Not at dinner, please

On vacation at our favorite beachside resort in Northern Cancun, we are at the sushi bar, the four of us lined up, me and Rog bookending our girls who were in the middle. To my left, one seat down, was a bleach blond, sun-weathered man in his fifties, his belly paunch touching the counter, board shorts and flip flops in contrast with his two-toned Submariner Rolex. After a bit, we start talking, and soon enough, he’s engaged in telling us about the two-million-dollar catamaran he had built in France, sailed over, docked next door at the private marina, and was trying to penetrate the local cruise market. We listened to the travails of getting hotels to recommend his service, how his competitors incentivized (e.g. bribed) local shops not to take him on, and in general, how he hadn’t accurately anticipated the difficulties of a foreigner.

The captain and sushi bar patron

“But it’s so much better than what I left behind,” he continued, the sake and spicy tuna getting the better of him. “My next door neighbor killed his wife, fled the country and ruined his kids’ lives.”

Huh? What do you even say to that, other than “you’re kidding,” while taking another bite of salmon.

“True story. It was in all the papers. You didn’t hear about it? It was the biggest story in Newport.” Northern Idaho is not real big on covering socialites in SoCal, we explained, so he did it for us, and in the process, told us about his life as a luxury real estate agent, banking a lot of money without a notion of retiring until one day, the next door neighbors wife is found dead, and the man who he and his wife had thought of as good friends was accused (and ultimately convicted) of murder. The impact was so devasting to this man, that it impacted his own marriage, their kids (who were good friends), the ultimate result was not one, but two families torn apart by what, in the end, a common theme in murders. Man has affair, man wants out, woman wants half, man kills wife, the end.

And this was all before we’d event gotten the baked clams!

swimming off the shores of Isla Mujeres

Thankfully, the girls were preoccupied with their chopsticks, and I was retaining it all for a future book. I’m a curious gal and didn’t hold back my questions regarding his life changes following the incident.

“I left it all behind,” he said, revealing the ex-wife, while staying in town until his sons went to college. He decided life was short and he was going to follow his dreams of having a catamaran business and live out his life without the ghost of his neighbor following him around.

Two courses later, he’d given us his card, offered our family a free afternoon on his boat, and we went to bed thinking about all we’d heard. A few days later, skimming from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, sailing around Ricki Martin’s flamingo-colored home on a jetty only accessible by boat, we observed this man, his crew, the others on the boat, and the life-changing experience he shared.

The unreal is usually…real

“You can’t make this stuff up,” I often tell fellow authors and readers who are bold enough to contact me for my works of fiction. You know what? Half the time I don’t. I just happened to be someplace, start talking to someone and boom! I’m hearing a story that is simply—unreal—yet it’s real, like this one. Roger and I, being kindred spirits, looked him, and the incident up. Yep, real as the sun coming up. Black and white. Tragic situation, sad outcomes, people trying to have the best life they can in the aftermath but…does it have to come up at dinner?

I guess the answer to that question is ultimately yes. Once the tip of the iceberg is spotted, it’s in my nature to look for what’s underneath. I can’t help myself. Add to this, I’m a people person and genuinely interested in another’s story, so I’m all in, no matter what’s said. Was I prepared for this? No. Was it appropriate for kids? Hardly. Yet it was the defining moment in this man’s life, and for good reason.

playing chicken with the big boys

In hindsight, had we been poolside, chitchatting with our sunglasses on, legs stretched out, perhaps the impact of the revelation would have been slightly minimized, convincing me of two things: I’m still curious and appreciate one’s life experience, but I just want to hear it anywhere but at dinner.