I'm sitting on a lump of cold flesh. Six hours of kayaking and a chilly day for South Georgia means the only reason I know my backside is there is because it always has been. Can you get frostbite on your butt? I decide you can't, but am planning an immediate precautionary hot shower as I paddle out of the swamp and up the canal to the marina. My wheelchair is still standing sentinel at the boat ramp.
I wedge the kayak between the uneven cinder blocks at the bottom of the ramp. Now all I have to do is roll out of the boat, scooch over the concrete, balance on all fours, raise onto my knees, and twist into the seat of my wheelchair. I prefer to do this with no one watching since sometimes people act funny when I crawl by. Besides, an observer always makes something go awry – like losing my shoes or trapping one breast under the seat on my way up. Either way, I'll do it. I let nothing interfere with a good day on the water.
Before I can start my roll over the side, a smartly uniformed ranger appears at the top of the ramp. He chats about the weather. He asks about my trip. How many alligators? Any otters? He lingers. Knees to chest, arms clasped around them to stop the shivering, I try to wait him out. In the middle of his story about the year it snowed, I abandon modesty and make my moves. More than once, I am butt-first in his direction.
Panting and finally sitting face forward in my chair, I smile at the ranger. His neck and face are sweaty and red. His expression is professionally bland, but I can see the horror underneath. Eyes averted, he mutters something and walks away, disappearing over the top of the ramp. This pisses me off. So what that I don't move the way he does. Why can't people just deal with, admire even, someone figuring out how to do whatever it is they want to do? Screw him.
It isn't until I am at my campsite, blood returning to my backside, that I feel something cold and bare. Have I mentioned that I don't use underwear kayaking? It gets wet. It bunches.
Squirming from side to side, I strip off the thread-worn, used only for kayaking pants. I hold them in front of me. Except for three frayed strips of material, the seat is gone. That last trip along the concrete was too much for it, and I had been left exposed. I picture my butt pointed at the ranger with the ragged remains of the pants stretched across it and looking not unlike a balding man's bad combover.
I was unfair in my assumptions about that ranger, and I'm going to have to apologize to him – but only mentally. Anything else will be too embarrassing for the both of us.
Originally published in Breath and Shadow.