An Important Life Lesson Everyone Should Learn
[Note: This post is adapted from a recent Moth performance. The story, sadly, is quite true.]
I am going to tell you a story.
And not just a story, but a true story.
And not even just a true story, but a true story that holds within it’s threads an important life lesson– one I encourage each and everyone of you to learn. It is very, very important.
But before I get to the important life lesson, you’ll need to understand about Kat. And what you need to know about Kat is this:
She was magazine-cover beautiful, and she was exotic, and she was sexy, and she was from France, and she was two years older than everyone else in our freshman dorm. Kat had highly improbable auburn hair and impossible jade green eyes. When she spoke, her words rolled out in a purr — better still, a purr with a French accent. Everything she told us about her life back home reminded the rest of us of just how dull and ordinary we must have seemed to her. We had all come from small, suburban lives where we had left boyfriends and girlfriends who were in the marching band or the football team. Kat talked about her various “lovers” back home, a hodgepodge of rock musicians, bankers, stock traders, and magazine editors. Every single person in my dorm — male or female, straight or otherwise — was in love with Kat, even as her worldliness terrified us.
One afternoon during winter term Kat asked me to come to her room to help her and her roommate with the term papers they were writing, because I was the that guy in my dorm. I agreed, even though I’m not sure that she’d ever spoken to me directly up to that point.
We’d been working for about an hour when two things dawned on me. The first thing that dawned on me was that Kat was actually flirting with me; the second thing was that I was doing all of the work and basically writing the papers for them. And then I remember thinking, “Hey! She’s only flirting with me because I’m writing her paper for her!” And then I remember thinking, “How cool is that?!”
At one point during the work session the topic of what kind of people we were attracted to came up. I was 18, and at the time I remember being very attracted to the kind of woman who was wiling to be attracted to me. And women like Kat, of course. (I have no memory of how I answered, but even at 18 I’m sure I had the good sense not to say any of that out loud.) Kat said that she usually fell for one of three kinds of people: beautiful women, men who were black, or white men who were — as she said — “outrageous and dangerous.” Whatever embers of hope I had allowed myself to fan with Kat were quickly doused with that answer. At 18 I might have had a better chance of being mistaken for a black woman than I would an outrageous and dangerous man.
After we we’d finished with the papers, Kat, her roommate, and I all agreed that we should hang out more often that we did (which was never), and that maybe some time we should do a road trip, and that maybe we should do a road trip to the coast where we would build a bonfire and watch the waves. We were in the middle of a February cold snap and I had just that morning learned about polar bear clubs, where grown men submerge themselves is obscenely cold rivers or lakes just to say that they had. Polar bear clubs sounded like one of those things that’s really cool when being done by someone else, but that you couldn’t ever imagine doing yourself. So believe me when I say I have not Idea what I was thinking when I heard myself saying,
“We should do that road trip soon while it’s still really cold, so that I can go swimming in the ocean naked because I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Kat blinked. “You would do that? You would dive in the ocean right now, naked, this cold?” I nodded, trying to look casual about it.
And then Kat said, “Then should go now. Tonight. Right now”
This development was so utterly ridiculous I hadn’t seen it coming. It was now 7:00 at night and being in Eugene, Oregon the beach was at least a couple of hours away. Plus, I had a test in the morning. Plus, we didn’t have a car. Plus, it was twenty five freaking degrees. I tried to explain to Kat why it would be better to wait, but she just kept shaking her perfect head at every sane and reasonable point I made. And then she said in her French purr, “But to do this, it would be… outrageous and dangerous.”
And just like that, I was in.
We didn’t arrive at the beach until well after 11:00 at night.
It had taken us a while to gather enough flashlights, sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, and blankets — as well as one single, ominous towel — from various friends and dormmate’s. It also took us a while to secure a new bottle of extraordinarily cheap vodka, which we figured we’d want as soon as the fire was going. Kat, her roommate and I were joined by Morgan, a friend of mine who from another dorm who we’d included on the basis that he owned a car and was willing to go.
Morgan and I gathered driftwood and made a fire while Kat and her roommate sipped at the vodka. The blaze, once it finally took, was surprisingly intense; for a while we kept moving back and forth between the extreme hot of the fire and the extreme cold of everything else. Eventualy, though, we nudged into the perfect neutral spot and hunkered down.
I had been dreading the moment when someone asked me when I was going to strip and jump in the water, but it soon became obvious everyone else had forgotten. Or more likely they just had assumed all along that I was never going to really do it. That second possibility rankled, and left me with a dilemma: I very much wanted to not jump into the freezing cold water. But I also very much wanted to be the kind of man that would — moreover, I wanted to be that kind of man in Kat’s eyes. But you just can’t be warm and happy guy and outrageous and dangerous guy, no matter how hard you try to rationalize otherwise.
And so it was that half past midnight, without saying a word to anyone, I stood up, walked to the water line, stripped naked, and bolted into the surf.
If you’ve never gone swimming in the Oregon ocean during the month of February, it’s hard to put into words just how cold it is. You would think that it wold be impossible to be in so much pain while at the same time being so completely numb and unable to feel a thing. You’d be wrong. Worse, the waters of Oregon aren’t the same as the waters of California or Florida. The Oregon tide is hard and angry, and every time I felt I’d achieved some kind of precarious equilibrium as I was swimming, unseen hands would punch me face first into the sand below.
I wanted to come out immediately, but I didn’t. I decided then and there that I would stay in as long as I possibly could. I somehow got it into my dizzy, battered, freezing head that if I could just stay in a little bit longer I would emerge a better man. And so armed with this deranged belief, I actually managed to stay in the water for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.
And when I finally burst forth from the water, I did indeed feel transformed. My adrenaline was going haywire, effecting my thinking, and I felt amazing. In fact, I felt better than amazing. I felt like the king of the f**king universe. I had entered the waters a scrawny, pimple-faced teenager, and the sea had returned the mighty warrior lovechild of Clint Eastwood, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Captain Kirk. Yes, I was in pain; yes, I had lost so much motor control I was moving like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein; yes, I had visibly achieved peak shrinkage; and yes, my testicles and fully surrendered and recessed in into my body cavity, but none of that mattered.
I was mother-f**king outrageous, and I was mother-f**king dangerous.
I was probably about twenty feet away from the fire when I finally saw them. Morgan was leaning back against a log, with Kat draped over him. There is making out, and then there is making out, and what Kat and Morgan were engaged in was most defiantly the latter category. It was the lip locked, opened mouth, closed eye, hands-under-sweater kind of making out, the kind of making out that is so desperate and hungry that unless someone magically appears and turns a hose on the couple it is very clear no one is coming up for air for a very long time.
I watched them kissing for a few minutes, as my adrenaline waned and the reality of the elements caught up to my body. Then, trying to keep my teeth from chattering, I walked back to collect my clothes.
And it is here, dear reader, that I wish to impart my important life lesson. If you learn nothing else from this site, learn this. Believe me when I say that if you do learn this life lesson, someday you will thank me from the bottom of your heart.
And the life lesson I wish to teach you is this:
If you ever decide to prove to yourself and the object of your affection that you are outrageous and dangerous by diving naked into the Oregon ocean during a February cold snap in the middle of the night, it is very important that you take your clothes off a ways away from the water.
Because this is one of those times where even though you think things can’t possibly get any worse, you discover that in fact they can: Your clothes can be washed out to sea.