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The Fisher of Stories


This week has been nuts, right?

Tragedy stacked on senseless tragedy, and every single time I open Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been bombarded with what I’m supposed to think or do in the wake of these events.

This is not a post about how bad of a week it’s been for our nation. This is a post about how my hometown just keeps coming through in a pinch.

“Travis, if you talk about Okay one more time, we’re quitting. It can’t be that great.” 

Well, it is. And let me tell you why I got shown that again on Tuesday.

First order of business on Tuesday morning was a doctors appointment. I seem to have picked up a bit of the swimmer’s ear in Florida, and I have decided that since diet and exercise are not things I want to try, I’d ask the doctor for prescription methamphetamine and appetite suppressants to keep me from eating until October.

When I walked in, I saw a familiar face, a good family friend who happens to be a nurse at my doc’s office. She’s very active in Okay, she’s at most city council meetings, she’s a volunteer firefighter, and she married into a family a love and respect a lot.

She took my blood pressure, and I joked about how the walk from the lobby to the exam room was all uphill and that’s why my pulse was 500, and then the conversation turned a shade more serious.

You see, she worked a fatality accident earlier this week. You might have seen the story on the local news, but a pickup rolled over and pinned a guy who wound up dying. Alcohol was involved, and the whole thing was a mess. I’d call it a tragedy on a lesser scale, but that kind of depends on who you ask.

I told this young woman that there is no way I could do what she does. I cannot comfort the dying, I cannot work with injured and scared people. I’ve often said that a writer can take the coward’s way out in that regard – I can just step back and ask questions after everyone is taken care of. Don’t get me wrong, the real journalists out there know what I just said is false. But I never considered myself to be a real journalist, just a writer.

She looked at me and laughed, and said that she can do all her job requires except speaking to the families. Something her husband is good at, she said. I mentioned that it was funny how God pairs us up in life, and more laughter followed. Then she said something I’ll never forget.

“This girl, Travis, she stuck with me. I don’t know what it was. I prayed with her as she was getting in the ambulance, and since then I’ve added her as a friend on Facebook.”

I think we all assume that emergency personnel have to create a distance between themselves and their jobs. They see so much, that it helps to have the dissonance there, otherwise they can easily be overwhelmed. I can understand that. Doctors, nurses, volunteer firefighter, EMS personnel, and law enforcement all have to deal with the worst. I find no fault in their removal from attachment.

But this young woman, this young woman from Okay, Oklahoma, went above and beyond what her job required of her that night. It wasn’t loading another injured body into an emergency vehicle, it was a held hand, a prayer, and a conscious effort to follow up. That struck me.

I’m positive that emergency personnel make that kind of personal connection every day. But it makes me extraordinarily happy to know that we have that kind of person working in Okay.

As I left the doctor’s office, I went to my new favorite place in Muskogee, the QuikTrip. Walking in, I saw a student of mine, a future student of mine, and their father picking out soft drinks. I stopped by to say hello, and asked them how their summer was going, and jokingly told them they better be ready to write when they walk into my classroom in a couple of months. It was a great conversation.

Then I saw another Okay alum putting the lids on her drink as well as her daughter’s. As we met in line to pay for our items, I looked at the future student and asked, “When do I get you?”

Mom spoke up. “Two years,” she said. “And you better still be there.”

I gave her what has become my standard rhetoric when my loyalty to that town has been called into question.

“I’ll die there, or I’ll retire there.”

She laughed, and as the cashier rang up her items, she looked at him and said, “Oh, and I’ll get his too.”

I was floored. The sheer kindness of such a simple gesture left me stammering out, “You don’t need to do that,” and she laughed and told me to be quiet. I thanked her and left, smiling the entire way to my truck, out of the parking lot, and dang near the whole way home.

Okay, Oklahoma. The school that’s now infamous for the gun signs, and recently famous for the best state basketball run ever seen in the school’s history. The town that raised my brothers and I, the cemetery where my father is buried. The town people can’t wait to burn and leave. The home of the Mustangs and the church I found God in. The town that pops up on your iFunny app from time to time.

The town I love, and the people I love.

And I can’t wait to invest the rest of my life there.

My family and I are, as you probably know after being inundated by social media posts all week, in Navarre Beach, Florida, on vacation.

Things are great, thank you for asking. We’ve minimized the fighting, I’ve only had to beat one child since we’ve been here, and last night I had this for dinner, so yeah.

I can’t even really describe it to you, other than using the words “I” and “came.”

There’s really only been one problem.

Red flags.

Saturday when we pulled up, the water was fine. We didn’t go near it, of course, because after I’ve driven fourteen hours through Alabama traffic, the last thing I want to do is drag children to the beach.

As an aside, Alabama is the actual worst. Second only to Arizona in states I hate.

Sunday we got up early and went to the beach. We didn’t even eat breakfast, we just trunked up and went to the water.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the beach flag system in Florida, so I’ve included a pic.

Sunday we had a yellow and a purple flag.

“Screw harmful marine life,” I said bravely to my family. “I’ll punch a shark in the mouth.”

We had fun.

Enter Tropical Storm Colin, which my family and I bravely soldiered through, as can be seen in the following life event on Facebook.

Sprinkles aside, the storm gave us a red flag yesterday, and another red flag today, even though the weather was gorgeous.

I don’t like coming to the beach and not being able to get in the water. I’m a fish, with a natural born grace in the sea and a body full of flotation devices to keep me buoyant and right side up. I’m also fat, and there aren’t a lot of forces in the world that can act upon me in such a way to knock me, as the expression goes, *ss over teakettle.

So this afternoon I got in the water.

“Screw the red flag,” I said to my family. “Kids, stay out, daddy is going to do this alone.”

And I went in. Brazenly ignoring the fact that I was practically alone in the water, and ignoring the fact that most people gave a startled look as I walked by, as if they were thinking, “Wow, this guy…look at this guy.”

Things went well for about five minutes. I dipped, I dived, I twirled in the water like a fish, nay, a dolphin.

Here’s where I want to tell you about the beach reconstruction.

You see, in Navarre, they’ve been reconstructing the beaches, which involves pumping copious amounts of sugary fine white sand from the ocean floor onto the existing beaches, extending them further into the Gulf. The thing is, when they bring up the sand, they also bring up seashells. Millions of seashells. I can’t even adequately describe the amount of seashells on this beach.

Large, small, medium sized and razor sharp seashells.

Naturally, standing barefoot on the beach or in the water takes a bit of practice. A fine touch, if you will. Something I possess in the water.

Something that failed me just as a monstrous “red flag” wave crashed over my body.

Y’all remember the scorpion in Latvia, I’m sure. That was nothing. The football team making me their collective girlfriend? Child’s play.

Guys I crap you not that wave rag dolled me into a shape I didn’t know I could achieve. My feet touched the back of my head and then my head went straight into the largest bed of seashells ever collected by the Lord Himself under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

As I bobbed upside down in the turbulent water with my feet looking like a cork with a perch attached to it, and the skin being flayed off my forehead like I belonged to Ramsay Bolton, it slowly occurred to me that this was it, this was how I was going to die.

Alas, the Lord returned my buoyancy and grace at just the right moment, and I sucked in more seawater than a man should ever inhale just before my head broke the surface and I tasted sweet delicious oxygen…right as another wave tossed me to shore in much the same way I imagine Jonah was spat onto the beach in Nineveh.

I stood up on shaky legs and shaky pride, and quickly assessed the situation.

“No blood, no blood, ah crap, blood.”

I was bleeding from the head, and seawater was pouring out of my nose, and my finger hurt. I looked down, and my finger was bleeding. I was, in essence, shark bait.

I walked slowly up the bank with people staring at me. Some of them even had snarky little smiles, as if they’d known all along what would happen to the fat white guy from Oklahoma who couldn’t wait for a yellow or green flag.

“Dude, you’re bleeding. Are you okay?”

“You get turned over?”

My beautiful and ever-concerned wife sat in her beach chair, discussing our plans of being teachers in Florida with our condo neighbors as I walked up.

Her voice cracking with the weight of her overwhelming concern, she collapsed into a fit of laughter as she surveyed my bloody forehead.

“You get knocked over?”

I nodded shamefully.

Our neighbors joined in the laughter.

If you need me, I’ll be on the beach, waiting for that sweet, sweet green flag.

The Scorpion strikes again. That said, my back feels amazing.