This Is Really Happening

I totally lied.

On my last post, way back in 2004, I pledged “no more looking back; only looking forward.” But on account of it being New Year’s Day, remaining off the grid due to my cell phone’s travels through the labyrinth of Delta baggage, and spending the balance of the afternoon editing the music video for “Live Forever” — the year in pictures, basically — well, I’m still straddling that great divide between past and present. Besides, what’s a guy supposed to think about sitting on the beach, sitting on a plane, and recuperating from all that hullabaloo: nothing?

Eleuthera. I have been home less than twenty four hours and, of course, it seems a lifetime ago. Still, it doesn’t take to much imagination to remember the sound of the wind through the Australian pines, the constant roar of the surf clear across the island, the whir of the water pump, the roosters crowing at sunup, the stray mutt across the street that barked all night, or even Ethan’s sweet midnight call for a bottle (“Ba! Ba! Ba!”). No, it’s all close at heart.

One would think that the Bahamas, just a hundred or so miles off of Florida, would be a piece of cake to get to. And one would be partially right. Nassau was just a hop, skip, and a Xanax away from LaGuardia. But getting to Eleuthera, just 23 miles east, was another chore altogether. You see, the phrase “island time” is not some cute marketing invention. No, it’s a way of being. A shrug of the shoulders, wave of the hand, and weak smile that suggests, “Eh, eventually.” Which is when we got to Eleuthera. Eventually. Worth the wait? Absolutely.

Eleuthera’s a 100 mile long, two mile wide slab of dead coral. It’s kind of miraculous it was ever settled, as it seems ripe to be swallowed whole by the angry sea. But sure enough, religious refugees from Bermuda — the Eleutherans (Greek for “freedom”) settled in 1648. The island is traversed by a single, drive on the right side, traffic-lightless main road, The Queen’s Highway. It’s an arid landscape, covered in brush and palms and not much else. Save for the exquisitely empty pink sand beaches, I’m not sure why one would stay very long. But exquisitely empty pink sand beaches are fairly hard to come by in this day and age, so a few people make their way. And I mean a few. I saw more people in my first thirty seconds back in New York than I saw in five days on Eleuthera. What a blessing.

I spent my first hours on island lying on the cold tile of the bathroom floor trying to make myself puke. Seems all of the mainland-bred evil and anxiety stored up over the year was revolting in the pit of my stomach. I honestly wanted to die, but settled for toast, tea, and eventual sleep. When I came to Tuesday morning, I was astounded to see the Caribbean just out the back door. I spent the day walking the rocky coastline, reading “Flyboys” (WWII non-fiction, don’t ask), and eating more toast. Now that’s vacation.

Chris, Jen and Ethan finally made it on island (it took them twenty four hours, again: don’t ask), by which time the fridge was packed with the essentials: Parmalat, Kalik, and bread (for, you guessed it, toast).

Everything picked up from there. I felt better, mom was at ease and in her “Grammy” element, and Chris and Jen were just plain relieved. I took to snorkeling, reading, and eating. That’s my vacation in a nutshell: snorkeling, reading, and eating.

We took numerous family adventures, some to exotic locales like Double Bay beach, and some to places like Muriel’s Bakery. Double Bay is as it sounds: a wind-swept, wave-strewn, W-shaped cove on the Atlantic side dotted with palms and streaked with reef. But there wasn’t another human in sight. Muriel’s Bakery, in contrast, took three roadside inquiries to find (ask a Bahamian anything and they’ll gladly share their time and wisdom with you — wonderful, warm people), and was, in fact, Muriel’s home. While Chris and mom made friends, bought bread, met the family (Muriel’s cousin greeted Chris thusly: “It’s taken us such a long time to finally meet my brother” — how awesome is that?), and played piano, Jen, Ethan and I played with a brand-new litter of puppies in the backyard.

The whole trip — the actual travel to and from notwithstanding — was just that magical. There was no hurry, no fuss. Every turn offered a simple pleasure: a produce stand, a vista, an adventure. Chris and I dove on a wreck. Ethan piled sand. My mom walked and walked and walked, and chaperoned us all about the island. Jen just kept calling us all crazy, but I know she was having fun, and I’m 99% certain she was relaxed. It was great. Chris found two conchs while snorkeling which the local restaurant — there are about five on island — gladly whipped into conch fritters. Leaving, as one might guess, was not easy.

I made it home late last night (my luggage has yet to arrive). I got word that a colleague — an awesome, sweet, handsome, hard working, always ready with a smile colleague — had died in a car accident Wednesday night. I don’t quite know how to reckon these two feelings: the joy I feel for my time away with my family, and the sadness I feel for Doug and his. All I know is that this is it, people. Hang on tight, speak up, and get on with it. This is really happening.

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