A few weeks ago Benson and I went to Florida. I say Florida because Florida sounds slightly fancier than Panama City Beach. Florida could mean Miami and martinis and nightlife. I’d wear a sparkly little number and hold my drink in the air while Benson and I danced at a night club where they only play Latin music.
Instead, we actually went to Panama City where my family has a condo, and where stuff like the following happens:
It started when Benson and I decided to order some chicken fingers and margaritas at the resort bar and eat dinner in our bathing suits at the pool because we generally lack class.
While Benson ordered the food, I lounged on a pool chair. Then I noticed her: a lady two seats down from me, hunched over and puking between the plastic pool chair slats.
Not feeling like a particularly helpful citizen, I texted my cousin and said I needed to seem engrossed in my phone because someone was puking beside me.
Benson returned with the food and gave me the “do you see that chick puking?” cock of the head. I nodded. “Do you think I should see if she needs help?” I whispered to him. He kind of shrugged.
I ventured over, placed a hand on her leg and with my most concerned adult voice asked her, “Ma’am, can we help you get to your room?”
She kind of flung her head up. “My hufband’s coming to get me,” she said, then returned to her original position.
I went back to my chair and for the next twenty minutes chatted with Benson about how good chicken fingers and French fries are and this is so fun and do you think we have enough ketchup because you are taking ALL the ketchup. We’d occasionally glance over at the lady and nod to each other: Yep, still there. We watched others walk by and do double takes: Is that a lady?– yep, that’s a lady puking.
I finished my last French fry and wiped my hands on my towel. “Ma’am?” I asked again. “Can we call your husband? Because it’s been 30 minutes and he hasn’t come.” She held up fingers for me to tell me the number. It went straight to his voicemail, so I left what I thought was a pleasant-sounding message informing him that I was with his wife who was “a little sick” by the pool.
“I’m sorwy,” she slurred.
“It’s okay. We won’t leave you,” I said, rubbing her leg, because I felt like she needed some comfort and the top half of her body was preoccupied with vomiting. Another couple walked up to help the cause. Their names were Heath and April, and April was a nurse. The drunk lady – we’ll just call her Kim in case some of her kinfolk start poking around on the Internet – kept apologizing. And puking.
Some of it splashed my foot.
“It’s okay!,” I said cheerily. “We’ve all been here! I mean except for Benson here.”
The four of us hovered around, pondering our next move. April offered her cold water. Heath offered to help her up, that we could help her to her room. And that’s when things got CRAY.
Kim lurched her top half up and stared at me. “I’m so drunk,” she said. “I shit my pants.”
We all stood there a good three seconds, slack-jawed. Y’all, she was wearing a bathing suit. She pooped her BATHING SUIT.
Heath gained his composure first while the rest of us tried not to cry. “Okay, we need a towel,” he said, in a voice you’d use if you were explaining to a child that they’d need a crayon in order to color properly and not a toothbrush. I ran back to our chicken finger and French fry litter still atop our pool chairs and scoped out our towels. One was nice and fluffy – a sale item from Ross Dress for Less. The other had a tattered corner where Cowboy chewed it as a puppy. I grabbed the tattered one. “Here!” I announced, running back to the group.
It was no use. The lady could not walk. “Kim? Can you tell us your room number?” She mumbled it out, and I ran to the bar to use their phone to call her room.
“Hello?” an angry young voice answered.
“Hi, is this where Kim is staying?” I stammered.
“That’s my mom. Yes. Are you with her?”
“Okay, so yeah, I’m with your mom and she’s a little sick at the pool,” I said, acting all casual.
“She and my stepdad got drunk at the beach,” she snarled. “She’s still at the pool?! I took my sisters back to the condo after my stepdad tried to get us all in the car with him.”
“Okay, well, so, she can’t walk at the moment, and I was wondering –”
“I’m coming to you,” she said, and then to another person, “Watch that stove. Put it on low when it starts to boil. I’m going to get Mom.”
I walked back to the group and in a low voice told my fellow caretakers that the lady had kids, and that one of them was on her way. The daughter arrived. She was 15. She saw her mom and threw her hands in the air. “You can’t even WALK?!” Then she rolled her eyes and said, “Can I go look for my stepdad? He may still be in the car.”
“I’ll go with you!” I announced, while Benson and Heath flagged down security to inquire about a wheelchair.
I walked with the girl and put my arm around her, because, I don’t know, I figure I’d want someone to hug me if my mom pooped her bathing suit in public. “We’ll get this figured out. It gets better, because one day you can move out of the house,” I offered.
“I’m counting down the days,” she said. And that’s when we saw him.
Dude was passed out with his head on the bumper of the car with lawn chairs and beach bags and all sorts of crap strewn about him and the car. “Um, what’s his name?” I asked.
“Hi, Paul?” I called, in my most polite voice. He lifted his head and swayed. “So I met your wife at the pool, and she’s a little sick and we could use some help getting her to the room.”
He stood. Well, he tried to stand and fell over, reaching for his stepdaughter for balance. “No way!” she yelled, throwing her hands up in the air in the way you do when you’re like, Ain’t my business!
“Come here. Give me your arm,” I ordered. We hobbled along through the parking lot. Once we got to the pool deck I gave him a little pep talk. “I’m going to let go of your arm now, Paul, so GET IT TOGETHER.”
We made it to the rest of the group to find that the security guards had produced a chair. Not a wheelchair, but a chair chair. Someone hoisted Kim into it, and from there all the men carried the chair like they do at Jewish weddings, except she was in a bathing suit and lolling about instead of holding a bouquet.
“I’ve got little sisters at the condo and I don’t want them seeing this,” the 15-year-old said. Actually she kind of screamed it. Girl was mad.
As they walked off (and April, bless her soul, talked to some other resort staff concerning the poop smear still on the pool chair) I asked Benson, “Should we offer to let the kids stay with us tonight?” He thought for about two seconds and agreed. I rushed to the teenager. “If you’d like, we have an extra bedroom in our condo. You and your sisters are welcome to stay with us.”
“I might take you up on that,” she said, and then went back to screaming at her mother.
Benson and I walked back to our room, the whole time talking about what a crazy scene that had been and weren’t those chicken fingers good and do you want to watch a crime show?
And then my phone rang.
It was the teenager, breathless. “I’ve got my sisters! We ran away! My stepdad tried to chase us but we lost him! WHAT’S YOUR ROOM NUMBER?!”
Okay hold up. This was not a sleepover. This was kidnapping. “808,” I said, giving Benson an oh crap look. After hanging up, we grabbed hands and prayed that God would protect us and not let us go to jail for kidnapping.
Then they arrived. FIVE of them, ranging from 5 to 15 years old: four sisters, plus the teen’s friend. Some were scared, some were happy, one couldn’t stop chatting. They carried pillows and teddy bears and waltzed right in and sat on our couch.
While Benson comforted the scared ones and told them all we had cookies in the fridge and gave me oh crap looks, I pulled the oldest aside. “So, here’s the thing. You girls are welcome to stay here, but Benson and I can’t go to jail for kidnapping.” (I did not tell her that the reason we couldn’t go to jail was because my brother has been incarcerated at the Panama City Beach jail before and told me how nasty it was.) She agreed, and gave me her parents’ numbers. I texted and explained everything, telling them the girls were welcome to stay while they got a good night sleep. All was well. This is no big deal, right? I’ve contacted the parents. I’m not going to jail, right?
For the next hour we turned on the Disney Channel and listened as the girl who couldn’t stop talking – COULD. NOT. STOP. – told us the entire plot of the movie Sharknado.
“Hey, I just remembered all our stuff is still by the car. Can I go get it?” the oldest asked.
“Of course,” I answered. “I’ll go with you.”
On our walk down I asked a little more about their life. They were from Arkansas (and by the way – it was the friend’s FIRST time to leave the state of Arkansas), and what was happening that night was totally out of the ordinary. I realized these were decent parents who’d made really crappy (pun intended) choices on their first day at the beach. We collected the towels and chairs and beach bags and lugged them back to our room.
Upon arrival the teen began to unpack the bags. In one of them, she found both parents’ cell phones.
That meant nobody had gotten my “Hey, I’m just a good Samaritan!” text. Nobody knew where the kids were. Nobody knew that I’m a writer and not a kidnapper.
One of the little ones started crying. “I just want to stay here! I don’t want my parents to be mad at me!” she cried, burying her head in Benson’s side. He put his arm around her and told her how much her parents loved her and that nobody was mad at her, but that yeah, at this point it’s kind of like we’ve kidnapped them and we actually do have a legitimate problem. Chatty tried to convince us we wouldn’t go to jail because we had phone evidence proving we’d tried to contact the parents, that they could use that in court.
Benson decided to go to the parents’ condo and explain everything. Poor guy was so scared. I stayed back and watched Disney with the girls, who by this point were tucked in the couch bed. The 5-year-old was already asleep, and the distressed one just laid in my arms crying until she, too dozed off.
That’s when Chatty made a decision. “I want to call my real dad,” she announced.
“Like, your real dad in Arkansas?” I asked, horrified.
If I don’t let her call her dad, that’s like actual kidnapping.
“Okay hon, that sounds great. But the thing is . . . um, I just wouldn’t want him to be worried, you know?”
“I just want to tell him goodnight. I do it all the time,” she said matter-of-factly.
“O . . . kay,” I finally said.
She went into the guest room and dialed. I listened outside the door and waited for her to tell her father that she was locked up with her sisters in some strangers’ condo.
“Hey dad! I just miss you.”
Oh my gosh he’s going to ask if everything’s okay now.
“Yeah, we’re having fun.”
Pause. This is it.
“Yeah, we’re just in the room now.”
YES! She lied! Perfect!
She then proceeded to tell him all about the beach and the sand and the pool. And then they hung up. And I was so thankful that at some point in her life someone taught that little girl to be a dang good liar.
We joined the others in the living room. Chatty started telling me their schedules for the next day. “Sarah has swim lessons at 8 tomorrow, so could you wake us up by then? And then I need to be at surf lessons by 10.”
“Yeah, um, you’re going to be back home by then.”
“I’m just letting you know our schedules.”
Benson returned. I held my breath. The girls all looked up expectantly. Benson gave a thumbs up. “Everything is fine. Y’all can stay here, and your stepdad is going to come get you at 8:00 in the morning.”
The crying one woke up and was so relived. I kissed the younger ones on the head and told them to have a good night. Then Benson and I went to bed and looked at each other with our hands over our mouths. He said the stepdad was nice, that he was still drunk but coherent. Benson told him the situation and said, “But you’re the parent. So this is your decision.” He eventually agreed to let the girls stay.
“I’m still scared,” Benson said.
“I know. Like, what if the parents kind of come to out of their drunkenness and realize the kids are gone and freak out?”
We slept fitfully, holding hands. At 7:59 the next morning, Paul arrived. He was a totally normal-looking dude. He apologized to us and told us how embarrassed he was. I woke the girls up, and the one who’d been crying hugged him and said, “Are you feeling better?” He hugged her back, and they all left.
After we closed the door we just stared at each other and kept going, “What in the world?!” Then we packed our beach bag and headed to the shore.
And we never saw that family again.
And that’s what happened this year at Panama City Beach.
P.S. – I changed some identifying details of the family, because frankly I’m still a little scared of getting arrested.
Categories: This and That