I have a history with Florida. Apollo rockets flashing fire across our backyard night sky, stands of cypress in the distance, scrub palmetto scratching lines across my legs, horses, always horses, and murky water.
Mine is not the touristy slice, although my dad did take my sister and I camping in Ft. Wilderness when Disney World opened. I was eight. I’ve been here my whole life. And I want to leave. God, I am desperate to leave. But I love Florida. And I despise it, too. Fear her, even. Because I don’t just see palm trees and beaches. I don’t stoop for shells anymore. My Florida is dark and dangerous.
I’ve seen a gator eat my dog, and I’ve been chased by predators of different types, the kinds of critters that don’t live in Ohio. I’ve tried to leave, but it doesn’t feel right, the smells, the soil, the trees, the food, even the color of the pavement – all wrong, all not “home.”
A car trip across the middle of the state will show you the real Florida. If you stare out your window – if you really search past the aluminum guardrail or barbed wire – you’ll notice what’s looking back at you.
An eighth of a mile from this road kill alligator, about 10 miles east of Arcadia, seven days ago, I caught a glimpse of a live gator in the tall yellow grass ditch near the east bound lane. Her head was up, jaws open, as she watched my car pass.
She looked right at me.