By Sean Dietrich
Port Saint Joe – it’s early morning. It’s dark outside. And it’s cold enough in our room to hang meat.
This is my wife’s doing. She cranked the AC to -18 degrees. I can see my breath.
We’ve been on the road for weeks now, and my wife has enjoyed sub-arctic conditions in various hotel rooms across the Southeast. My nose is about to develop frostbite.
Funny. I remember when my father got frostbite on his ears when I was a kid. He’d been welding outside one January day. He came home in bad shape, the tips of his ears were black.
He wore bandages over his ears for a week.
“Why do you have to work outside?” I asked Daddy.
“Because I love you,” he said. “That’s why.”
“You must REALLY love me.”
“Oh, s’pose you take the stars in the sky, multiply them times a billion, then wrap them in sunshine… That’s not even CLOSE to how much.”
I don’t know why good men die so young.
So, this morning I’m writing you—because I don’t know what else to do while my wife slumbers in this icy, artificial climate. I can’t feel my toes.
This woman. She and I have gone through several phases of life together. We’ve changed careers a dozen times.
I laid tile; she worked in a hospital cafeteria. I hung gutters; she taught preschool. I worked landscaping; she was a nanny. I worked nights, playing guitar at an all-you-can-eat-crab-leg joint; she babysat weekends.
Years went by, and my Great Career Ferris Wheel kept spinning. Then, I got laid off.
It was quite a blow. We didn’t know what to do. So we did what all half-broke couples do. We took a lavish vacation.
Well, it wasn’t exactly lavish. We went camping in Indian Pass, Florida—a sleepy North Floridian beach with one seafood shack. We made camp at the water’s edge. We built campfires. We looked at stars.
During sunsets, we would wade into the Gulf with floating beer koozies.
Once, we waded too far from shore. We drifted where the water was too deep to stand. And to this day, I don’t know what on earth we were thinking.
We held hands while treading water. We got pulled farther from shore by a gentle current. It was all happening so fast and so easy.
We didn’t speak, we were too busy moving against the water, flapping our limbs to keep from sinking.
The sunset was probably beautiful, but we missed it. We were too busy trying not to drown.
“I think we’re in trouble,” my wife said.
“What’re we gonna do?”
I squeezed my grip on her. “Keep swimming.”
“Don’t let go of my hand.”
“Don’t let go of my beer.”
We held hands in the water. We worked our way back to waist-deep water. We held each other. I was out of breath. She was out of breath.
I felt stupid for swimming that far from land. But then, we had made it. We survived. Together.
Sometimes, I wonder if maybe success has nothing to do with careers and bank accounts. Maybe success is simply not dying.
You see, I’m not sure how life works. But I know that just being with a person who holds your hand can make ordinary things become poetry.
My wife is stirring in the bed beside me. Hark, the polar beauty awakes.
“Morning,” she says.
“Morning,” I say.
“You been up long?”
“Yeah. Just writing.”
“What’re you writing about?”
Oh, I’m writing about how a man could take all the stars in the sky, then multiply them times a billion, wrap them in sunshine, and still not get close to how much I love you.
Thank you for holding my hand, darling.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m turning on the heater.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.