The palapa (open sided shelter with a thatched palm roof) out back at the Wanna Wanna had seen better days, and now the delicate pinpoints of stars could be seen through the brittle brown fronds. The moon floated in and out of view in an ebony haze of nighttime clouds.
The Wanna Wanna band, the Wannabees, chewed through their laid back playlist with volume and gusto. A few people danced in the middle of the floor and more stood in line at the kitchen window to order up their choice of just- swimming- in- the- Gulf seafood.
We, however, were there to talk, catch up, and relax. Close friends, some of us stretching back even into high school, we were here at the beach in a rented condo while our husbands were off to welcome in the first weekend of dove hunting season.
"I've really been looking forward to this weekend, girls," said Marla* as she squeezed a lime wedge over her ceviche. "I feel like all I do is work, cook, and clean house!"
"Well, you got to feed all those boys, not to mention Marcos, so I imagine your kitchen is still going 24/7," laughed Emmy while she picked through her shrimp cocktail. "Hey, speaking of, are you and Marcos still going to try for a girl? Time's running out, you know..."
Marla cut her off with a splutter. "Give me a break! I'm already 44! This baby factory is closed for good." She laughed and changed the subject. "How's your salad, Shelly?"
I had a mouthful, so I nodded to show I enjoyed it, but my mind was already drifting dreamily out into the dark, pounding surf. I swallowed and and pointed out to the vast, undulating darkness of the oceanjust yards from our table. "Aren't those waves something? I can't wait to hit the beach tomorrow." The others nodded in agreement and talk of new swimsuits overtook the next few minutes.
Marla looked at the fourth friend in our group, Julie, who had been silently chewing her way through her grilled shrimp poor-boy. "Julie, you're awfully quiet, especially for someone who loves to talk as much as you do. Everything OK?"
Julie looked up and put her sandwich down. A wry, wistful look crossed her face. "I am tired. Tired of doing everything the same, always. Always following the rules, doing what I'm supposed to..."
Emmy raised her eyebrows. "You're not thinking of robbing a bank or getting a facial tattoo or something really crazy , like some of those women who go all cuckoo when they hit middle age?"
Julie looked out at the ocean and then back at us. "I'm serious. Sometimes I just want to shake things up a little, you know? I don't want to become boring and predictable. Don't you all ever feel like that?"
We all looked around and nodded our heads. Julie suddenly smiled. "I think tonight's a good night to break out of old habits." She grinned widely. " Who's with me?"
I felt a little sliver of fear rise up in my belly, but the excitement of the unexpected trumped it and I bobbed my head enthusiastically with the rest.
Julie worked her feet under the table and her shoes came off. "Let's go!" she said emphatically as she broke from the table and sprinted to the water. We watched, wide eyed, as she plowed on, fully clothed, into water that was just past waist deep. She yelled back over the waves hitting the shore, "Come on! Are you a bunch of chickens?"
Marla, Emmy and I looked at each other. Marla pulled off her watch and shoes, stuffed them into her purse, and bolted from the table, through the sand, and into the water. The laughter and shrieks as they soaked themselves jumping over and through waves was too much. I pulled off my watch, too, and was kicking off my sandals when Emmy looked at our waitress who assured, "Go ahead. I'll watch your stuff!"
With that, Emmy freed herself and we both ran headlong, giggling, into the ocean. Maybe it was the opaque blackness of the water, or the startled faces of the other patrons, or the power of the surf, but something was liberated in us that night.
Clothes that had been carefully matched and chosen were utterly drenched. Hair that had been meticulously curled, flat ironed, or blown dry now whipped around, slinging that salty water high into the air. A small crowd soon gathered on the beach to watch women play in the ocean who'd obviously lost their sanity.
When we finally pulled ourselves out of the Gulf , dripping, sand pasted past our ankles, and still choking with laughter, we came away wiser and somehow younger than we went in.
And what happens at the Wanna Wanna, sometimes doesn't always stay at the Wanna Wanna.
*I promised not to use their real names.