WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2016
Song "Lost and Found," courtesy of Shafiq Husayn, feat. Bilal and Jimetta Rose, 2009
Most days, when I wake up,Monday through Friday, it is with a scowl. Scowl at the alarm clock for disrupting that final hour of the best sleep ever, scowl for reminding me that I have to get somewhere by a certain time, and lately a scowl for rebooting all the thoughts that I had finally managed to quiet. While I have been on my “life sabbatical,” when the alarm clock rings, it’s only a friendly wake up call to get me on my way back outside to paradise. The only thing that remained consistent with my non-sabbatical and sabbatical sleeping habits was the possibility that I would have an unnerving dream that would jolt me out of my sleep. Unfortunately, that had been happening here and there, and I did not know what to do. I wanted it to stop. This was precisely why I had been taking sleep aids at night, and sometimes washing them down with Makers Mark. I was hoping that I would go to sleep easily and be put in such a deep sleep, that I would not remember or be aware of anything as I slept. Haunted in my dreams by things that haunt me in the day, leaves me feeling like there was nowhere safe to hide. Are these dreams my subconscious trying to tell me something? Are they the backlash of all the internalized emotion? I doubt that the human brain will ever be fully understood in our lifetime, but I wish I had the answers now. The neuroscientific and psychoanalytic approaches to dream analysis could place these random visual sequences as either physical or true emotional responses to my life, and I don’t know how or if I should try to read them. Right now, I am simply happy with the idea of knowing I have something to look forward to in the morning.
Another day in the life of little old me, here in Aruba. I made the same strategic moves that had been made the last few days. I moseyed myself together for the day ahead. The “Favorite,” breakfast sandwich had my name permanently etched in it, and I found myself at Dushi Bagels and Burgers ordering it once more but with a coffee. Starbucks is pretty good, but the coffee here was perfectly acceptable, and I didn’t have to cross street to stand in line. So far, each morning at Dushi, there was quite a crowd eating both indoors, and outdoors. For a fairly small place, it was consistently busy, and I doubt that I was the only visitor making my way there every day for the first meal of the day. I grabbed my to go breakfast and off I went back to the resort. I had grown completely oblivious to the lizards by now, but decided to have my meal at a bench to eagerly soak up the sunshine. I watched the guests walk by, and it was obvious who the new folks were. They all had that same look on their face, with smiles in their eyes. I savored every morsel. In a quiet rush to claim my plot of sand, I headed around the path and around the corner. It was free as usual. It was only 10 am and I already had a dewy layer of perspiration on my body. The sun was hitting pretty hard for early hours, and from my brief experience in Aruba, an oncoming rain shower normally follows that. Within that hour and thirty minutes of hot haze, the atmosphere became charged, and the sky opened up a little more than it had since I had been there. Normally, I would place my beach bag nearby, underneath the shelter of the Seabreeze Restaurant to wait it out. But this time I decided to head back to my room when it began to feel like more than a passing shower, scurrying along like the other guests. When I got in the room, I opened the sliding glass door, and enjoyed the breeze. When it was all said and done, the rain lasted at least 30 minutes.
We all peeked our heads back out of our shelters, and picked up right where left off. I immediately made my way back to my chair on the beach while most of the clouds moved off just as quickly as they arrived. The rest of the clouds stuck around for a while, and played hide and seek with the sun. With this inconsistent burst of sunshine, I thought it would be the perfect time to take a long walk down the beach, in the direction I traveled Monday night. In the daylight hours, there is a lighthouse in view at what appears to be the very end of the island. In the activities and recommendations, I recalled seeing the California Lighthouse, and thought in the Brown Family tradition, that I would take my death march for the day, and walk to it. In my mind, if I could see it, I could walk to it. Plus, this way, I can walk off at least one breakfast sandwich, and get myself nice and hungry for yet another pizza and beer lunch. The towels and my flip-flops were left to officially mark my chair as occupied, but I took my bag. All the places that I passed in the dark took on a whole new life now in the light. In the near distance, the same boat that I saw the other night still stood out. Bobbing up and down in the water, it looked just as lonesome.
Just as the night stroll, the further I walked, the more the crowd on the beach thinned. Heading north, the strip of hotels and resorts funnels you directly pass the kitesurfing and windsurfing huts as the land between the street and the beach narrows to a perfect V. Further out in the surf was a tight clutch of beginner adventure seekers learning how to maneuver oversized kites and sails from their instructors. Meanwhile, their friends, family and onlookers were patiently waiting on the sand or seated at the huts. I stopped and watched for a while, but the pace seemed a little slow since the instructional part apparently included a lot of listening, not as much doing. I continued to walk past the huts, and I was alone again. Surprisingly, I did not see any other people taking a walk on this end. Not one person. Ultimately, I came across one of the possible reasons. That smooth white sand that I had taken for granted cushioning my feet, practically vanished, transforming into sharp broken shells and moss covered jagged rock. Briefly, I tried to play tough and tried to make it a mind over matter scenario. Only after a few minutes did I give in. Not to mention that the entire topography of the shoreline began to change, and there was an absence of land to walk on as the sand began to edge to the right. I ended up backing up when I noticed that I was running out of options. From here, I made my way up to the top of this new border and resumed the walk. I was now walking directly along the side of street. It was narrow, made of sand primarily with broken shells, but with no shoes on, I watched every step that I took. Literally. The last thing I needed was to step on something, and get it stuck in my foot or cut myself and bleed all over the place. During this time of looking down and looking up, I noticed all the houses and villas across the street. Most of these places were ridiculous with all glass fronts with fountains, or other extravagant details. The people that owned these properties were doing pretty well for themselves. Well, at least according to me.
I followed the street, and realized that I was getting a lot of attention, honks and such. I guess it also didn’t help that I stood out like a sore thumb. Since I still didn’t see anyone walking, not even any locals, I wondered if it looked like a tourist, doing something not seen often. But I was only taking a walk. That didn’t seem foreign. Perhaps the only questionable thing I was doing was walking barefoot, street side. This was definitely a moment logged as a “not one of your best ideas.” Yet and still, I had a goal, and once something is in my mind, forget about it. Ahead in my direct line of sight, with the lighthouse still in the background, were two things I had never seen in person before: the tree that Aruba is known for, and something that looked like the disintegrating hull of a ship. These trees (Divi-Divi tree) that are unique to Aruba look like oversized Bonsai trees. What unusual and beautiful trees. The twisted trunk of each is practically bent in half, or poetically leaning, balancing itself, angled by its twisted roots. Stopping short of lying against the sand, with its wild shaped head of leaves blowing in the wind, the trees stretched towards the ocean. Or in this case, they were pointing to this abandoned ship that was close to the shore. Later, I read that the shipwreck is the remains of The Baboo, which was sunk to create a coral reef. I also discovered in my reading due to the northeasterly trade winds, the divi-divi trees all point west. Therefore, their local proverb is “follow the bend of the divi-divi trees and they’ll lead you to town.” If you were ever to get lost, you could actually find your way. Ironically, that was how I felt - lost. Since August, I have lost myself in the emotional chaos. This trip, and this walk away from it all, reminded me of that, and I was hoping to find my way again.
Eventually, the path ahead was no longer too clear. I knew I was already pushing my luck walking barefoot this long, and there was still no way to gauge how much further I had to go. This lighthouse walk was ambitious if anything, and from this point, not a shoe optional trip. On top of that, I had already walked pretty far in that hour. It would take another hour to get back. I was ready to think about eating lunch. But before I could leave, I noticed one more thing not too far away. Instead of looking up, I looked down, and could see that the broken bits of shells mixed with the sand had now become whole, and no longer indiscernible. Huge conch shells were everywhere. They were piled up next to each other in what appeared to be pristine condition. In normal circumstances, this was shell comber jackpot. Large, intact shells are impossible to come by, making them highly coveted. As a stateside shell collector, this is a rare find. Though in this environment, it felt like it would be wrong to remove any of them. Sometimes it is best to let things be as they are, uninterrupted. I was reminded that we don’t always need to be a consumer of everything we see. Merely appreciating an object can be its own reward. And with that in mind, I admired, took pictures, and possessed it only in my mind.
Leisurely, I headed due south, back to the resort. There was no rush. I casually walked back the way I came, while I observed all that I could, and nothing. People were holidaying about every which way as I got back to the resort. My chair was waiting for me along with my flip-flops. I was going to take a load off for a minute or two. While I was settling in, a group of 4 young adults arrived closely to my right. Probably in their early to mid 20s. Their voices rose to the top of any other conversations that I could hear. American, I assumed from New York. It was a public place; I can’t be mad about people talking outdoors, but if you choose to sit this close to people on the vastly open beach, you’ve made me become an unwilling ear hustling hostage. These are the facts as I was forced to hear them: they were two couples that traveled together from the Bronx, they were Puerto Rican (this only matters later), and had just arrived to Aruba. During their animated conversations, again only feet away, they used the word “nigger,” one too many times for me. For several reasons, I found this problematic. If I could hear them, I know other people could. In my opinion, this is not a word to be tossed around. I am on the fence about the appropriation, and use of the word. I get it - each side of the argument has its merit. But the notion of African Americans using the word, for which the term was targeted/used, with the idea that they are taking the power back, has its flaws. In the case that I would think it was acceptable for a particular group of people to use, this could be the only scenario. I do not understand why another culture would want to take ownership of that word. Not to say that other races/cultures do not have their own ugly history of prejudice and hate, or in that case, derogatory terms used against them, but this one word is unique. You do not get to own it if you did not have to bare its weight. It is a false badge of honor. If you would have asked every person who was called “nigger,” before they were lynched, killed, bombed, falsely accused, denied equal access, and purposefully disparaged against, if this is who they were, what they wanted to be called, or how they should be defined, it is safe to say that their answer would be no. The rash bravado, in which it was used, probably in a way to be cool, troubled me.
As I thought about their use of language, I thought about the documentary, and how when I give the elevator speech to people, the first question that they ask, or what they automatically assume, is that my grandparents were victims of discrimination, and hate while traveling across the country. At a time when the word “nigger,” still freely spilled out of one’s mouth, it was practically expected in the 1960s. The counter-narrative of their journey, which is one of the reasons their story is compelling, is that with only 2 exceptions, were they outwardly/verbally racially victimized. Those 2 experiences were both in Montana, with one incident being a group in a van with a Boy Scouts bumper sticker yelling “nigger,” as they drove by. This is not something my grandparents brag about, and talk about with bravado with their friends. I also don’t brag about a time when I was a small child with my family on vacation, and a pickup truck drove by, with someone calling out, “niggers,” to us. After 30 years, that is still very clear in my mind.
I stayed in the chair as long as I could, and finally decided to strip back down and cool off in the water, and escape having to hear this loud conversation. Again, this is a public place, they were close, but I wanted to do the simple thing by removing myself. The water was its usual safe space. I can never get enough. When I was younger, my parents called me a fish because they always had to lure me out of the water; I was never ready to get out. Shriveled fingers, and toes, and cold temperature was of no concern. Not much has changed, except I prefer a more reasonable temperature. But I always feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Enough time was spent in the ocean, and I made my way back out onto dry land. I was ready to eat. After I dried off, and put my cover up on, I headed up the ramp to place my daily order. Not too much later, I was delighted again to have another hot fresh pizza, and one cold beer. I REPEAT, THIS DOES NOT GET OLD. Enjoying my meal, helped ease my annoyance with the loud conversation. It is what it is. I spent the rest of my day on the beach, reading, reflecting, floating, and watching. Technically, this would be my last full day at the beach. I leave Friday, and I went ahead and booked the snorkeling part of my must do for Thursday. After some consideration of my wallet versus the potential for a day I would never forget, I went ahead and splurged for an all day luxury cruise to get the snorkeling in. That would only leave me with limited beach time when I returned.
I lingered all day, until it turned to night. The energy on the beach to catch the sunset was frenetic. Tonight’s show was indeed spectacular. People would walk, stop, and watch, and take pictures, some attempted to take selfies but had to move around to get the best angle. By the time the colors had changed from warm to cool, the horizon matched any Dutch masterpiece, filled with huge, billowy clouds. The guest that originally told me to take a picture of the sunset every night was exactly right. No two are ever the same. Each should be experienced with new expectations. I simply sat in my chair, and watched it all unfold before my eyes.
Sunset turned to dusk, and created its own show. One star stood out, as the constellations were next up. Even that was hard to walk away from, but as the staff began to collect the abandoned chairs, and darkness fell upon the waves, it was time. Time to head back inside to bathe and make plans for dinner. Once inside, I took my time as usual. Caught up on some news in between. It would be another night back out on the town. Evenings here are balmy, and delightful, and nightly I took pleasure in this flitting about. During my back and forth on and off the resort property these last few days, I had always been polite, smiled, spoke when spoken to. Mostly, it had been staff that I have come to recognize from seeing them daily. One person in particular had caught my attention because there was always a much warmer, “hola,” or wave. Tonight, was different. As I walked by, instead of exchanging greetings with a wave, he gently grabbed my hand in the passing, with the smile. Normally, some strange person taking my hand would have taken me aback. But there was some familiarity with us seeing each other a few times already. I was curious and followed my hand, and we met somewhere in the middle. When he began speaking to me, I realized that we were not speaking the same language. He was speaking Spanish. As we both tried our best to listen, and understand, we stumbled with words, and translation - English to Spanish, Spanish to English. I almost froze, because I have this false sense that if I stand very still, I can hear or understand better. Soon, after a few attempts that started well, it was clear that my Spanish was as good as his English. By the time he finished a sentence, I could only respond with a disappointed face and, “no entiendo.”
We sat down to talk. He had eyes the color of freshly caramelized sugar, with all the warmth. It was frustrating to not be able to communicate. Ultimately, we came up with a solution, our trusty phones. Google translate to the rescue. Even though it was stunted mix of research with a language lesson, it was easier now to at least communicate. The basic introductions were covered, names, etc. As if my life hasn’t been enough of a writing source, his name was yet one more fascinating literary piece to the story. His name was that of a Shakespearean character. When he told me, I did not even believe him, until he kindly pointed to his name pinned to his shirt. How much more of a dramatist could I become by the time this is over? The conversation was as pleasant as it could be under the limitations of language. He was working, and our conversation could not last forever. Either way, no matter the circumstance, I am not anywhere remotely close to being interested in thinking about romance, and definitely not one where distance and communication are at a disadvantage. I am paying the hard price for one - never again, for now is the winter of my discontent.