Restless, Adelia Ritchie, 2005

Just Another Day in Paradise

Oh, the air is so lovely here! So warm and humid and fragrant, she thought, descending the stairs from the wobbly little aircraft that had hiccupped its way across the Caribbean from San Juan. Something had come over her as she touched the ground. Why do I want to take off all my clothes and drink rum?

Little more than an outcropping of volcanic rock, St. Thomas pokes out of the sea at one end of the Sir Francis Drake Channel that runs the length of the Virgin Islands. With steel bands on every corner, gold jewelry being scooped up by hordes of sunburned tourists, Rasta men slamming dominoes in the square, and people walking about ver-r-ry slowly, the air intoxicates. Rhythms take command of the body. Sailboat riggings sing hypnotic melodies in the warm breeze. Stress melts away and flows into the sea, nourishing one-celled organisms at the base of the island food chain. Time stands still.

She soon discovered there wasn’t much to do but get tan and get drunk, and when good and drunk play backgammon at the “Bilge,” the bar at the end of the C-dock in Charlotte Amalie. Stacks of clear plastic drink glasses were readied for the popular saloon game “Cucaracha caught ya!” She didn’t have to wait long to see a substantial Caribbean cockroach skitter across the bar, interrupting the din of the dice with the smashing of plastic cups attempting to imprison the offending Cucaracha. When it was finally captured, game on! as everyone slammed their money on the bar, betting big bucks on how long it would take the cockroach to push the cup off the edge in his bid for freedom.

Oh yes, another shitty day in paradise, she thought. Tropical climes must be brain-damaging. Immediately upon arriving in the islands, she felt the tension dropping away, followed too quickly by her clothes, her sobriety, her morals and ultimately her will to get up in the morning. Most of the folks there had been in the islands too long and were incurably brain-dead. She imagined colorful tropical vines growing out of their ears.

The days passed. The mañana syndrome crept over her body-mind and took command.

Her Greek husband Dimitri had been in the Navy most of his adult life and had a passion for the open sea. She was a skilled SCUBA diver but couldn’t imagine life without a mailbox planted in solid ground. Yet here she was, living aboard a Morgan 51' sailboat, drinking yet another Mount Gay and OJ, listening to Dimitri putter in the engine room below decks.

What a perfect spot for diving, she thought. Dimitri was busy, and the wreck of the Rhone, where The Deep was filmed, was right under their sailboat. Disregarding the cardinal rule of buddy diving, she jumped over the side equipped only with mask, fins, and snorkel, took three deep breaths at the surface and sank to the bottom.

Oh, I’m in heaven now. I’m weightless. Free. My spirit merges with sea life. An angelfish keeps me company, curious, biting my silvery bubbles. Eerie sounds like whale songs and coffin lids opening hypnotize. I am floating in warm waters, immersed in ecstasy, adrift in the beauty and serenity of the sea. I sense sand-covered treasures buried all around me. I explore the ship, enter a jagged hole in the side, finding only corals and encrustations of alien life forms inside. I am at one with the Universal Consciousness. Time floats. On a bronze plaque attached to a coral head on the sea floor, I read a description of the events surrounding the shipwreck, and learn that this portion of the wreck is in (oh my!) 55 feet of water.

I calmly calculate that there are approximately three oxygen molecules left in my lungs. I look through silvery light lasers descending from the surface, an impossible distance away. I will die here. Happily. At peace. My spirit-self dissolves, spreading out into soft warm waters, merging with sparkling waves, luminescing with night-plankton, singing Circean love songs, eternal…

Wait! What’s this? A torrent of noisy SCUBA divers approaches, blowing bubbles, kicking up clouds of silt, disrupting my tranquil environment. They want to rescue me! How dare they! They have entered my dreamscape uninvited. Waving them away, I revel in their astonishment at finding a human loitering at this depth with no visible means of life support. I carefully ascend, following their bubbles to the surface (I have no air for making bubbles), leaving them with a richness of material for their post-dive bar chatter about the Mermaid of the Rhone. I break the surface. I awaken from the dream. I breathe. I mourn the paradise I have left behind.

As she clamored back aboard, Dimitri, oblivious, was still working on the engine.

A long time denizen of the Pacific Northwest, PhD science lover, educator, artist, farmer, chicken wrangler, contributing editor at SalishMagazine.org.