Slow, slow, or: the good part about falling in a lake

Yesterday I got an email from my friend Kate, who I met at the writing workshop I took in Guatemala, about a potential reunion this fall.

And then I remembered: Kate fell in the lake.

Our first day. We’d already spent so much time traveling: airplane, taxi, bus, mountains, and finally a boat across the lake, a big boat built to comfortably seat 20 on benches, with open sides, a cruiser boat made for sunny touristy days. But it rained.

It rained and rained in sheets and sheets, sloshing up over my flip-flops.

We had 20+ writers, from just under 30 to just over 70 years old, all departing the boat with luggage, surrounded by Guatemalan children with stick-skinny limbs and big smiles who could not wait to help us with our bags for un quetzal.

The boat wavered a foot from the dock in the choppy water…

In short: mad chaos.

And in the midst of this, I was standing on the dock in the downpour, making sure people had their keys to the guesthouse, when I looked up and saw a blur of shapes and colors torpedo directly down into the water. Fffflooom, all the way under. Immediately people began grabbing for her and pulled her to the dock.

But here’s the thing about Kate. The airline had lost her luggage. So the (soaking wet) clothes on her back were the only clothes she had with her.

Cut to half an hour later: Kate is wearing Susan’s underwear, Joyce’s shirt, pants from someone else… it’s a stone soup-style outfit, whatever people can lend.

And for days, this is how she dresses, just borrowed clothes. And she looks like the happiest person in the workshop. She’s glowing, like, 24/7. Kate’s a journalist: covers tough stories, poverty, crime, international traumas. But with her blonde pixie hair in pigtails, loping around in shoes too big, she’s wearing a smile like she just heard the ice cream man’s around the bend.

She said it more eloquently than this, but basically she said she felt free. Like: whaddyagonna do. And I guess that’s what happens, at the bottom. When you spend 14 hours getting to Guatemala and the airline loses your luggage and then you’re dunked in the lake in your only clothes… well, that’s free.

For the rest of the week, every time we took a boat, the driver Domingo helped everyone step up onto the dock. Slow slow. He said it in a sing-song chant as he gave each person a hand up the two feet or so, from the ever-moving boat tied to the dock. Slow slow. Slow slow.

The cadence of it comes back to me sometimes now, when I’m thinking about being impulsive and itchy. Slow slow. Slow slow. But falling in the lake isn’t always so bad.

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