A couple of days after Bill left, Adam followed. Within a day, I realized I wasn’t going to have reliable internet where we were anchored, outside the channel. A lonely prospect as I had spoken to only three or four people in the whole country and didn’t have cell service. So I woke up the next morning, picked up the anchor, and left to find a new spot. I drove in the sunshine with my chin on my hand, and my hand on the wheel. I was enjoying running my little boat, something I don’t often do by myself.
I felt a looming presence to my left. A huge, white lobster boat was slowly passing me. It’s long arms stuck way out over it’s sides. Six dark skinned men stood on deck. They had stopped working. The whites of their surprised eyes, which they shielded from the morning sun, shone bright against their skin as they pointed.
I rolled my eyes, put my sunglasses on and turned the music up.
Let ’em stare.
Most days in Spanish Wells I threw on my black swim top, black shorts, black tank-top and black flip-flops and headed into town in Hemingway.
-A note on the uniform; being the woman that I am, I need a wardrobe that allows me the ability to swim at a moments notice and hides dirt and blood stains.
I would take along a backpack with my laptop, camera and scarf. The latter came in handy in all types of ways. One very black night, during a two week period where the engine on Hemingway wasn’t working, I had to row back to the Talisman. I was drunk. After an hour of [what I can only imagine as pathetic] rowing, I tied my scarf to the paddle and, laughing hysterically with myself, made a sail… sort of.
I’d stop by Buddha’s Bar, at the top of the hill, for a cold beer and a quick chat with the ladies behind the counter, no matter what time of day. The parrot in the corner would whistle at me the whole time to try and get a response. Which of course I would give him. Steel drums played in the background. The ladies in the bus, that had been converted to a kitchen, might be singing.
Then I would explore. Always drawn toward the water…
When I walked around Spanish Wells I used an umbrella to protect my always too tanned, sailor’s skin. I soon became known as the Girl With The Red Umbrella. I smiled at everyone I passed and was always rewarded with huge smiles, and the one finger nod, in return. As I would cross the sand and head back into “town” I would undoubtedly pass the little old man on the scooter with the giant helmet, who must do nothing but drive around all day waving at people. He has no chin, neck or shoulders. He has eyes are so blue one can see it as he drives by and he has the kindest, biggest smile I have ever seen. I have never spoken to him.
But I love him.
At some point, I would get to the grocery store where I was sure to run into Mr. Pinder, the owner. He would to limp up to me with his hand extended and his eyes lit up. His head is large, round and ever so slightly lopsided. He has a definitive widows peak of gray hair which exaggerates this. “You guysa still hea!” he’d say happily and we’d spend the next ten minutes talking about the same stuff we talked about last time I was in the grocery store. At check out, a lovely man, with beautiful eyes, would see me coming and head over to bag my two items up. He would thank me [again] for the tea I gave him when we first got to the island, in an extremely and surprisingly high voice I can only compare to Herbert the Pervert on Family Guy.
The doctors office was across the street. The doctor came [some] Thursdays. On the registration form, when I went to find out I had scurvy (yep, that happened), it asked what street one lives on, what side of the street and the color of the house. This is the total sum of one’s address on Spanish Wells.
I would end the night either with beer at Buddha’s or ice cream at Papa Scoops. Both of these things would make me equally jovial and equally regretful. On Spanish Wells I rarely paid for my own drinks. All I had to do was pop open the laptop at Buddha’s and within half an hour I would have a beer and a new character. One day I met a very interesting, very attractive, french physicist, who claimed to know, with absolute certainty, that the world would collapse by this New Year’s eve. He had curly, sandy blond hair and freckles on his chiseled face. I watched his eyes show first frustration and eventually acceptance as he told me the monetary system was to go first, in the next few months, then jobs. Then, with no one manning the nuclear plants they would shut down. The waste in each, which we currently keep cool in huge, just above freezing, tanks, would evaporate the water. As the tanks warmed up they would begin to leak and then quickly explode. At that time everyone on land would be dead within weeks. He used much bigger, more impressive words than I have used here. He seemed incredibly smart and unnervingly well informed on every subject we touched upon that afternoon, which was the only part of the whole encounter that really worried me.
“What are you going to do with this knowledge?” I asked him as he pulled wet Bahamian bills from his pants pocket to pay for my next beer.
“I’m going to buy a sailboat and fishing line and live in the middle of the ocean when it all goes down.”
So we have got that going for us…
His girlfriend was this gorgeous, makeupless, existential, hippy chick, with chocolate curls, huge shiny eyes and porcelain skin. She didn’t believe a word her boyfriend said but never once interrupted him or marginalized him. They had met six months earlier when she was on spring break. She simply never went home. She pressed her lips to the side of my mouth when we said goodbye.
Sometimes on Spanish Wells a group of people would come through for a week, or a weekend, and they would adopt me. I would spend their days on the island showing them around, or them showing me around, if they were regulars, and swapping sailing or traveling stories.
Then they would leave and I would decompress by not leaving the boat for three days.
My most memorable friendship in Spanish Wells was with Dawn. I have wrote about her in a previous post so I wont go on and on about her here. But I could. She is the kind of person who makes me wish I lived in one place so I could have close friends like her with me everyday.
The show must go on.
Thank god there are people like that along the way.
These connections, good ones, where there are as many questions as there are answers on both sides, where you hold each other a little longer when you say goodbye forever, are now life-rafts for my wanderlust soul and I cherish them. I find myself touching these people perhaps more than a stranger would or should. But I can’t help it. I need to connect. I need beautiful human moments. They never seem to mind, but a time or two it has lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings…
After Buddha’s I might have taken the long way home. Just walking and enjoying the weather. Probably feeling lucky to be thousands of miles away from a snowstorm raging upon the vast majority of people I love, back in Minnesota. I would pass the tune up shop as I walked. Once, while waiting for Adam to talk to a gentleman about a part, a man entered the shop. “Good morning,” he said to the woman behind the desk. “How are you?”
“I’m thankful,” was her response. “How are you?”
I would pass the place at the docks where on our first day on the island an old man stopped in his golf cart. “Can a tage yas wherve ya goin? I done charge money. I jus lige da conva-sations.” His face was pink, in the way old man’s faces are sometimes pink. He had deep creases running from his eyes and his mouth. He was fit for an old man but the skin in his neck hung way down in one skinny flap to the right of his Adams apple. It jiggled when he talked. He had huge sunglasses, obscuring the top half of his face, and an old timey baseball cap on his head. “Ya kin call me cap’n Bird,” he said when we got in. “I’m be 90 dis yea.” I put my hand on his arm and said thank you. He gave me a generous smile and with his face still turned toward mine the golf cart lurched forward.
“Were yall from?” He said as he looked out the front window.
“Minnesota and Wisconsin Cap’n Bird.”
“Oy boyee,” he looked at me. “dya know of a place call fond doo lac?”
“Yessir we do Cap’n Bird.”
“I liveder win eyes young. Durin da war da coloreds wen ta Florida and da whites wen da Wisconsin.”
When we got to Buddha’s bar we tried to give him money but he wouldn’t take it. “A hug then Cap’n Bird.” I said. He giggled, blushed and put his arms out.
“If I see yas walkin when ya done I drive ya back dawn.” He said with a touch of his brim as the gulf cart jerked forward and he careened down the hill.
A different gentleman picked us up on our way back. A middle aged blond man who looked way older then he was, with leathery skin and bleach blond hair, that hung in curtains in front of his wrinkled eyes. “Imma reasons guy.” He told us. “I believe erythan appen fer a reason. I miss ma turn back air so I cud pick yas up and take ya where ya needa go.” And then matter-of-factly, “I don know how yall feel abou animal cruelty… (not a good start) bud ya guys should come cock fiding widas on da weekends.”
I looked at my kind, pragmatic, never out of control husband and tried to picture him at a cock fighting ring. I laughed.
“Yea, that’s definitely not our thing.” I said emphatically.
He blushed and looked at his steering wheel. “Ah well, taint abou the cocks sa much as the being with a bunch of guys and havin a good time.”
“Even so,” I said as gently as possible.
Everyone on the island knew who I was. Almost no one stays for a month and my constant inquiries about getting on the lobster boats didn’t help my incognito. The women didn’t like it, which I found out kind of late in the game. The guys seemed to like me, but didn’t know what to make of me and absolutely, unequivocally thought I was a lunatic. And no one could believe that I, a woman, would possibly stay on a boat, for a month, by myself, out of alacrity.
I had never been quite that on my own before. Nor had I ever had so little I am required to do. When I was hungry I ate. When I was tired I slept. When I was out of fuel in the stove I filled it. When I needed more gas for the dinghy I went to get it from the dock. When the motor broke I rowed. When I was out of drinking water I grabbed my jug and walked down to the service center for some reverse osmosis goodness from the fish guys. When my sunset alarm went off, I went outside and took pictures (which you have seen throughout these posts) until I was satisfied it would all be immortalized forever at it’s most beautiful moment, then I watched, wrapped in a blanket, as the colors faded, the night cooled and the stars came out.
And I read. Really read. For the first time in years. Sometimes I started a book in the morning and finished it in the evening, at which time I would hold it in my hands, not ready to say goodbye. Most of it was quickly consigned to oblivion, but all of it weaved itself into my soul to slightly, but indelibly change who I am.
I admit, the days could be long, alone on Spanish Wells. I hadn’t set an alarm to wake up in the morning in as long as I could remember. It could all be a little ground-hogs day. I woke up and I made tea. I drank it while reading a book in the cockpit (is what I would tell people I would do, but in reality I mostly drink it on the couch while stalking people on Instagram). I kept in touch with the people who miss me. Better than I did when I lived near them. I usurped the WiFi from one of the large mansions close to shore when they weren’t using it. I knew they had gone to work when my phone suddenly connected and would ding 20 times from all the variegated contemporary places we humans keep in touch. Shelley on Instagram, Chelsi and Noelle on Glide, Julie on Snapchat, Adam on Messenger, Mom on text and a host of others. When I was lonely I would reach out. And these amazing women (and Superman) were always there, ready to engage. They are my tribe and without them, this life would be impassable for a herd animal such as myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not inoculated against raging loneliness. Within a day of Adam leaving me on Spanish Wells, I sat on the couch and I cried. Big crocodile tears ran down my face and for a little while I felt that the whole world was going on without me.
I once read in a book somewhere: “The cool water of solitude in particular can be hard to navigate. Sometimes you reach the edge of the water and are repulsed by your own reflection. To really appreciate and benefit from it, one must slip into the waters and allow them to roll over all of you. Body, mind and spirit.” In Spanish Wells I thought of my threatening situation as a challenging one, which changed it’s foundation from one of fear, to one of excitement.
And I learned just how much I like myself.