I am sitting at JJ’s Texas Coast Café – on the island of St John in the US Virgin Islands. I am tucked in a corner of the bar just inside the garage-door sized opening. From here I can see the Ferry dock and St John Island Spice. If I lean forward and squint through the boats and taxis I can almost see the ocean, but knowing that it is there is enough for me. Though I am inside, I am wet. Not soaking wet – but I do keep having to wipe my hands on my shorts to keep the moisture off the MacBook – a gift to my daughter last summer which came in quite handy this morning when I decided to find a spot to sit and write that might have internet, and a dry seat.
On this, our sixth day in the Caribbean, I am naturally beginning to summarize the trip, though we still have four days of paradise to get through. Were I a novel writer, I would wait until I was home and back to life before I began to dissect the trip – and would actually have no need to dissect, since in novel length I would have license to describe each footstep I took this morning in my search for a connection.
“I first placed my right foot – my good foot – to the uneven pavement, inspecting the ground carefully through the rubber of my flower-print Birkenstocks. The ground was hard, and though uneven, offered a surface wide enough to support my weight and that of my bag which held, among other things, my daughter’s phone, which I took in case of emergency, and her laptop, which I carried to record my thoughts and feelings of the morning, and perhaps my dreams for the future. Having mentally registered that the ground was, in fact, solid and acceptable, I gingerly placed my left foot in front of my right. In this way, I knew I would make The Beach Bar within five minutes, and that, barring any pot holes or tree roots, I would arrive with all the tendons of both ankles in tact”
It’s raining. Again. I have finally had enough rain. While searching for the prevailing theme of this trip, I dismissed the lack of Internet, because I can live without Internet for a week. I discounted the exorbitant amounts of cash I have parted with, because this is vacation, and the only shrink I ever visited – who told me I did not have ADD, but was just lazy – also told me that spending money on vacation was what made life worth living. But, no matter how hard I try, I am unable to discount the rain. It has rained every day – some days were just a drizzle off and on during our hike or our snorkel, but there have been real-to-life downpours lasting hours – the type of rain that never happens in Colorado, and the type, until recently, I professed to love and miss.
Our last trip to St John was April, two years ago, and lasted only four days. We fell in love with the beautiful weather and relaxed atmosphere of the island. There is no bustle or even much commerce on St John – in sharp contrast to St Thomas, where there is an airport and gang shootings and all sorts of real-life stuff that no one wants to see on vacation. This small island is ¾ National Park, and in the last three days I believe we have seen most of it. Hiking is relaxing in comparison to building a stone wall with your bare hands or clearing a jungle to plant sugar cane, but when compared to laying on the beach, or swimming in crystal-blue water, hiking treacherous mountain trails feels a lot like work. Of course, with the weather, laying on the beach is sort of stupid. You can’t spend the whole day in the condo, or in the bar, so we decided to get out and see the island, allowing the rain to cleanse our bodies, if not our souls.
On Sunday we left St John and spent the day on a boat touring the entire Island chain – from the Batholiths on Virgin Gorda to the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke. I lost my favorite hat when I jumped off the boat to begin my swim to the Soggy Dollar, so I felt it was only fair that I bought a hat from there. Thus far, this is the only souvenir I have purchased. There will be more, I am sure, but unless they sell a “It rained on me in St John” t-shirt, I fear no souvenir will capture the trip completely.
I have these big questions in my head – things that might be unanswerable by anyone. Sometimes I ask these questions aloud and people look at me quizzically – that is how I know the question is best contemplated in silence. One of those questions is – if you find a vacation spot that you love, though there are thousands of other places you have never been – should you go back to the same place again, or should you try somewhere new. This same question could be applied to dating, but for now I’ll focus on vacation. We could have tried somewhere new this trip. But, we decided to come back to St John because we loved it, and we felt we hadn’t seen the whole island last time. I’m not sure how it will eventually pan out, but right now I’m not certain that was the best decision. If we’d left St John up on its pedestal as this amazing place with great weather and beautiful beaches, it would still be up there, a little dusty but untarnished.
But then, life is tarnished, and a vacation can’t take that away, apparently. I suppose that was a lot of pressure to put on a little island – to be perfect and happy and let us forget, for a week if possible, or just a day if you can, that we are missing someone horribly. I’m not sure that Hawaii, or anywhere really, would have been able to take us where we want to be – because that place no longer exists.