The air is as balmy as in April in Sevilla, and it is so fragrant that it is a pleasure to breathe it. -- Christopher Columbus, 10.08.1492
Historians surmise that Columbus probably made ground in the Bahamas, most likely Watlings or Samana. I was not there; most likely Columbus espied my particular location on his second journey back. I was in the Caribbean, on the narrow tip of an island affording me glorious eastern, northern, and western views from beaches, all within a five minute walk of each other. The island was in large part lushly vegetated thanks to preservation efforts which will keep it safe from further Tom, Dick, and Harry resort chains and souvenir shops. Only so many pirate shirts a person can buy in a lifetime, I say.
I thought a lot about Columbus, and history -- both recent and distant -- on this trip. I, too, had expectations for the island, for my vacation. I was not so presumptuous to jam a flag in the ground, rename the place, and expect to convert the locals to cynicism, but I did expect it to give me something, no matter how fleeting or ephemeral. Upon arriving after a trip of car, plane, bus, and boat, I too noticed that the sky looked different, the air smelled wonderful, the bright sun felt comfortably warm.
As I stood on the beach that our room opened out on, feeling the winds from the east rise off the swimming-pool clear clear water in our (you see that? personally claiming "our" beach!) densely vegetated, green bay, I wondered about that first sighting: what it must have been like to look off a tiny ship after months at sea, and see this small island, green and lush, sitting atop crystal blue-green water. What it must have been to stand in a place looking very similar to where I was standing, and observe three modest-yacht-sized ships set ground off the shore, and emit tall white men onto the beach. I told my students that contact must have been like something from science fiction, two clearly related species, and yet so different, unable to communicate with each other, each expecting something from the other and making assumptions that would fail to transpire.
I'm no horticulturist, but I'm guessing this view probably looked remarkably like it did 400 years ago with the smattering of fruit and palm trees and the errant cacti. However, I do know that the land underwent a serious transformation in the interim. Slaves were imported from Africa, made to raze the wild vegetation, and sugar cane was systematically planted. Lest I forget that a sugar plantation and it's inhabitants once shared this beach and this magnificent view, the ruins remained right by the tennis courts and a restaurant constructed on top of the old mill. I often have what I call "historian's guilt" when on vacation in certain places, knowing full well that the place I am currently enjoying has an undercurrent of tension, anger, and dare I say it, grief.
The historian's grief, of course, ran parallel to my own this time, but to my surprise, remained just that: a subdued undercurrent. Not a hurricane gale, or even a tidal wash directly in the face. I was able to acknowledge it, and yet enjoy my surroundings, the people, the wildlife, and my own family. I enjoyed numerous delicious rum-filled cocktails, a morning kayaking with my husband, snorkeling amidst grand sea turtles, and one particularly spectacular pink and orange sunset. My daughter refused to leave the water once in it, and with a gently lapping current with an indiscernible undertow and gradual shelf, she was able to frolic without her mother clenching her teeth or tethering our swimsuits together.
Of course, the story of Columbus is fraught with tragedy as well as a trajectory. I could only hope my vacation wouldn't follow the metaphor of alleged cannibalism, kidnapping, paranoia, and germ warfare. There was the night Bella couldn't sleep; the daily struggle to get her out of the water to reapply sunscreen which went well until the last day where some "pink" occurred sending me into a mom melt-down of enormous proportions. The pregnant people, with children already (including twins) who for whatever reason, were always attracted to the spot right next to my family. The 4' barracuda I ran into while snorkeling one day, which I was told later wouldn't have done anything, and was far more scared of me than vice versa, but still managed to scare the piss out of me. The tiny bites on my lower legs, ankles, and feet that itch like hell.
Mr. ABF and I had, what was to date, my most perfect morning in a year, free from Bella, in a kayak on the water. We followed up an hour's worth of work with a cold beer, and decided that this was a place we would return to, possibly as soon as next winter. We discussed whether Bella would then be old enough for a bit of hiking, which we decided was out of the realm of possibility for this year. We contemplated which direction we'd like to face should we return. And I realized, this was the first time, in a year, that I had thought about a future. A future beyond my upcoming class snack obligation and asundry appointments. A future where we didn't discuss whether there'd be a pregnancy, or an attempt at, or none, to consider in the planning. A future where we were simply able to accept our little family of three and envision us there, a year later, happily enjoying the sand, surf, beer and dive-shop rental equipment.
I don't know where this trajectory will take me, or how long it will last. The plans may fall around my feet within a month as the crushing grief returns. It was, after all, impossible to get away entirely from "it." Maddy's name was on my bracelet (thankfully, I wore my rubberized one, not the sparkly one that attracts certain fish to snack, I'm looking at you Mr. Barracuda), on my lips, in my mind. But it remained an undercurrent of guilt and grief. Guilt that I should be enjoying this without her, leaving her awful life behind while I went in search of turtles. Grief that she should be here, watching her father strap her sister into a life jacket and kayak in the extremely shallow water, knowing someday her turn would come too. I know everyone's grief is different, and not everyone can afford monetarily or otherwise to escape to someplace beautiful after dealing with the hell that life can dish out. For me, it was exactly what I needed.
And now, piles of soggy, sand-filled laundry await my care. In addition to what seems an eternity of blog reading to catch up on. I hope you all are as well as can be expected.