There are times in life when a person has a particular need. Nothing else is enough. Only that one singular need. If I were lost, ten miles from Badwater, in the center of Death Valley, that need would be water.
For me, in the bleak months of Winter ’15, that need is simply warmth.
Warmth. It sounds so simple when you say it, but in the North Country, it is an elusive dream to pursue. Halfway to the garage, with a bag of recycles in one hand and the kitchen garbage in the other, I can shout it into the icy forest.
I’ve left messages but I don’t get a call-back.
Until now. I’m sitting on the sand of Condado Beach on the edges of San Juan, Puerto Rico…and I’m finally warm. Here is a little of my story…of how I got to find warmth.
A mere four days ago, we walked from Penn Station in New York City to our hotel on 28th Street and 7th Avenue. We were pulling our rolling suitcases and carrying our backpacks through a heavy snowfall of thick, wet, clingy flakes. It was too short a distance to take a taxi. But the snow clogged the tiny wheels of our luggage and stuck to our coats. We arrived at our hotel looking like Robert Falcon Scott on his return from the South Pole (that would be before he froze to death on his homeward journey).
I struggled with our suitcases. Now I struggle with dragging a chaise lounge to the best possible position to see the water and feel the sun.
I close my eyes and feel the infrared radiation from a fire that is 93,000,000 miles away. I hear the surf. Opening my eyes, I’m confronted with three colors. The blue of the sky, the green of the sea and the light brown of the sand. Then I become aware of more hues. The breakers are white. The few clouds are white.
My sense of hearing begins to pick up more sounds than the waves. Faint music plays in the distance. People are chatting. A man peddling flavored ice cones is ringing a bell. But, mostly it’s quiet except for the surf. Colors of different kinds catch my eye. I see the bikinis of the 22-year-old girls. The suits are tiny, like little swatches of fabric. They are bright like a road pavers safety vest. They hurt my eyes even through my UV protective sunglasses.
My left shoulder feels like an overdone slice of bacon. Is my SPF #30 strong enough?
Twenty feet away is a young woman in a thong. Is there a thong? Maybe not. Maybe I’m getting too much sun.
I feel the need to run and jump into the water. I get a few feet out and a wave hits my legs and it’s surprisingly chilly. Then, after a few more waves, the chill is gone. It’s actually warm so I wade out even further. A large swell is coming at me but I deftly rise with it and then it’s breaking on the beach. Not so lucky the next time. The waves begins to break as it nears me. I take a breath and dive into the wall of water. The salt water injects itself into my half-opened mouth and my nose. Hopefully, it’s killed any lingering virus in my nasal passages that may have incubated for months while I sat in front a fire back home.
It tumbles me in all directions. I’m upside-down. I’m backwards. I’m roiling with the swirling power of the wave. I come up for air in time to see another monster bearing down on me. I’m twisted and turned again. I have no control. I check my designer earplugs from Walgreens. I can’t hear anything but a roar. Then I find air. I gulp some and it happens again. I’m overturned and flipped. I think I hear someone singing:
“Here am I, your special island. Come to me. Come to me. Bali Ha’i.”
I think I feel a mermaid brush against me. Am I on the rocks of the Island of Sirenum Scopuli? Is this a siren song? Will I be able to resist? Then I realize, it’s not a mermaid, but a boogie board tethered to a 9-year-old.
After several exhausting minutes, I’m back at the chaise lounge. I notice that all the men my age have barrel-like torsos with white chest hairs. They look like Hemingway (Ernest, not Mariel). Me? I look like an albino bank clerk from Lapland. But, soon I will be a bronzed god. I’ve already gone native. I put on a small earth-tone necklace (a choker, really) but I take it off when I sleep. I have a thing about getting my necklace caught around the bed post.
And, lastly, why the pigeons? Where are the sea gulls? Do they migrate?
Where’s the albatross? When my necklace gets broken by the crashing surf, I’ll need something to wear around my neck.