophically conflicted when the scrapes heal and the eye infection blind-sides me.

Slick.

But I know what to do. As always, surface laughing...

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