I was in my 20s, and fairly flat broke. I was working the latest in a long string of little hotels where I was at the front desk and did much less anything that I wanted because I was usually the only person on shift. Very like many of the millennial’s with whom I have very little else in common, I was still living at home and working in a directionless job. However, part of the reason that I was without my own home was because I hated living by myself. Even now, I hate getting up every morning and having no one to say good morning to, and no one at night with whom to smile and wish them well for the evening.
But I digress.
A local radio station, at a time when local radio stations were one of the few ways to stay connected to the music industry, was planning a trip from the middle of a snowy February in Illinois for one day to Freeport in the Bahamas. The idea was that a plane would be chartered, one room rented (or was it two, one for men and one for women?), and a big group of people would each pay $200 to go down to the Bahamas for one single day.
Well, of course I signed up.
Arriving at the airport in the chill darkness of 3am on a February morning was bracing, contributing nothing to the hope of sun and fresh ocean air. The plane was a party, although being the quiet, reserved type I only observed as the other passengers drank beer and began their party before most people began their day.
I was also alone on my journey, something most twenty-somethings would never have considered, but I had told only my mother of my escape, and her response was something like “Don’t let your father know what you’ve done”, which was often the response to my flights of whimsy and daring, secret adventures. Quietly reckless, and often lost in the crowd, I experienced my life like a ninja, there, yet only in the shadows.
Well, ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that exciting. But I didn’t tell my father I was off to the Bahamas on a cold, February morning and would be back that night. There was no need for that conversation.
We spent a few hours traveling to our destination, and landed in sun, while suddenly being filled with the sound of the Atlantic Ocean.
The beach was soft sand, highlighted with tufts of grass and curved arms of the palm trees that reached up and out toward the water like the delicate wave of a dancer’s arm. The beach was thick, without the flatness of Daytona, the only other beach I had seen up to that point. Women were offering to put braids in the hair of travelers, for a price of course, but they had kind eyes and beautiful smiles.
For an Illinois girl, the heat of the sun in February was like salvation. It was certainly proof that God existed and had been inspired to create paradise on Earth.
I went into the room that had been rented, changed into a bathing suit and cover-up, then went through the lobby and walked into that promised heat and light as if waking from a third shift job to find that daytime did still exist for the rest of world. It was like breathing took on new meaning, and I was instantly a beach girl, even if I had to wait years to live anywhere close to a beach.
I took a break from the sun and sea air to eat lunch with my voucher, which was a part of the one day vacation package. I ordered a seafood salad, expecting a mayo laden combination of crustaceans on a bed of lettuce. Instead, it was a platter of delights from the sea that at the time was well beyond my palette. I still thought it was terrific, and I ate some of the different portions of the chilly, delicious plate before going into the casino.
I had never been in a casino before. At the time, there was no gambling anywhere near where
I lived, nor did I really have the desire to seek it out. Still, I took my roll of coins and went to a slot machine and spent the better part of an hour spending, making some back, then spending again until I finally ran out.
It was the beach, however, that drew me out of that dark room with the red carpet and flashing lights. Once again I went out into the crowd, laying my towel down and sitting facing the roll of waves as they softly fell to crash against the sand, only to roll out once more. The motion was life, the sound was music, and I remember this sense of peace being absorbed through my skin, such was the delight of that moment.
A young woman, though older than myself, offered to braid my hair and I softly smiled and shook my head no and thanked her anyway. The young woman who was seated not too far from me took her up on her offer. I watched between moments of continuing my bath of light and heat, as her blond hair was expertly braided into thin plaited strands that feel from the side of her head, and once done, clacking softly with the collision of beads that topped off the creation.
The rustle of palm trees was a constant undertone, the air salty and my skin getting a slight pink. It never occurred to me that it would seem strange to have a sunburn in the middle of winter. I didn’t care that I might have to explain, but it seemed that it was so strange that no one ever asked.
I dreaded the moment of our departure. The day had opened like a refrigerator in the middle of the night, satisfying the craving for sun and heat, before once again abruptly shutting and leaving the chill of the night.
The day was long, yet vanished in an instant as the group was eventually led back to the plane, which then traveled for what seemed like too short of a time before landing once again in the darkness of winter.