SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17 - SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2016
In the beginning of 2016 I felt this trajectory in my life pulling me in vigorous ways that often I said that I was either on the verge of breakdown or a breakthrough. I felt that the pendulum was finally going to swing in one way or the other and it would only be a matter of time before I knew which (triumphant or defeated). All year the answer to this question was a crescendo of events that had been leading towards a true victory of a breakthrough, only to abruptly hit the wall these last few months. When I was in middle school, I can clearly recall, in mid-term my English teacher left out of nowhere, never to return. In her place was another teacher for the remainder of the year. Rumors of it being a breakdown had floated around. As a child, I didn’t know what that meant. This word sounded pretty dramatic and far-fetched. I only remember that she was gone, with no mention to us directly from her mouth to our ears and there was never a real answer given to us as to why we were teacher less. For some reason, I always had this memory closely tucked away in my brain. Even as a kid, with few life experiences, I wanted to know what could have possibly happened that she had to leave. My 40 year old self, looking back at my middle school self said, “now you get it?” Life happened.
It took some time to fully grasp that I was going away, especially by myself and to someplace tropical. Don’t get me wrong, I was looking forward to the trip, and I was literally in need of it, but it hadn’t “hit me.” It had been the busiest time at work with our major exhibition finally installed, which was the only reason I scheduled the trip this late. I tend not to ask if I can take off at work, I more or less tell them, but in this instance the exhibition had been in the works for at least a year and I needed to be there to see it all the way until it opened to the public. It is possible that the window of time in between the exhibition opening and when I left was too narrow and I still couldn’t really tell my ass from my elbow, let alone be mindful of the fact that I was taking this trip. Here I was a day, or hours at this point from leaving and I didn’t have my bag packed, only a heap of clothes and bathing suits piled on my bed, my passport, trip itinerary, a book my father had bought for me, my journal and a sealed envelope that my mother told to me to open once I arrived. I now somehow, had to get these items into a suitcase without over packing. Not to mention my flight was scheduled for 7:00 am. Translation, I had to go to bed early because I had to wake up at an ungodly hour in order to get to the airport. During the last few reasonable hours I had left before I should retire, I managed to get the suitcase packed and zipped. When I picked it up by the handle, it turned into the usual carnival trick of guessing the weight. Since I decided to be reasonable and take the midsize suitcase, I had to do less with more and there was the potential that I had one sundress too many trying to fool myself. I called my mom into the room and asked her to have a go at it, and guess the weight. To me, her guess was a bit high, so I did the next best thing and I got my scale and did some math. First I got on the scale. Then I got the suitcase and held it in both hands and got back on the scale. Subtract one from the other and there is your suitcase weight, kind of. Yes, I could have put the suitcase directly on the scale, but it was too big to stay flat.
In the end, I realized, I just didn’t care that much; whatever it was going to be was what it was going to be. The last major issue was determining what to wear for the trip, considering I am leaving the cold East Coast winter to arrive at a warm tropical island. The last thing I wanted to do was to wear a coat or real shoes and look bizarre when I made my first steps in Aruba. After a bit of scrounging around, I came up with a solution, layering with a sweater and going Swedish style on the feet with sandal clogs and socks. Although I hate socks, they would only take up a fraction of the space of boots. Otherwise, from the feet up, I planned on preparing to freeze from the short distance from the house to the car.
It was time to settle down. Tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of my life. I'm taking this trip with the hopes to cleanse my body and spirit of the grief and loss and hurt that over the last few months had devoured me in its path. When I talked to my sister before I left, she referred to it as a "sabbatical from life." Perhaps that is exactly what it is. Falling asleep had not been coming easy to me lately. Therefore, the attempt to go to bed early was futile. Eventually, after all the brain chatter died down was I able to sleep. Wake up time came almost as soon as I finally closed my eyes. Today was not a snooze option and there was good enough reason for me to get up, but that didn’t stop me for damning the alarm. Luckily, it did not take that long for me to get to action; it was all a matter of stumbling to the bathroom and showering since my suitcase was at the ready. Upstairs, I could hear my parents moving around getting ready to take me to the airport. It still seemed pretty surreal that this was happening. I carried my suitcase up the steps and there was one last check of my needed travel items before we set out into the early daybreak. Oddly enough, it was mild for December and I was perfectly warm in my long cardigan sweater. One good thing about where my parents live is their location. From their home, we are practically a stone’s throw to the airport and the train station. Even at your latest of time to leave, you would always make it to the airport in 10 minutes. When we pulled up to the departure terminal, I was amazed by how busy it was for such an early hour. My parents and I said our goodbyes and they gave me their, “I love you, be careful, have fun,” and I wheeled my suitcase into the door with one more look back.
Check in was uneventful and it never fails that I am reminded of my lofty plan to apply for a TSA Pre-check only once I am actually stuck in the line. The first leg of the trip was to Charlotte, NC. This time of day is not when I am fully on but I managed to make it on the plane. Have you ever noticed that they always say, "things may shift during takeoff”? I hope they do. I hope that at least my attitude shifts from negative to positive. I tried to close my eyes during this short flight and fidgeted around a bit. Before we deplaned, the flight attendant got on the PA system for what we all probably assumed would be the usual speech. Instead, she surprised us all by singing “The Christmas Song,” made famous by Nat King Cole (...they know that Santa is on his way, he's bringing lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh...) after thanking everyone for flying American Airlines and wishing us all a happy holiday and a great New Years. I can't explain why, but I felt melancholy, almost to tears. It could have very well been how I was feeling - making this trip on my own, and I was tired and had mixed emotions about the why's and the how's of everything that has happened that got me to this point. As I walked off the plane, standing tall at the door with a kind smile was our host of holiday cheer. I thanked her for the song and I meant it from the bottom of my heart. For that brief second, I felt like I knew her because it felt that personal.
When I exited the jet way, I didn't see any departure board nearby so I got in line to ask the American Airlines attendant at the counter about my connection. The young guy in front of me was doing the same. She kindly told him his gate and repeated it at least 3 times before he left and she rolled her eyes. Each time he repeated it back, he had it wrong, almost making it a vaudevillian act. The "help me, help you look" she gave me and the other traveler in line was priceless. I know I have had that look before at work. Fortunately for me, my connecting flight was only 2 gates away and it was boarding. This flight was not quite half full when I took my seat. My entire row was empty and its sister row. Wishful thinking lead me to believe that I would have space to spread out. Wrong. It only lasted for minutes and I ended up with a seat mate. It was at this time that I also noticed that I'm right over the door to the cargo hold. Watching them load the plane by practically throwing your luggage on the belt makes you worry about all your preciously packed items. It could be my imagination, but I thought the baggage handler was purposely putting as much air between the bag and the belt. To me, simply placing the luggage on the belt would have been easier. Nervously I continued watching and saw my suitcase and was relieved to see him put it down gently and pat it as if he knew my eyes were on him.
As I sat in that seat, I still had a rushing stream of thoughts. For a while I couldn't remember the last time I was on a flight. Traveling becomes an autopilot action and trips can fuse together much like the days in between them. It had been some time. I realized it was last year around Halloween for a getaway to Vermont with my now ex. Damn. What a difference a year makes. Not to mention, I listened to Adele. Mistake. At least I know that it can't be the same next year, by then this feeling of sadness would have eased with time. There is that to look forward to. Our pilot was given the go ahead and we were pulling back when a young woman somehow got the attention of the flight attendants as they were making their last checks. She was worried that she saw her bag still on a luggage cart sitting on the tarmac. She was frantic. The attendant asked if she knew for sure if it was her bag. Of course she couldn't give the 100%. It almost seemed like she wanted them to stop and check. What was she thinking? Unless your suitcase is in the shape of a giraffe, how can you tell? Almost every suitcase looks the same. With the ease of professional experience, the same flight attendant informed her that their motto was if the passenger made the flight, so did their bag. That helped deescalate the situation. After the flight attendants went away, I could hear the young woman discussing how there was some confusion about her bag prior to boarding. That made me even more satisfied knowing I watched mine get a little love as it went on its way onto the plane.
This second and final leg of my trip was longer than the first. I tried to relax and at the very least, close my eyes. Thoughts, light slumber and hours passed by until I was greeted by canyons of clouds and shorelines of emerald green sea. Moments like this is when the world that has seemed so small and suffocating transmutes as you fly above untouched horizons of land and sea and it becomes clear that you are the small one swollen in a large world. Big or small as I might be, I was ready for my “life sabbatical.” Our flight landed smoothly and it was officially time to do this. In the terminal, there were women handing out free Aruba totes, I assumed from the tourism board. After I retrieved my suitcase from the carousel, I made the decision to stop at the duty free store near the exit to purchase a bottle of alcohol for the room. For some reason, I was feeling panicked as if this was the only place in Aruba to buy alcohol and purchased an unnecessarily large bottle with the sadly optimistic idea that I would be able to drink it all.
Since this trip was booked on a travel site as a package, I was able to add round trip ground transportation for my airport arrival and departure. Specific instructions were provided on what to do when you arrived to catch the shuttle to the hotel. Just as planned, there was a person standing at the exit holding a sign for the shuttle company and I gave him my name. He checked his list and told to me where to find the shuttle outside. Warm and lovely was the sun shining upon me when I walked out from underneath the roof of the airport, almost as warm and lovely as the smiles of the drivers standing next to their shuttles. I am pretty sure I received some extra attention. It was probably the socks. I engaged in small talk with the driver before handing off my suitcase and boarded the shuttle, melting into the plush fabric seat. Quietly peering out the windows while getting a glimpse of the island, the silence was interrupted by the tourists polluting the air with a bunch of silly questions for the driver. I did however hear the shuttle driver say that he was Dutch and moved here some time ago. One actively talking tourist knew everything and nothing. His voice was disrupting the Christmas music playing. How amusing the contradiction with the balmy weather outside. How strange it was to see a nativity scene nesting at the foot of palm trees when you are used to seeing it upon a blanket of snow. The ride took a while with several stops made to drop off passengers as we followed the serpentine route around the island. One by one, the other vacationers were taken to their hotels eventually leaving me as the sole passenger. As I got off the shuttle, I asked the driver for any recommendations for things that you must do or see. He gave me quite a few.
In the brief research about the hotel, I don’t think I ever saw a picture of what the resort looked like from the front. Most of the pictures were of the massive property itself or from the beach looking towards the backside of the property. Now that I was physically here, there really wasn’t much to see anyway. There was a breezeway for the entrance and the beauty is there to behold once you step inside. The check-in counters were to the left, the sky, beach and palm trees were directly in front and to the right was a seating area around a decorated Christmas tree. Past that was a long corridor that never ended, budded with what appeared to be storefronts, with a sprinkling of guests walking past. Check-in was easy. The desk attendant was very nice and I made sure not to come off as an ugly American. She gave me some resort materials and explained how to get to my room. I am glad I paid attention because there are several towers and it could definitely get confusing. While I walked out from the breezeway and onto the property, I immediately began feeling more and more relaxed. There was quite some distance for me to go, but it was a nice tour of what was waiting for me. People were scattered throughout, coming and going or doing nothing but indulging in drink, food and sunshine. It is never my intention, but while I was walking, I made my observations about the demographics of the guests. Using a very broad brush, it appeared that they mostly consisted of Whites and Latinos. Not any or many Black guests.
I was finally at the end of the path and was at the tower. A few floors up on the elevator and I swiped the key and entered the room. Yes, this will do! Immediately to my left was huge bright white bathroom with a shower for at least 4. Occupying the left wall of the room was a king size bed made with crisp white linen cozied next to a long sofa. At the very front was a full wall of sliding glass doors dressed with white gauzy curtains that filtered the sunlight into the room. On the inside and outside I was smiling. I took a few minutes to check everything out and put my suitcase on the luggage rack. Before I did anything else, I found the envelope from my mother. I held off as long as I could. Experience gave me some inkling as to what was inside. In the past, I have received many loving cards from my mother during trying times. One day I would like to go a significant chunk of time without needing one from her, or without her having any concern. As expected, it was a card filled with her kind and loving words expressing her wish for me to begin to move past the grief during this trip. Touched by the sentiment, I placed the card on the table (next to bottle of alcohol). With no time to spare, I checked in with people to let them know I arrived in one piece as requested and reminded them that from this point forward, I would have limited contact.
Since it was mid - afternoon, there was plenty of time for me to get suited up and enjoy the rest of the day on the beach. I opened my bag and picked out a bikini and cover up for the day, unpacked my beach bag and filled it up with the essentials. On this day, I was the master of my fate: I was the captain of my soul and I found great peace in that. First action plan - the beach. When I walked to the room, I had already decided that I would find a place to post up near my tower. It looked like this area was the less congested part of the beach and most importantly, it was near one of the restaurants that was open air and had a bar. There were already cast off beach chairs from the early risers and I had my pick. Tucked at the back of the restaurant, at the bottom of the terrace, I settled in with one huge sigh. My sole objective was to be still, only interrupted by a trip for a drink, or a swim, I absorbed every ounce of sunlight humanly possible; I could feel the chemical reaction in my body as my skin radiated from within. It was here that I spent the remains of the day as the beach goers left in waves like the tide. The pinwheel horizon began to shift and the sun unhurriedly began to drop to look as though it was getting closer and closer to the water. Along the furthest line of sight, the planet’s best optical illusion played out and the sea met the sky. Boats skipped the waves while some anchored in for the night. Silence fell over the beach and the pinks and greys eventually vanished with the people.
Unless I was going to stay until the moon made his appearance, there was no longer any reason for me to stay. I had 4 more full days to roast in the sun, not to mention I was going to be ready for dinner soon. I went back to my room and took my time and luxuriated in the shower. Tonight I thought I would treat myself to a grand meal, right back at that open air restaurant. As relaxing as the day was, I was tired from the early wake up and didn’t have the energy to explore the island. Dressed in my casual resort evening wear, I took a seat at the bar with the breeze from the beach at my side. My server, as well as what appeared to be the rest of the staff, spoke Spanish as a first language. I quickly had to let the bartender know, no habla español. I guess I was as difficult of a read for them as they were for me. The menu was full of appetizing selections. Fish is always my go to. I went for the seared Chilean sea bass served with béarnaise sauce and vegetables with a glass of wine. Between talking with the bartender and watching Sunday Night Football, I felt every bit at home here as I did anywhere else. The salt air was invigorating and made it difficult to leave but eventually I called it a night and headed back to the room. One more reading of the card from my mother and I crawled into bed to watch a smidge of television. Tonight, I hoped for nothing less than sweet dreams.