Choctawhatchee

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By Sean Dietrich

sean dietrich w dogThere is something about the way the sun falls upon the lustrous water of the Choctawhatchee Bay that lights my heart on fire.

No. Wait. I apologize. That sentence you read in the above paragraph was ridiculous. Lustrous? How immature and overly dramatic. This is because I wrote that sentence when I was about 17 years old, everything was dramatic back then.

That was probably the age when I truly decided that I wanted to be a writer. I was lanky. I was dumb. I was a fatherless dropout. I remember taking my Lettera 32 portable typewriter down to the bay, pulling it out of its travel case, and loading it with paper. I expected a wave of literary inspiration to just (bam!) hit me, but nothing happened. Nada. Zip.

Welcome to writing, kid.

I was sitting there on the shore, my typewriter was getting corroded with salt air, and the only sentence that came to me was the ridiculous one you just read.

But I remember the evening I wrote it. I was camping by the water in a secluded spot. My dog was with me. Lady was her name. She was curly-haired, and faithful. Behind me was my pup tent. Ahead of me was that water. And that stupid typewriter.

What a dork. I can’t believe the level of dorkiness. I remember sitting by that bay, trying to write what I hoped would become a novel. I got maybe six words into it and realized I was an idiot.

You can’t write a novel at 17, your earlobes haven’t dropped yet. You know nothing of life, or about the joys of paying health insurance premiums that cost more than tactical helicopters. But there I was, trying, and I have to give Young Me credit for giving it his best shot.

Somehow, the kid thought that looking at the big water would give him the right words. But after only 10 minutes the kid realized he was wrong and he just wanted to go fishing. So he pulled out his rod and caught one very small fish. He fried it in a little skillet over a fire, and he shared it with his greedy dog.

He was no writer. And he knew it.

Yesterday, I was going through old things in my office, since I have nothing better to do during a quarantine. I found a blue folder that had typed pages in it. There was a one page with a corny sentence about the bay. That was it. No more sentences were on the page, only a ketchup stain.

I was embarrassed when I saw all the writings in this folder because I was such a lost boy back then. Some boys without fathers go their whole lives trying to act like they have things figured out, but by the time they actually do figure anything out, the preacher is already sitting beside their nursing home bed, reading the 23rd Psalm.

Sometimes, when I meet young men or women who are about 17 or so, I see that same dizzy look in their eyes. And I feel for them because it’s hard growing up, it takes someone brave to do it.

The high school years stink. They sneak up on you when you’re not ready for them. There is so much angst and hormones flowing through your bloodstream at the time that you become a fire hazard.

You worry that you’re ugly, you worry that you’re a complete dork, and about other silly things. I’m not alone here. The high school years were misery for a lot of people.

Those years were doubly bad for me because, like I said, I didn’t even GO to high school. Thus, I never fit in around actual high-schoolers. I had never attended a high-school football game, never had a locker combination, never did a lick of algebra, and I never went to prom.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to attend a prom. There were moments when I would have killed for it. I had a chance once.

I remember when a girl asked me if I wanted to go to her high school prom. I was so flattered that I almost started to cry. A dropout like me? Go to a prom? But it would have ruined her reputation. I couldn’t do that to her.

So, I turned her down. The last thing any debutante needed was to have a loser for a prom date. Her friends would’ve had too many questions, and I would have never felt comfortable.

I regret turning her down, even to this day. Because she was a sweet person, and I would have enjoyed learning how to dance.

Even so, I was not a normal kid. And it took me a lifetime to figure that out. You can’t see yourself when you are yourself.

But oh, that bay. Whenever I held that little typewriter on my lap, on the shores of the prettiest body of water God ever made, comprised of 129 square miles of gray water, teeming with redfish, schools of speckled trout, silver ladyfish, blue herons, great white egrets, and the sands of a million years compacted on a shore, perfect for a little pup tent, I was a poet. Even if only in my imagination. And the world was okay.

My dog and I would watch the sun go down, and I’d think to myself: God. There is something about the way the sun falls upon the lustrous water of the Choctawhatchee Bay that lights my heart on fire.