My mother and I were sitting on the dock drinking beer and staring out at the lake, unwilling to move for fear of angering Missouri's gods of Heat and Humidity even more. I'm not sure how long we had been sitting there but I had one or two beers. My mother had started drinking earlier in the day and drank faster than me so you can imagine that, by this time, she was on a train bound for drunk. I said I might go for a swim and she suggested we go skiing instead. I thought that sounded good and asked if she wanted to stay on the dock or ride in the boat. She hesitated and said, "You don't think I can ski?" Things had taken a turn. Me: I did not say that, mom. Mom: You think because I'm in my 60's I can't get up on skis anymore? Me: I didn't meant to imply that at all. I know you can ski. Mom: No, you don't.
She stood up and yelled at my stepfather who was working in the yard, "LES! GET IN THE BOAT!" My stepfather came down and asked what was going on and my mother told him that I didn't think she could get up on skis. I explained that I had said no such thing and he simply shook his head and loaded the skis in the boat. He drove us out a bit from the dock and cut the engine. He readied the skis and rope while my mother put on a life jacket. "Make sure you have that jacket on tight", I said. You see, my mother couldn't swim. She loved the water, loved boating and skiing but couldn't swim a stroke. Les checked the jacket and she jumped off the back of the boat. Les floated the skis to her one by one and she managed to put them on (no thanks to her friend, Budweiser). She grabbed hold of the rope and got in position and - I have to say - she looked good. She yelled, "Hit it!" and Les pushed the throttle ahead full force. She came slightly out of the water and lost her grip. "She's down!" I yelled and Les slowed the boat and circled back. As we passed by, she yelled at me from the water, "I'm going to do this! You'll see!" I yelled back, "You don't have to prove anything to me." She got into position and she was up and down once again. She yelled, "Third time's a charm!" and I just nodded. She got into position, Les gunned the engine and she came up - one leg went one way, the other leg flew up in the air in a bizarre way that seemed to defy both gravity and the workings of the human hip. Turns out that the third time isn't always a charm. "She's down!" I yelled and she was - down and screaming and cursing in pain. Les cut the engine and dove off the back of the boat and I jumped over the side and we both swam for her. Les grabbed her and dragged her through the water to the dock. He lifted her out of the water and carried her directly to the truck. He jumped in and off they went to the emergency room. I watched them go, treading water as the boat and skis drifted. A few minutes passed before I gathered up the skis and swam back to the boat. I pulled in the rope, wrapping it in a perfect figure eight like I'd been taught, and then started the engine and drove back to the dock.
They were gone all evening and came back long after I'd gone to bed. The next morning, I awoke and found my mother sitting in her chair staring out the picture window like always. Her leg was black and blue from ankle to hip. She was drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette nonchalantly. I asked if she was okay and she said, "This?" she asked dismissively, nodding at her leg, "I'm fine. Nothing's broken." "Good", I said, "I was worried." She tilted her head towards the ceiling to exhale a puff of smoke and then looked back at me, "I could have gotten up, you know." I had no doubt. No doubt at all.
This story came back to me the other morning when I was talking to Luisa about my first yoga class. Miguel overheard me and said, "Mama...you don't do yoga." It was the little giggle that got me. "He doesn't think I can do it", I thought. He hadn't said that but I knew he was thinking it and then I got it. I understood that day on the dock with my mother, understood that it wasn't what I had said but what I had assumed about her. She needed to prove something to herself as much as she needed to prove it to me. I said to Miguel, "You don't think I can do it?" He said, "I didn't say that." I laughed. I come from a long line of women who like to prove a point. I'm just glad I don't drink Budweiser.