“Are you a local?” asks a customer who is desperate for me to say yes, because she and her husband and the other couple with whom she is traveling are desperate for a truly local experience at my restaurant.
Yes, I am, I tell her.
“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaims. “I told you she had to be a local,” she says to her husband.
“Have you lived here long?” asks the other woman. All four are beaming at me, willing me to say something locally witty and thus be someone locally colorful.
Well, yes, I say and pause.
“Do you just love it here?” asks the first woman.
I do. I really do, I smile.
“How long have you been here? Did you grow up here?” asks the second woman.
Four long weeks, I laugh, and yes, you could say I grew up here.
The four are speechless.
“Only four weeks? Oh my goodness, dear. Where did you come from?” asks the first woman.
D.C. by way of a Fort Lauderdale stopover that didn’t last too long, I say.
Now, in their eyes, I can tell that I am not so local, nor so witty or colorful. Oh well.
“We’re from the D.C. area,” says the husband of the first woman after an awkward moment. He stares hard at me, very serious. Then, “You’re living my dream, you know,” he smiles.
Everyone laughs. I am once again a colorful local, or at least the stuff that dreams are made of.
Are you ready to order? I ask. Fish baskets all around, they tell me. Easy.
At the four week mark in Fort Lauderdale I was desperately lonely and panic-struck. At the four week mark in the Keys, I am quietly settling in, settling down. Easy does it.
In Fort Lauderdale, it took me a good four months to make a friend with someone who would later turn out not to be a friend at all, what with all the drama that goes on in that town. In four weeks in the Keys, I have two good girlfriends who are just good people (yes, UW, you are one of the best)–laid back girls to whom drama is a joke. Easygoing.
I don’t know how often I laughed in Fort Lauderdale. It feels like nothing was ever that funny. I laugh every day in the Keys. I had the cook, the busser, the dishwasher, and my other girlfriend waitress laughing their asses off today when a brain bubble surfaced and I hung up a menu on the line instead of a ticket. Nice and easy.
I don’t hear one word or receive one text from any of the Fort Lauderdale boys. I still battle a persistent, underlying sadness because I don’t hear from the day-at-a-time boy who leveled my heart and left me broken and alone. He’s the only one I think about, but not every day, anymore. My local Keys boys now hear me when I tell them romance is not on the table. Not even remotely. They say they understand and then ask me what I am doing for the Super Bowl. Do I want to meet up with their friends to watch? I can leave the dog in one of their apartments. Really. Refreshingly easy.
I became scarily skinny in Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t eat in Fort Lauderdale. I lived in a perpetual state of worry and angst. Rouletta, who matches my every mood and nuance, was too thin as well. The vet was worried about her. My D.C. friends and family were worried about the shell of myself I had become. In the Keys, Rouletta has gained two pounds and is back to her ideal weight; I have gained four pounds and feel like eating all the time. I’ll likely gain some more if I keep scarfing hash browns, grits, and slices of cheese at work. So easy.
Nothing is really that easy. But here, after four weeks, it is so, so much easier.