The plane landed with a thump. Our dog, who had been relatively calm during the five-hour flight, started to shake nervously. My husband, Steve, and I were as excited as kids on summer vacation. It would be another few days before we too would start to shake.
Our feet hit the warm tarmac under a flurry of palm trees. We’d left the cold November weather of the U.S. Midwest behind for the sticky air of the Caribbean. We dragged our suitcases over sand to a dock where a makeshift bar was serving an island favourite called a Pain Killer. I guzzled one down, its sweetness and heavy shot of rum making my head a little light.
We climbed aboard a small ferryboat. Sunshine sparkled on the Caribbean waters. We were off.
Half an hour later we docked at the island we’d be calling home for the next two years. My salt-sprayed hair felt and looked like straw and it was hot, very hot.
Over the next month, I barely saw Steve, his job keeping him in a manic state for at least 14 hours of every day. We were living at the resort he was running in a tiny, rustic two-room villa on the Atlantic side. The sound of the ocean’s swell was at times therapeutic, at others ominous. The calmer Caribbean Sea was on the other side of the resort and if you stood on middle ground, you could see both seas at once. Our friends and family thought we were in paradise. We weren’t so sure.
Steve had been laid off from his previous job in Wisconsin some eight months earlier. We’d sold our house and had been floating between family members for the past four months. When this job came up we knew he’d have to take it or we’d be rocking our chairs on our children’s porches forever.
Could we handle living an endless-summer existence? The Caribbean was never a place we’d been remotely interested in. We were more the mountains/hiking/skiing/wine-by-the-fire kind of folks.
But here we were, Steve working constantly, both of us miserable from the heat and never-ending bites from mosquitoes and no-see-ums, tiny bugs that invisibly tear at your skin. We were trapped on a roughly 13-kilometre-long island in a cove that was only accessible to the rest of the island by boat, craving our old life,. We missed our family and even the guilty little pleasures like McDonald’s. Though we only ate McD’s once or twice a year, it still ended up on our most-wanted list.
I was able to escape the island for a short while to visit my family in Toronto and Waterloo, including a brand-new grandson, but Steve had to stay and work. And work. And work. Our sweat pooled as we clung to each other at the airport. I promised to bring him back a Happy Meal.
The rainy season arrived on the island while I was away and continued relentlessly upon my return. The waves were high, the winds wild and the ferry ride back to the island was one I will never forget. The boat rocked and rolled and banged and became airborne. I have never in my 57 years been so frightened. The one thing that got me through was envisioning my grandbaby’s smiling, drooling, chubby face. That was a little piece of paradise I wasn’t ready to give up to the sea.
The locals say it rains here one cloud at a time. Steve couldn’t see beyond the dark ones that seemed to hover over him daily. He didn’t know if he could continue at this pace. The logistics of everything seemed unsolvable, or if there were solutions, he couldn’t seem to find them. But did he want this job to defeat him? And where would we go? How would we live? Were we trapped in Shangri-La?
At a particularly low moment, Steve popped in to our little abode to change his clothes, drenched from yet another downpour. After the rain, we stood out on our porch, Steve leaning on me, exhausted, beaten down and confused. I put my arm around his vanishing waistline. Together we looked out at the ocean, whitecaps cresting, bubbling then smoothing out as they calmly reached the shore. Suddenly, there it was in all its glory: a rainbow. It was as if a child had dipped her brush into every pot of colour and swept it across a canvas of blue. Our jaws dropped.
“It’s beautiful, Steve,” I gushed.
I’ve seen many rainbows in my life but there was something serendipitous about this one. Within the next few days things started looking up. Steve could see real progress at work. Foundations at the resort were repaired and pathways were paved. Overgrown vegetation was transformed into landscapes of noble trees with shining leaves, shocks of colourful bougainvillea blossoms, cacti standing proud and grasses feeling soft and cushy underfoot. The team was pulling together. Guests began to stream in from boats and planes. They frolicked on the beaches, parasailed in the air, dove for lobster and dined in heaven.
We’ve been on these shores a few months now. Steve still hasn’t had a day off, but he’s energized by his accomplishments. I’ve been Skyping family and planning my next trip home, and friends and family are booked to visit us here. Every morning we drink in the salty air and listen to the sounds of the ocean, our hearts happy, our lives forever changed. We recognize and appreciate the natural beauty and gentleness of life that the locals know and love.
We will only be guests here in paradise for two years, but I know we’ll take a piece of their rainbow with us when we return. And how do you thank a little island and her peoples for that?
Virginia Foley is a Canadian living in North Sound, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.