Almost a week has passed since we walked around our little corner of Isabel Segunda to say goodbye to our closest friends and neighbors. For two folks who live in the woods most of the time, it was with mixed emotions that we were leaving at all. We feel as if we are now a part of the community we have grown to love on the island of Vieques.
Our first stop was at Güido and Olga’s house next door (just past the blue house, which is our house). When Güido said “We are going to miss you.” I choked up a bit. I could feel the tears welling up inside as we stood in front of the driveway gate, its recently painted surface already responding to the elements, a tiny shimmer of rust creeping back under its coat of white enameled beauty.
From house to house we went. Everyone received a note, written in both English and Spanish, thanking them for their hospitality, thoughtfulness, and support. It was their friendship and laughter, however, that I’ll remember the most. Those that were home often gave a hug or a kiss on the cheek. It was hard to say goodbye.
From the North Americans who spoke only English to the Puerto Ricans who spoke only Spanish we went, one block at a time. Heartfelt goodbyes, each and every one of them. New friends, new acquaintances, and a new desire to go back to the 10th grade and really try harder in Spanish I. Had it not been for a girl, I probably wouldn’t have been there at all. Forty plus years later I’m finally convinced that my lack of skill in languages is a barrier to honest, open, and sincere communication. Not that a smile and a hug can’t substitute for words, but the feeling of inadequacy that comes when you can’t speak the native tongue is a bit startling. As for the girl, I’ve got the best one ever, and I didn’t have to go back to the 10th grade to find her!
As we were locking up for the night, our last night, I could hear laughter on the front porch across the street. Maria and Roberto were carrying on once again, alone in their element, the overhead light turned off. Their antics made me smile and laugh, but I don’t ever want to be 16 again. I walked over to say goodbye and shook their hands. We all laughed as I clumsily shared what I had to say, and Roberto said that he would see me when I got back. I told him to be good to Maria, and I think he understood, at least I hope he did. The kid has a killer smile. I like him a lot.
An hour or so later, sitting in the living room listening to the waves roar on the beach below, a visitor came to see me. I’m thinking it was a sign, but I’m not sure yet what kind of sign it was. The little brown lizard just appeared on the table, perched on my iPhone as if he was a permanent resident and expected. We stared at each other for a minute or two. Me, the six-foot giant and he, the six-inch, somewhat prehistoric, creature of the night. I laughed once again at yet another of the many juxtapositions of Vieques. Had the lizard just come to sit on the table, perhaps I could have gotten off a quick picture with my iPhone. But alas, no, the lizard was perched on my iPhone. With a little help from Marie, and a bright red plastic bowl, he was eventually coaxed back outside, but only after he took a quick spin across the back of the chair and up and down my shoulders. Perhaps just another friend, coming to say goodbye?
Almost a week has passed, and we are home. Back in the woods once again, the cool, quiet woods, but like many things in life, forever changed. That is what happens, I guess, when you dare the impossible, with a partner who is as daring as yourself, and challenge the unknown. Less than 12 months ago we were just packing for our first trip to Vieques. I remember so well leaving Culpeper in a snow storm. It was February 17th and it was cold and white outside.
February 17th is now just around the corner, just a year later, and we have a “home away from home” that we love. Not more than this one, but different from this one. We do miss the warmth of the sun, the depth of the sky, and that big blue ocean that we can see from the back porch. And yes, we miss our friends and neighbors. Mixed emotions, indeed.
The good news, however, is that we get to go back. We hope you will come visit!