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Creative Writing Assignment

Assignment: Visualize a place that you really love, be there, see the details. Now write about it. What colors are there, sounds, smells? When someone else reads it, she should know what it’s like to be there. She should feel how you love it, not by your saying you love it, but by your handling of the details.

The road there is a 2-lane job hacked smooth into the middle of rain-fat thick-trunked fir trees. It has car commercial curves and you know you’re close when you catch blue through their dumb and gentle bodies and realize it’s not the sky: it’s the Sound.

Suddenly the trees peel away and the road drops down and there it is. My mother grew up in this town. I come here when I need to feel loved.

I am in a relationship with the Inn I stay in. Several years past its prime, it sits at the top of town, behind the fancy waterfront hotels below, red neon letters like the Hollywood sign. She’s the girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty, who’s stopped expecting to be noticed, but I see her, standing in the back, and I say, “Yes, you,” and she blushes red neon at me.

The front counter has a bell. The duvets match the shower curtains. I check into my harbor view room, drop my backpack on the edge of the creaky bed, loosen the plastic latch and slide the glass door right, letting the thin sunlight and salt water and log truck fumes in. I lean against the wrought iron railing, feet on the deck covered in its green astroturf: breathe. Maybe I’ll stand here for a while and look at that huge tanker ship bob in the Port.

The last road before town hits Sound is a logging truck road. I run along it, toes catching in concrete cracks. I pick wild blackberries and raspberries growing along the edges, standing in dead grass ditches with dandelions gone to seed, hiking boots snapping thorns off vines. A truck pounds by, chrome grill and sooty exhaust pipes, pitchy logs fresh from the chainsaw bouncing and swaying in the bed. I run behind it sucking in the wood and salt and gasoline, tonguing the seeds stuck in my teeth, fingers purple.

I am here looking for my mother. I am here because my heart is broken and I want my mother. But not my mother as she is now: I’m hunting this memory of a dream of her, the her that walked wooded trails in dappled sunlight and looked at all the plants, noticing their spines and smells, their fibers. I’ve been broken and I need to put myself in a place where my mother was before she was broken too. I chase her child’s back and fair hair to this place. Hike the woods. Stand at the water’s edge to be blasted by sand and wind and grimy foam. Let the arms of the Port wrap around me in a rocky-salt embrace. Find a quiet in me instead.
I got the photos here and here.

(Vacation) Snapshot (3)

There are a thousand particular, humiliating, comforting ways these people know me. Being with them feels like I am at the oak dinner table and I am 13 in our old house only now I’m 29 and I’m in Cancun and we are all so different and so the same.

(Vacation) Snapshot (2)

I love seeing bodies. Real bodies. Lumpy rolls. Tree trunk chests. Pale hipbones. The old men who are so tan they are almost ochre, their chest hair wiry and silver on top like sprinkles. The mothers with their middles thickened-up and plopped on top of their afterthought-butts. There is a magnificent woman at our hotel who has to be 150 pounds overweight and every inch of her jiggles as she walks: there’s the movement of her walking, and there’s the movement of her flesh, which has its own gait. She gets up from the table and wiggles slow to the metal ladder, lowers herself in, suddenly weightless and wonderful in the water. I wish I'd grown up around more bodies. Maybe I'd be gentler with my own.
I got the pic here.

(Vacation) Snapshot (1)

I’m walking on the beach with my dad. We have been walking so long and it is so hot and the waves are so loud that we have stopped talking. All I am is breath in and out as I apply myself to these shifting sands. We pass a bottle of water back and forth, screwing the blue plastic top on and off. I sneak looks at him from the cover of my glasses, out from under the brim of my floppy hat as we keep pace, our long legs rising and falling and rising again. I ache with how much I love him and I say thank you, thank you, thank you, to no one in particular and pass the bottle back to him.


Past the tourist-trap ferry terminal. Over the dirt roads flanked by crumbling whitewashed walls and crawling with golf carts. Into the massive complex all in blue – DOLPHIN ADVENTURE at the top – and I think: maybe we’ll take a boat out to some hidden lagoon. Maybe we’ll be given small slippery salty fish to feed them. Maybe I’ll stand very still in the lukewarm water and they’ll sense my calm and let me touch them.

Then: reality – of course not; of course they have to do it like this. Of course. Hot sun on my shoulders as I stop walking cold, stand on wooden planking, having passed through the entrance to my DOLPHIN ADVENTURE, hot disappointment in my throat as I see: the man-made “lagoon” of dock and cyclone fencing in the water; dolphins swimming tight circles in tandem in a tight space; two blond boys fighting over a Coke; the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

I stand, mostly naked, with mostly naked strangers, in a concrete room as Jose (I shit you not) takes us through our orientation: Stand this way for “The Kiss”, hold your palms this way for “The Hug”, and the most important thing? Always smile for the camera. Let’s practice! Hold your hands out, palms up, now turn to your right, look up: and smile! Good, good.
“Last time I did this, I picked up a dolphin and I THREW it.” The kid can’t be more than 11, and there is quite possibly something mentally wrong with him.
“Did not!” His brother.
“Did too!”
Jose (I shit you not) quiets them down and then we practice “The Wave.” I know how my face looks right now but I can’t seem to change it.

My life jacket must’ve been made for a toddler and I tug it down while my flip-flops flip and flop over the wooden walkway. We are up high and there is a breeze and we walk in a line, kick off our shoes, and ease down a metal ramp into the water (cold at first but then okay) where we meet Giovan, Ramses and Jupiter ($5 if you guess which ones the dolphins are). They swim back and forth in front of us, responding to Giovan's whistle and pocket fulla fish. We "Touch", we "Kiss", we "Hug", we smile for the camera man standing above us – and in spite of everything, the whole place starts to change. Jupiter is the dominant male in the pod, which is why he has all those scratches. The metal underneath us hurts mom’s feet so she bobs like a baby in the water, knees to her chest, bouncing against the algae-covered cyclone fencing, giggling. The dolphins are fucking amazing. Their bodies like warm rubber silk, they glide under my fingers. Their snouts are banged up and their undersides transparent in some parts. They are very real. And yes, Ramses is flopping, prone, into my arms (“The Hug”) because he wants that fish from Giovan, but he is very real and I realize I’m smiling.

The best part? I swim, alone, into the middle of the pen (maybe 50 feet from Giovan and my family) and lay on my belly in the water, legs straight behind me, feet flat, arms straight in front of me. I see Giovan snap his arms and Ramses and Jupiter disappear. My heart beats and I can hear my breath off the water, the sun in my eyes. Then: two dark shadows underneath me and then pressure and they are behind me, they are at my feet – they are using their strong, banged-up bottlenoses to push me, and they’re pushing in unison, and they’re so strong that I am propelled straight up and out of the water until I am a flying X, entire body out of the water, arms straight up, and I am standing on dolphins. I am standing on dolphins. I am having a goddamn Dolphin Adventure, and my smile for the camera is real.

Later, even the sales pitch as we stand dripping on the concrete floor of another concrete building back on land can’t bring me down. We watch a video, complete with inspirational music, of our Dolphin Adventure (cut together in the 10 minutes it took us to get out of the water by a squadron of Mexican AV technicians in a windowless room – no seriously, I saw it), and it’s not as good as the feeling of those noses on my feet, that warm rubber silk under my palms. Really: don’t watch the video. We skip out on the subsequent picture sales pitch in favor of the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, which really isn’t that bad. We recount – the power! the grace! the rows of teeth!! – and we find ourselves a cab and I feel like the whole place is a strange cosmic accident of goodness, a hall of mirrors where good is bad is good again, a wildflower growing despite the trash heap it’s growing in.

None of these photos are mine; I stole them from various Dolphin Adventure websites. Smile for the Camera!