SEPTEMBER 2008 – NO. 26
You gaze at me now from the pictures
A wedding took place in our home on January 2, 1982, a day when heavy rain washed out creeks, killed 29 people and caused hillsides and houses to slip onto major roads. Oblivious to the destruction, we admired the rolling clouds over our deck. Doug's mother, two years into brain cancer sat front row center, next to my mother whose hair was the auburn of Ronald Reagan's. The best man, newly a father, stood proud next to Doug; his wife and son resting in a guest bedroom. It was a day following ten years of living together thinking that we were too young or too busy to marry – ten years graduating from college, moving across country, buying houses, starting businesses, making new friends and traveling as lovers and best friends. It was a day, ten years into our life together, that marked the beginning of our 25 year search for the perfect honeymoon.
After the wedding, in our short honeymoon in Carmel, a storm blew smoke back through the fireplace chimney into our seaside room. The couple next door seemed alternately horrified and thrilled.
"Oh, help, help!" He was well over six feet tall, dark, with steel-blue eyes, running through a hallway that constrained him to a few steps before turning back and turning again. A scarf around his head tied into a bow on top would have completed the look. His booming voice seemed to keep him in motion.
Stopped in our path, his slight, blonde partner panicked. "Do you think the smoke could kill us?"
Doug smiled. "Open your window just a little to let the smoke out of your room. Don't open it all the way."
We returned to our room and slithered out of my satin nightgown. Smoke, wind, and rain slapping our windows, nighttime and the sweet touch of my husband made our honeymoon. We both agreed that we would continue to search for the perfect honeymoon; one of leisurely weeks, days filled with nature, and celebration of newness before us.
Over the years we traveled to Hawaii, each time saying we were previewing honeymoon locations. Doug made travel arrangements.
"We'll have a balcony overlooking the ocean and I made sure the bedroom is on the water so we can listen to the waves." He had specific requirements, and assured them with sparking brown eyes.
"Sweetheart, come see. I made this sunset for you." His baritone voice called me, taking credit for crimson swatches against pink and orange. When I reached his side he glowed. "What do you think?"
"This one may be the best yet."
It was our game, our promise to keep looking. On our Cayman Island dive trip I was mildly seasick much of the time. Dolphins leapt on each side of our bow for miles as we crossed from island to island. Landside, magenta flame trees offered fleeting shade as we puttered on mopeds.
This was the trip where Doug's dive buddy stood on chum as three eight-foot nurse sharks circled the divers below the boat. I heard the story when they came up and later saw the episode on videotape, a story that fed my fear of scuba diving.
"Give it a try." As Doug urged me on, I looked at Stuart our dive master, who reviewed basic dive tables with me and then promised, as my buddy, to keep me on measured descent and ascent. Doug beat us off the side of the boat.
My legs floated out, tossing me into a lounge position, my feet parallel to my ears. That was the funniest thing. "Oh no," in my brain, I giggled. "Nitrogen narcosis at 25 feet."
I adjusted to the oxygen tank pulling me backward and looked through sunlit water at mute coral reefs and a scattering of fish in ruby, cobalt, golden and charcoal. It was the world I expected to see rendered strange by sun beaming through water, shafts of light electrifying every particle before me, then shifting, a soft mosaic as the surface tide whispered toward the shore. Darting, hungry fish glimmered into this mosaic stopping to pull at the coral, then chewing with painted tropical lips in a sound that I heard ever so faintly like distant potato chips, a crunch just beyond reach, but real. I heard a world I had never imagined.
Doug fluttered eel-like to peek under coral and between rocks. Stuart led but Doug narrated, beckoning me on to see a shy octopus, slimy sea cucumbers, starfish, and morays hidden, awake for a strike.
"That was easy — and beautiful!" Back on deck I felt accomplished.
"You did fine. But there's so much more to see when you're in deeper water in the open ocean. There are many more little creatures and fish that don't come this close to shore." The words spilled out of him.
Doug designed microchips that created and shaped the sounds produced by electronic music synthesizers. Music industry meetings dominated his Tokyo agenda. Taking the Shinkansen Express to Hamamatsu we bulleted through misty countryside glimpsing blue tiled, upward turning roofs that distinguished ordinary stucco houses. We arrived for more meetings, soon to reboard the train to Kyoto, a taxi to our ryokan. Cross-legged on cushions over tatami mats we sat in low light with a high sense of discovery eating kaiseki of pickled vegetables, sashimi, and tempura.
"When in Japan .... ; " Doug directed his answer to me rather than the smiling, bowing older man who arrived at our doorway. The old man set down a basket of soaps and towels and turned on steaming hot water. We knew one didn't soap in the tiny square tub, so we took turns soaping, rinsing and then soaking. Deep heat penetrated our flesh and being, sleep overtook us, and we woke to sunlight warming us in a simple, beautiful place.
"I love this, but it's not quite a honeymoon," we said to one another.
On our trips to Europe, most places disqualified themselves for a honeymoon. There was so much to do and see in England, but London didn't have sunsets or the sweeping vistas. Holland and Germany were all business; trade shows, meetings with music industry customers and partners, all under dark skies. The forest where I ran was sparse with stringy trees. Business continued in Italy until we broke for vacation in Rome, Florence and Venice, just cities. Since Doug hated France, our trip with our girls one year was a nod to the business of educating our children.
There were honeymoon moments in Europe. A flat with plump stuffed furniture overlooking the Thames, our first stop on our first trip to Europe together some years before we married. I fell asleep after a cup of tea, to awaken pink with contentment in his arms until the jolt.
"Sweetheart we can't sleep in the middle of the day. We have to be in this time zone."
In Cinque Terra, we hiked the mountain path that linked five little towns, lingered at beaches sprinkled with bikinis, nudes and multi-lingual chatter, and wandered each little town narrating local history to one another. By night we scrutinized food displays and menus before choosing a restaurant for dinner. We taught our girls how we traveled.
I'm not sure Doug claimed any of the sunsets to be of his making. History and hiking were rich, but none were our honeymoon spot.
One year, arm in arm in a pristine German train, I remember looking up at Doug, studying his sleepy profile, he thought his nose was big, I thought it was strong. His upper lip arched farther from the center than usual, calling attention to his thin mouth. His jaw line angled from chin to ear. Savoring every detail including an ear lobe with a tiny cleft, I inserted myself into his sleep. "I love traveling together."
He awoke momentarily to kiss me, and closed his eyes. Airplanes and trains always put him to sleep.
Europe was just too busy for our honeymoon. We both agreed on that.
On a catamaran trip in the Bahamas, I was newly pregnant with Ashley, and didn't scuba. Doug brought me orange juice and toast, took turns diving with friends and snorkeling with me. We free dove under rays with ten-foot wingspans, glimpsing their almost human faces. Doug stayed close as barracudas lurked in a semicircle just below the water's surface.
"Sweetheart, it's not you they like. It's your jewelry."
At night, we admired his sunsets and each other.
"Let's start our children swimming early so they can scuba dive when they're teenagers. I can't wait to show them what many people never see, all the creatures in their natural habitat."
Our girls hiked at our mountain cabin and camped on trips in our new minivan. One year we drove to Death Valley on a route that took us to Tufa towers, ghostly monuments of Mono Lake. The girls darted between the misshapen spires before climbing into the van to be entertained by choruses from a six-pack of Disney tapes.
We spent an afternoon at altitude 8,375 feet, in the abandoned town of Bodie. Peering into saloon windows, an upstairs bedroom, a dusty church, we saw the desperation of flight from a town overrun with thieves. Two-and-a-half-year-old Julia sputtered stories of her own making about, "the bad boys from Bodie."
Closing in on our destination, occasional Joshua Trees against rocky hillsides lured us, craggy hints, darkening colors drew us closer to Death Valley's varied beauty.
We reached the only point on earth that stretches from 282 feet below sea level to over 11,000 high, where stone formations in golden, turquoise and fuschia are named Artists Palletta; white salt flats shimmer in sunlight at Zabriskie Point; white persists in shadowed, lumpy formations on the Devil's Golf Course. Sidewinder tracks marred windswept dunes; roadrunners screeched and jerked across our paths. We hiked in 108-degree sunlit canyons, Julia seated comfortably in the pack on my back.
We felt a reverence for this place knowing nothing of its native Panamint Shoshone; their gatherings to dance, play games and hear storytellers pass on the history of the world, animals and People. We knew none of that nor of the 'red rock face paint' their ancestors used in their ceremonies, colors from their land. Did the spirits of this land sit with us here?
Leaning back after a camp dinner, filled with wellbeing under stars crowded across the sky, I said to Doug, "We work so hard for our lifestyle, but look where we come for contentment."
Sitting together on Death Valley's immense floor, we surveyed crowded pinpoints that threatened to spill out of a brimming sky, knowing that fledgling stars waited to appear exactly where the spilt ones started. We breathed deeply together as we had between contractions, this time watching our little girls sleep, here in a sandy desert outside our tent simply sitting, together. "It's kind of a family honeymoon," he said.
Ashley and Julia grew; their activities pulled Doug and me in different directions, sometimes to different cities and parts of the country. Doug added rugged, ten-day hikes with our nephews in scenic places I would have loved minus the rigor of their vertical climb — the Grand Tetons, the Olympic Mountains, the Milford Trail and Machu Picchu. A younger nephew took charge of scheduling these trips, always it seemed, at times when our family had layered sets of plans and activities with me left to manage. Never consulted in advance, I wallowed in resentment and complained angrily. It all rolled off Doug. "In one ear, out the other," his mother once said of him. He came home from each trip tired, happy to see us, stepping easily into the pace of our life.
In recent years he sprinkled in heli-skiing trips to Kicking Horse and Snowbird, biking/camping in Moab, and rondonee skiing on any backcountry slope with snow. He lived his passion for nature; it made him healthy, vibrant, the man I loved more deeply than ever. I felt a dawning happiness that he packed his life, feeding his passion the way devoutly religious people absorb scripture. Doug lived his dreams.
We traveled as a family to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon, Telluride, Maui, Bucerias outside Puerto Vallarta, and cities across the country. The girls entered their teens. The man who drew circuit diagrams on Hawaii's beaches and worked long hours prototyping new inventions talked retirement. He never did wear a watch.
I remember no conversation, no deliberation about going to the British Virgin Islands, accepting the invitation to sail with another family, close friends, for two weeks. Like drops of water congealed in a wave, we were just going. You loved adventure, I always worried about something, this time the sailing prowess of our captain. Because we were going together, I put aside my worry, finding courage in your strength and happiness.
Between booking travel, getting the girls scuba certified and you recertified, planning menus and buying gear, I carried on daily activity suspending thoughts of the trip until we landed in the balmy St. Thomas airport. The ferry to Road Town, a beat up metal contraption decorated by chips in metal seats, got us there safely enough. Our dinner photo shows 11 already tanned, athletic people: two extended families with perfect smiles.
We knew it would not be a perfect vacation. Seventeen-year-old Ashley had become hostile, asserting, "None of my friends' moms worked. You left me with nannies, you weren't there for me." Her anger, mostly directed at me, encroached. I vowed to ignore as much as I could. I could see that she was hurting you too; more than once you told me. Your sister who joined us for the first week offered to take her to Kansas. You told me you didn't want that, you wanted Ashley to come through this with her parents.
We found our boat in the harbor, our 54 footer. As designated dive master, you immediately became busy with ropes, tanks, buoyancy compensators and wet suits. Simon, our captain, absorbed himself in navigation, radios and controls. Sally and I took a cab to the market, an overcrowded jumble of people leaning against buildings, lingering in the parking lot. The inside overflowed with undersized carts pushing against each other through narrow aisles lined with food and beverage to satisfy a mix of nationalities. The produce was spotty; meat, cheese and dairy safe enough as long as our boat had good refrigeration. We loaded up for a week.
The sign across the road warned "Prevent the spread of HIV. Practice the ABC's. A = Abstinence B = Be faithful C = Condomize." The natives weren't overly friendly, or unfriendly. They weren't overly helpful or not. We were guests; this was their island.
Do you remember, the sun went behind clouds as we motored out of the harbor to open water, but it was still sticky hot? We sailed leisurely, Sally and Simon calling out the names of islands as we passed. There was a debate about making it to Foxy's, a well-known watering hole. A small white crescent of sand took priority. We dropped anchor; some set off for the beach while you skiffed with others to a choppy dive spot at a rock outside the harbor. Our sand, white against azure water, bright under sun undisturbed by wispy clouds, held us warm. We dug holes with Sally's three-year-old. You came back.
Setting out again with purpose, we ditched Jost Van Dyke, home of Foxy's, and sailed fast to stake out our night's mooring at Cane Garden Bay. The three-year-old screamed in Sally's arms, "I hate this, I hate this. I want to go home." Sally tucked her between towels cradling her to sleep. You slipped your arm around me laughing at my book, its pages whipped by wind.
You gaze at me now from the pictures. Lounging on deck, shirt open, hat low, calm water behind you, green verdant hills rising from the edge of the distant shore.
Sitting at dinner between your older sister, Barbara, and Julia; chin lifted, smile crooked — the reflection of my flash in your glasses does not hide your happiness.
Dog paddling toward the boat in Cane Garden Bay, a squint at me on deck, you are saying something, likely, "Do you have my glasses?"
Back on deck showering against a backdrop of ocean and islands receding one after the other in fading mists against a flat sky; you beam a smile.
Sailing took on a rhythm, a cadence of harbors, moorings, dives, snorkeling in caves, swimming to a near shore for drinks in bars that spanned tiny clearings between coconut palms. Pelicans skimmed the water and landed, teetering transients on buoys. Seagulls dogged us as we sailed, darting near and away, near and away again. Dolphins appeared, chattering, then slipped under our wake. We stopped at Cooper Island, where Frangipani and Tamarind trees were posted with signs "Sea Grape Boutique" and "Sorry We Don't Accept Garbage." We stopped there more than once for its lounge chairs and long shallows lapping water onto the beach. That was a good spot for the three-year-old, but not for Ashley. I told her we would both cut the trip short if she could not change her tone, the opportunity coming in a day or two when we landed to restock for the second week. Though we were both hurt, you remained steady, "She needs love. She just needs our love."
Do you know, you were wrong — and right?
I hold you in my mind's eye strong against the mast letting wind scatter your hair as you inhale salt, meet gentle spray. I relive dinners I smelled before eating. You barbequed deck side, making smoky rich tastes start at the back of my throat. With the fade of each day, darkness sealed us, particles in the sea, in earthscape after filtered sunsets, into night. Your look said it; you made those sunsets for me.
You kept your promise to the girls and they loved every minute, each scuba diving in different and characteristic ways. Julia memorized tables, logged her dives immediately upon returning to deck, and commandeered a camera to record sea life. Ashley needed continuous reminding of the buddy system and refused a wet suit preferring just a rash guard over her bikini. I relive the conversation after one dive.
"I thought, 'who throws garbage dumpsters into the ocean'." Spoken indignantly by Sally in her clipped British accent.
"Couldn't see anything and wondered why everyone was pointing in that direction," someone else said.
"When I found Ashley she was already inside," You were not happy that she once again had left the group.
"Daddy, I saw air masks hanging down and these baby turtles that were so new they weren't even tagged," Ashley said. "It was so cool."
You conceded that she led the group into the sunken plane, her prize seeing its shy occupants before they could flee the divers.
We lingered in dark waters, dark skies on the fourth of July. Fireworks spat their explosions, formations and patterns dim in the distance over American islands. We were a country away, in shadow and blackness lit by stars. We sailed on.
Virgin Gorda's hillsides, boulders and harbors called us to hike, climb and snorkel. At the Bitter End Yacht Club bars appeared on my cell phone for the first time on the trip; we both rushed to call our office. You went first, only to flip the phone willy-nilly into the harbor. The group around you saw it happen and howled anticipating my anger, your smile like a crack in glass when you told me about my phone. We didn't need to call the office.
These moments all happened, but what stays with me now: your arm slipping around me, the good night I'm so tired kisses, the "here I am, coming back on deck" smiles of triumph. Oh, what I'd give for a smile of triumph.
Did I ever tell you? I don't think so. Many nights on our imperfect sail, as we folded into our berth like pages, side-by-side, long in our envelope, together; I fell asleep thinking, "This just might be our honeymoon."
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