Jacob stalked over to the side of the driveway and stopped, two feet behind the daffodils that flanked the winding terracotta-colored paver path to the front door. Lining up the tips of his shoes with the seam in the stone, he swung his nine-iron and whacked the head off the miniature lawn statue. For as long as he could remember, he’d hated the thing. His soon-to-be ex-wife was a fan of ornamental landscape décor and now that she was gone, he no longer needed to tolerate the kitschy vulgarity. The gnome’s hooded head took flight, the resounding whiiiip a red blur slicing the air above the large expanse of his manicured lawn.
On any other day, he would have been proud of his smooth stroke. And he would have been proud today, had it not been for the triangular projectile’s unfortunate encounter with the windshield of a passing BMW. The skid marks left on the pavement by said BMW would surely give the street cleaner something to fret over come Monday morning.
“What in the actual hell was that?” Curly black hair splayed out in all directions as the woman slammed the driver side door while exiting her conspicuously-consumed vehicle. She continued her tirade as she barreled toward him. “You could have killed me!” Her head twisted side to side, her glare ping-ponging between Jacob and the midnight blue car.
Jacob set the end of his club next to his shoe and leaned on the handle, taking careful stock of the stern-faced beauty as she came to a halt in front of him. Her fists clenched with indignation. She was decidedly not a red blur, certainly not a skid mark, but damn, he’d definitely love to consume her. He pushed the inappropriate, hedonistic thoughts from his mind, considered offering an apology, but instead remained silent, poised on his club, face expressionless. It was the correct response if he’d wanted to infuriate her, as it seemed to work quite well in that regard.
The windshield hadn’t been shattered, only deeply divoted, the scar large enough to make driving troublesome, if not downright hazardous. The woman, however, was a hazard only to him. Her beautiful green eyes threatened to pop out of her head and lance his skull when she pointed to the imbedded severed head.
He blinked. “But I didn’t kill you.” He watched as she blanched, appalled at his nonchalance. The rise and fall of her chest distracted him, and damn if he wasn’t inappropriately turned on by the volume of heaving he witnessed. Those had to be D’s, at least. Double-D’s. Chrome-gnome double-domes. Her tight white blouse’s buttons certainly had their work cut out for them. His head shook before the avalanche of crude, lecherous thoughts racing toward his tongue could articulate themselves.
With much effort, he willed his voice to remain calm. “I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience,” he offered, this time in earnest. “I can arrange to have it fixed for you today. I know a guy.” In fact, he’d been on his way to meet that very guy before he liberated his golf club from its caddy and unleashed his fury on the unsuspecting lawn ornament. His best friend happened to be in the auto glass industry, and owned a shop two miles away. His ringing phone reminded him there was no way they’d make their 9 AM tee time. Without looking down, he swiped and depressed the speakerphone button.
Jacob’s eyes remained glued to hers as she squinted at him, miffed at his thinly veiled indifference. “Were you seriously golfing in your front lawn? Do you not take into consideration that cars, other people, children, could be seriously injured by your recklessness?”
His gaze fell, and he lost a few seconds while he gripped his club tighter.
“Hello? Jacob? Hell-ohhh…” His friend grew irritated as a more feminine yet pissed off voice broke his reverie.
“Excuse me, my eyes are up here.” She pointed, with both middle fingers extended, to the top of her face. “Fricken pervert.”
“Jacob? Jacob! Is the Bitch back to bust your balls?” The woman’s face twisted as his friend taunted him.
He fumbled with the phone before lifting it in front of his mouth. “Hey, Jer, it’s not the Bitch. Listen, can you replace a windshield of a …” He glanced over her shoulder. “BMW 328i, like, now? I won’t be able to make our 9 holes today.”
The woman with the wild hair, the flaming cheeks, and oh, yeah, her eyes are up there stood gaping at him as a slow smile spread across his face. It infuriated her.
“Yeah, I can. Should I come pick you u– “
The woman interrupted. “For your information, Jer, I’m not a bitch. But your friend here is the asshole who now owes me a serious apology. And a new windshield.” With that, she turned, strutted back to her car, and disappeared inside. Jacob’s eyes fell again, though not to her chest.
Perhaps the double Bloody Mary he’d sucked down for breakfast was a blessing in disguise. He’d never heard of anybody getting arrested for Putting While Intoxicated. The BMW’s owner approached him again, cell phone in hand and bullets shooting out of her eyes. The poor judgement he’d used thanks to the buzz he drank for breakfast may have saved him from getting behind the wheel, but it left him with the distinct feeling he was now in front of a one-woman firing squad.
Recently, I had the opportunity to impart some wisdom to a friend of mine who had just started using a smartphone. I’m certainly no expert, but while I tried to explain the dynamics of and the nuances inherent in Wi-fi, Bluetooth, hotspots, data connections, signal strength and app usage, I had to laugh at some of the analogies I came up with. The one I settled on is that of the internet being God.
I do believe the whole concept of having a smartphone is that you don’t need wi-fi to get to the internet at all; you’re just always able to connect, sort of like you don’t need to go to a church to “get” God. Wi-fi is like a church, a brick and mortar, fixed structure where the God Connection is fast, strong and personal; Bluetooth is like a priest or someone who could help you with the wi-fi Connection but isn’t the actual wi-fi itself; a hotspot is like a bible where you could “take the church” with you on-the-go, and so on. I pondered this concept all afternoon.
And then I thought of cats, which prompted this silly narrative that’s been addling in my brain.
We were all gathered in the stadium of the PreLife, a crowd of thousands eager to receive our assignments of how much Earth we were to experience, to Connect to. These PreLifers were here because they chose this particular planet; I specifically chose Earth, because it was only place you had any shot of being assigned as a Human. Otherwise, you might end up an inert gas that merely circles a planet, or an orbiting rock sphere belonging to one of those planets, or part of a craggy formation on some uninhabitable landscape in any of the 674,877 solar systems that comprised our sector. This room was for Earth-bound souls only, and we felt like the Chosen Ones. Emmett, my Soul Mate, and I sat, hand in hand, eager to hear our fate.
Among us Chosen Ones were those who had Lived before. They were the Old Hats, those who had ridden the planet so many times they were almost bored but yet felt obligated to serve one more round. The Frequent Fliers, who had, at least a few times, visited and experienced the planet’s Connectivity, wished to return to gain new perspective. The Newbies made up the rest. Emmett and I were two of them. We had not been to Earth even once. However, we were all looking forward to sharpening our skills at being Alive. Emmett was especially enthusiastic as we all huddled around Nestor, the sage who was handing out the Connectivity devices.
Nestor, clad in a long, flowing robe and emitting a soft white glow, looked out over us after affixing the Chart of Connectivity to the easel next to him. There was a palpable buzz of energy among the recruits, our eyes darting quickly between our closest friends and family to the organizational chart in front of us. It shifted, a digital cacophony of numbers, letters and symbols, none of which were readable as the assignments were still stabilizing. Silence descended upon us as we noticed Nestor raising his wand, and our ears instantly tuned in to the wisdom he would impart upon us. Emmett and I held hands.
“Alright everyone, listen up! You have all expressed a specific interest in going to the planet Earth, but in doing so, you have elected to have your mission chosen for you. I regret to inform you that some of you will be disappointed you have signed up for this mission, because, as you may or may not know, there are varying levels of Connectivity. And, frankly, they’re a crap shoot. We Elders threw Finity Darts to decide who gets what, and then made modifications accordingly. Now, for those of you who have ridden this planet before, I caution you to keep a tight lip on the subjective Connectivity of those who will receive ‘lesser’ assignments today.” Nestor used his fingers to air quote the ‘lesser’ distinction.
He continued. “We must give everyone an opportunity to experience Connectivity on their own terms, and divulging supposed ‘tricks and tips’ will only hinder a Soul’s progress, as what worked for you on previous visits might not work for them the same way.”
The silence we had fallen into deepened when he said this, a few of the Old Hats murmuring as though they had heard it all before. Other Souls, in particular the Newbies, turned their heads to gaze at their neighbors, suddenly worried that all prior communication here in PreLife had been rendered null and void. Emmett flattened his palm against the heel of my hand, ran his fingers slowly over the top of mine, and graced me with a comforting smile.
Nestor calmed our fears by smoothing his own hands over one another, blinking slowly, and nodding his head.
“Now, now, I see the angst in your eyes. You will still have pathways to communicate to each other. I simply caution you on dispensing advice without regard for each Soul’s individual journey.”
With that he bowed his head and raised his wand. He pointed to Emmett. My heart leapt.
“Dear Emmett,” Nestor began, “you have expressed an interest in the highest Connectivity, and so it has been granted. Your assignment includes a modest upbringing and a call to serve as a religious conduit. This means, you may choose between early education to become a monk, a rabbi, a priest, or a minister. Don’t get caught up on definitions. It all means the same thing to us. You will then embrace Connectivity on a 24/7 basis.”
Emmett’s eyes went wide as he gasped, his glee barely containable. “Yes, sir. I would cherish the opportunity to be Connected 24/7, Sir.” I wondered what his admission would mean for us. I was both excited and nervous.
Nestor wagged his finger, his head tilting in warning. “As you wish, however, this means, other Souls will be able to summon you at will, day or night, sunshine or blizzard, and you will have to respond. Are you quite sure up for this?”
“I would love it, Sir. I don’t need any respite. I can handle it!” Nestor handed him a large black transponder, which Emmett looked over curiously. “Sir, there is no power switch. And no charge port. How will I reload?” As he looked at me, I flinched. His 24/7 Connectivity was great but how were we to keep in touch with each other if his unit wouldn’t even charge?
Nestor patted his head. “You don’t have that luxury, Son. You will need to harness power from the Earth itself, on a continual basis, for your mission. And it must be both replenishable and unending. Sometimes you will feel very important and needed. But this job will also, at times, be unrewarding and thankless. Now, off you go.”
With a wave of Nestor’s wand, Emmett vanished. The rest of us stood in awe, the realization that there really was no going back. Once we received our assigned transponder, our fate was sealed. I missed my Soul Mate already.
Nervous glances flew from Soul to Soul as Nestor raised his wand to summon the next recruit.
“Mayla, you’re next.”
A shy female soul emerged from the crowd and stood before our leader. She looked both eager and terrified, her angelic halo of golden hair brushing her face and imbuing her with a soft, cherubic demeanor. In a barely audible voice, she answered, “Yes, sir. I’m ready for my assignment.”
Nestor smiled at her and took her hand, caressing it as he slipped her a pink transponder.
“You, dear, have also elected to shoulder a high Connectivity, and so it has been determined that you will be a Mother. This assignment will also require unending Connectivity, but only for a specific time period. From the moment your true calling kicks in, you will be needed on a 24/7 basis, but only for several years. As these years pass, you’re Connectivity will diminish, and you can rest. That is,” he chuckled, “until you become a GrandMother. Then, perhaps, you will feel the need for constant Connectivity once again. But this too shall diminish. So you see, you really have a neat little arrangement. Best of both worlds.” And as he waved his wand above her head, she too vanished.
Next, Nestor called recruit after recruit, handing out transponders and assignments of various degrees of Connectivity. Policefolk, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, government officials of varying importance, and several entrepreneurs came forward, one of whom actually whoop-whooped as he learned he would be the next CEO of SpaceX and launch a cruise ship into orbit. One by one, they learned their level of Connection. Most were happy.
Others, like me, wondered how much actual Connectivity we would receive, and as we feared the worst, became a tad despondent. Exchanging worried glances, we sat patiently and watched as our friends and family dispersed and then disappeared in front of our eyes. I grappled with missing Emmett after only a short time. Would I even be able to connect with him on Earth at all?
A seeming eternity later, Nestor bowed his head and sighed. “Okay, to everyone that is left, don’t be dismayed. You too will have the ability to Connect, albeit on a lesser scale. These assignments have been tailored to fit what we thought each of you could handle. Although you feel, now, that you could manage near-constant or high-volume network activity, we need to see some growth before upgrading your tasks. Therefore, some of you will become professional students. Some will be working-class, with or without families, or choose to remain single entities. This does not mean your jobs will be easier, less intense or less important. Simply put, you will have the opportunity to decide, on the fly, your Connectivity rate, and you will be able to selectively choose when and where to upgrade yourselves.”
As he called each Soul up to him, handed them a transponder and wished them well, they, one by one, disappeared. Soon, only a fraction of the original crowd remained.
“Now, most of the rest of you are assigned an easier set of tasks, for you will be inert objects. For these jobs, you shall experience random Connection but will not have very much say in when and where this occurs. However, in being such objects, you will enjoy an infinite opportunity to observe and learn from other around you. Among these objects, I am assigning you to become vehicles, houses and other buildings, furniture, tools, musical instruments…” he waved his hand noncommittally, to and fro, as if to indicate these were, in fact, lesser assignments. My stomach clenched as his gaze stopped on the Soul to the left to me. That Soul was weeping without shame.
“Dear lad,” Nestor consoled, “do not weep, for although these seem like lesser assignments, they are in fact pathways to learn and become more prepared for your next journey. In these roles, you will have to heed others, but it is not without reward. You will get the chance to use what you’ve learned at a future date.” When Nestor winked, the Soul to my left understood. And so did I. This was merely our first round, and after this task, we would be given another opportunity to ride Earth. Inwardly, I cheered.
As Nestor handed out more transponders, each and every time a new Soul was called, my heart sank. When was I going to be called? Would I be rejected and sent back to Nebulus, where I would again count the days until I was called?
Finally, only 24 of us remained. Our hands clasped before us, wringing with worry, we sat without a sound. Perhaps we weren’t going to be overlooked after all.
With a large sigh and a toss of his shoulder-length white hair, Nestor regarded us with pity. “Now it is time to reveal to those left, those who will have the least Connectivity, the solemnity of the task before you. You, the Few, the Chosen, and the Seemingly-forgotten. You, my dears, have the most misunderstood of tasks bestowed upon you. It is the most solemn, beyond reprieve, the most arduous task we have for our recruits, and there will be no modifications.”
A chill descended. We were mortified. We were going to become…
“Cats.” Nestor said, without apology. “You are to become Cats. You will have zero connectivity, you will sleep for most of your Earthly journey, you will heed no one and you will care not a stitch that this is the case. You will constantly feel maligned, ungrateful, unrecognized and underfed, although you will have the chance to multiply at an alarming rate.” As his robe fluttered in the breeze, Nestor pulled his sash tighter.
“Simply put, you will not heed anyone but yourselves, and because you will not have Connectivity, you will appear completely and utterly self-sufficient. Because of this lack of Connectivity, you will be given the privilege to be able to lick yourselves. Anywhere. You will be able to make your home inside or out, in the company of humans or alone. Unlike dogs, you will have the ability to potty indoor without consequence, should humans desire to provide you housing. But there is one thing, and one thing only, that you will torment you throughout your journey.”
We all stood, flabbergasted, unsure if this was a punishment or indeed a privilege. Nestor’s face stilled, the wrinkles appearing endless. His countenance grave, he inhaled with great effort. Each of the remaining Newbies grew severely intent on his every word. What would torment us? What would cause us such great agony?
“On Earth, there is a device capable of producing a small, intense red dot…”
(This trip happened a while ago but took me several months to work through the PTSD incurred by it and so the delay in posting.)
A vacation. A short but honest-to-goodness vacation. Something I’ve saved my pennies for and feel a quiver in my liver merely thinking about. Vacationing alone, venturing out to parts unknown. This is going to be epic. A true spiritually enlightening island getaway. I want to do yoga on the beach and meditate to the sound of crashing waves while Zenning the fuck out.
With no sleep, Friday morning at 3 AM, I start preparing, stuffing my low-carb feast of frozen protein bars, little plastic containers of cashews and pouches of beef jerky into every available nook of my carry-ons. Going to stay as focused and carb-free as possible. By 4:30, I’m out the door, on the way to Midway Airport.
With two backpacks perched on my shoulders, I queue up for the security check. Which is when I realize, my itinerary is not an actual boarding pass. This is perhaps the first sign of impending doom, but ever the optimist, I surged on, obtaining my pass from a kiosk and returning to the line. They wave me through Security with only a nod so I gain back most of the time I lost. Although I’m one of the last ones to board, a chorus of angels sings to me when I see one of the few seats left is nestled between Hottie-One and Hottie-Two. Yes, please.
To my left, Hottie-One resembles Jake Gyllenhaal, and to my right, just some random manform of beauty. Doesn’t matter. He’s older than thirty and he’s cute. Works for me. I’m not that picky anymore. Except… wait…. Hottie-Two decides he doesn’t like sunlight in his eyes while he’s trying to sleep, and he closes the window shade. Seeing my disappointment, he faces me. “I’d like to close it, but I can keep it open during takeoff if you’d like.” I barely hear this because his eyes, and, damn, …. I’d like. To keep it open. Um, what? Close your mouth, Lauren. And stop drooling.
After our initial ascent, the window shade plummets, and so do his eyelids. At least now I can stare without him knowing it. I pull out my laptop and start to read a romance manuscript that a fellow writer friend from Texas has recently asked me to critique. I’d heard everything is bigger in Texas and according to her novel, that is a correct assumption.
And, oh, critique I do. While I drool. And try to cover the screen as I highlight and type “OMG this is Hot!” about ten times in rapid succession. Poor Hottie-One (aka H-One) is working on a fossil fuel presentation while I sit here ensconced in some serious Hot-For-Teacher action, the lead student character halfway to O-Town and me trying not to squirm in my middle seat. At least I’m afforded the pleasure of rubbing elbows with H-One and H-Two on several only slightly accidental occasions. But, alas, the flight ends. H-One and H-Two-Oh-It’s-a-shame-I’ll-never-see-you-again both disperse. *Sigh.*
I have about an hour and a half to kill until I board my second flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau, Bahamas. I’m so enamored with this manuscript I’m reading, I don’t even care that once again, I’m one of the last passengers to board the aircraft. Somehow, I snag a window seat, disrupting a man who clearly figured that sitting on the aisle would secure him his own row. Think again, bucko. He’d be nice-looking if he weren’t wearing a scowl of general disdain for everyone who dare make eye contact.
“Excuse me.” He shoots me a harried glance, then grudgingly stands up and lets me through. “Thank you.” No desire to talk to this man and the feeling is obviously mutual. I keep reading the manuscript and blush to myself while I thoroughly enjoy the story. Once we get close to the Bahamas, I forget the manuscript and begin taking lots of pictures documenting the beauty of the islands. Such blue water! I can’t wait to go swimming.
The Nassau airport is beautiful. Slightly confusing, but using O’Hare all my life has prepared me to not panic when bombarded with a million signs and placards. The twin-engine plane to Andros Island is easy to find and off I go. But, damn. It’s a short, stuffy little plane. And smelly. And hot as hell. God knows what is coating the windows. I drag a napkin out of my backpack and after a few swipes, the greenish-brown film is lifted and I snap some more pictures. Unfortunately, it has started to rain. Hard.
Shaky flight but I love adventures. We disembark in the middle of the runway, all of us huddling quickly into the airport as we get soaked. It’s almost 4 PM and I’m tired, hot, and hungry. Paul Simon’s I Can Call You Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can Call Me Al trolls through my mind as I feel like a bit like scattered cattle in the orphanage marketplace… don’t ask me to recall the correct lyrics. I can barely think straight. Someone official-looking notices a rain-soaked foreigner with a glazed countenance and takes mercy on me, guiding me to a “taxi” and a woman I can barely understand who drives me to my destination.
Let’s call that destination OMiFuNo. As in, Out in the Middle of Fucking Nowhere. I chitchat with the woman driver all the way, and she assures me she will be back on Monday morning at 6:45 to pick me up and take me back to the airport. The next 60 hours are reserved for fun! Yea!
It’s too late to go down to the beach, and it’s too dark with rainclouds, and holy sheet, the mosquitos are threatening to lift me off the ground. I talk to the nice man named Freeman in the office/dining area of the OMiFuNo Lodge, and he prepares me a “salad.” I did request lettuce and cheese and dressing, and that is what exactly what I got. No more, no less. The man did his best but I suppose the difference between the Salads of the U.S. of A and what I was presented with surprised me. And not in a good way. Torn iceberg lettuce leaves with a garnish of American cheese sliced in crude triangles decorating the outer edges of the plate. Low-carb at its basest.
But I am tired, and Freeman is kind. Although TripAdvisor had encouraged me to think of this place as a little nugget of paradisal wonder, the OMiFuNo Lodge seems deserted except for me and three scrawny stray cats. Tossing some beef jerky down for them, I trudge to my room and flop down on my bed. I eat one of my protein bars while scratching my insect bites furiously and look forward to my Saturday morning snorkeling adventure.
An hour later, I’m zoned out. Here I laze, in Room 3 at OMiFuNo’s Lodge. Still wired from twelve hours of travel, I can’t sleep. And I’ve never felt so alone. Or, perhaps I have, although since all we ever really have is “now,” it’s a moot point. Everything is Now. I feel alone. Now. Purposeless. Except for writing my romance novels, which today does not seem like such an important accomplishment. I wax philosophic. It’s all I have to do since I can’t get the tv remote to cooperate. And my cellphone gets zero reception. Lah, dee… Dah. Boredom.
A truly fitful night of barely legitimate shut-eye ensues, thanks to the million bug bites screaming out for the scratch of a fingernail. Why I’m so melancholy is beyond me. Sixty percent of my skin is covered in mildly poisonous insect saliva and I’m aggravated because the nearest store is several miles away, and that anti-itch cream I brought? Oh, wait a minute. No. I brought copious amounts of shampoo and conditioner in my 2 oz. airline regulation bottles. Because there are just so many people here to impress with my luscious locks.
Scratched to high heaven and feeling dejected, I await my daily adventure. I take a shower and eat some Freeman-inspired scrambled eggs, bacon, and few bites of toast, and one smidge of fruit jelly. Freeman has been most cordial although I admit, I only understand about half of what the man says. His accent is very “tropical.” He drives me the mile to my snorkel site. Jesse, his uber-thin wife Chelsea and their two small children (plus dog) boat me out to several small reefs and blue holes. The snorkeling here is nothing compared to my experience in St. John, St. Kitts, or Dominica, but I try to enjoy the view regardless.
And in an earnest effort to enjoy the Now of my island adventure, I accept the experience for what is was, which comes served with slight humiliation of the ultimate Baywatch couple watching me beach myself, belly-first, onto their tiny boat after each of the four dives. Why the boat doesn’t have a ladder irks me but when your life revolves around scuba diving, swimming in vast oceans, and maintaining perfect bikini bodies, who needs stairs? The third self-launching onto the boat is hard because for some reason, my arms are already aching. However, I eventually hoist myself up, refusing to be embarrassed. Yes, I’ve got 20-odd pounds on me that refuse to leave but whatever. It’s me. And I’m OMiFuNo, remember? I just don’t GAF.
When I regain my footing on the boat the fourth and final time I dive, my reception borders on cruel, and although unintentional and innocent, takes a great deal of ignoration on my part. Their five-year old son looks me over and exclaims, “You are very fat!” At first, I thought I heard him incorrectly, because dammit, I’m not that fat. And screw you, privileged child. I bite my quivering lip and admonish myself.
WTH is wrong with you? You just internal-voice-insulted a kid who weighs all of forty pounds dripping wet…
I see his father turn abruptly and say something to him. I also see his mom shoot her husband a questioning glance, quietly telling him to admonish his son for his proclamation. I internalize my shock, speaking instead to the black Labrador Retriever, Duke. I pet him and ask him to scoot over so I could return my humiliated size 10 ass to the middle of the boat.
Further ignoring the undeserved comment, I converse with Chelsea as Jesse maneuvers toward the shore to conclude my trip. I hop back into the water at OMiFuNo Lodge after I fork over $100 of my favorite dollars and fight hideous amounts of insects to make my way back to my room. I’m exhausted. I try unsuccessfully to take a nap, then make my fat self go for a walk north on Queen’s Highway. Every muscle in my body aches. Upon finding a path to the beach, I start to cry. Surrounded by beautiful ocean and scenery, the awe that I felt while watching the shoreline from the plane has vanished. My sense of beauty as a sole and fulfilling experience has evaporated. My soul hurts.
It’s not just the kid insult. It’s…. everything. Even swimming in the ocean, my joy plummets as the fresh fingernail-scratch marks sting in the salt water. After lounging in the turquoise surf, verging between sniveling and feeling oh so lonely, my soul cries out silently for a connection with somebody, anybody I could find to soothe my lonesomeness, I succumb to despair. Feeling unworthy and fat and generally very hungry and tired and sad… Why the hell do I feel this way? I’m supposed to be having FuN. Zenning the fuck out. And I don’t like kids anyway. Where’s my goddamn yoga mat?
Screw you guys. I’m going home. In the shower, I take notice of more large welts on my skin. All. Over. Have I really been scratching that much? Using the spotty internet reception and my laptop, I research “skin irritation after swimming in Bahamas” and discover that there is currently a large concentration of jellyfish larva in the water. And really, I should have, of course, thought of that before jumping into a sparkling clear turquoise ocean. Because, duh.
I have two and a half hours to kill before meeting Freeman outside. He took pity on my hunger and asked me out for dinner at a restaurant a few miles away. I can’t wait. I hadn’t had more than bare minimum carbage in the past two days and my energy is dwindling. And then it hits me. That’s why I am so depressed and feeling so desolate. My body needs bare minimum 20 carbs per day to operate and when I tallied up what I had eaten in the past 48 hours, I couldn’t come up with more than 30. No wonder I feel dead inside. Melancholia solved.
Anyway, Freeman takes me and a few friends to a bar which blares loud music and boasts a buffet. I stuff my face with chicken and macaroni and cheese, and thanks to a nice man named Matt, didn’t spend a dime. The locals are also nice enough to load me up with plenty of insecticide since they see all the red welts on my skin. Matt even slips me a small bag of Ruffles and a Coke when he kisses my cheek goodbye. Island folk sure are generous. And slightly grabby. (Eat your heart out, Chelsea!) Back to my room, where although I am sticky and slimy with bug spray, I sit, tapping away a diary entry at my keyboard.
Undoubtedly the locals had no idea that my sadness consumed me this afternoon, but somehow, their souls heard mine lament its loneliness, and the universe answered my silent requests for company. It really does amaze me sometimes how Ask and You Shall Receive operates. What-fucking ever. Pass me the rest of those goddamn potato chips.
After another shower to rid myself of excess DEET, I lie down in bed and try to sleep. It’s only 830 PM and sleeping this early is foreign to me, except that by basking in potato starch, my mind is adrift on a sea of insulin. And itch. Itch. Itchy, itchy, itchtastic — why the fuck am I so itchy? It almost feels like something’s crawling on me. Flipping the light back on, I inspect the bed. Don’t notice anything, but take out the extra bedspread in the closet and sleep on top of it just in case. Maybe it’s still the jellyfish larva residue on the sheets.
The next day is a hiking adventure with a wonderful lady named Barb. She takes me through jungles and (almost) into caves and we swim in an inland blue hole. Very, very relaxing. Soothes my skin. And my desire for companionship, for Barb is a naturist and wonderful conversationalist as well. Unfortunately, by the time she drops me off back at OMiFuNo Lodge, the thunderclouds have rolled in and a wicked storm is brewing. Even the stray cats scramble to hide from the ferocious wind.
Having finally figured out the television remote, I have also figured out that the tv only receives one channel. And, lucky me, it’s a political channel that airs in-depth views of all the political heavy-hitters from elections season in a two-hour repeat loop. Just what I wanted to watch on my vacation. But then zzzzzzzt.
Power’s out. As in, there’s not a single light on anywhere. It’s pitch black inside as well as out and it’s only 5 PM. The wind whips up and howls outside, and any thoughts of dinner of any kind are erased because Freeman had mentioned earlier that if the storm was too bad he wouldn’t be able to make it back to the lodge. And so I’m alone. Again. Naturally.
Alone and really, really hungry. One pouch of beef jerky left, one 2 oz serving of cashews. My low-carb vacation is doing wonders for me as I’m sure I’ve already lost that 20 pounds from yesterday just by hiking and swimming so much today. Alas, I am exhausted and decide an hour’s nap during the rainstorm would be wise. And so I lie down.
And… itch, itchy, itchiness to the nth degree… This is no jellyfish larva issue. I swam in freshwater blue holes today. This has to be something in the bed. Sure enough, I lift the fresh sheets that I’ve just fitted on the mattress this morning and find several black dots courtesy of my phone screenlight. These are not the previously feared bedbugs. These are Fleas. I should know. I see this all the time. I even worked at a flea control company at one point in my contiguous United States life. I know flea poop on sight. Great for a résumé. Bad for the Now.
Because Now, along with an enormous thu-thu-thu-thunder and lightning storm outside, there’s still no electricity, my laptop’s dead, my cellphone still has no reception, and I can’t lie down on the bed. I don’t want to take a shower in the dark amid Psycho fears, and Freeman isn’t on the property. I hear howling outside. Animal? Human? Can’t tell. Not sure I want to know.
I double-check the lock on the door, and sit down in the rather uncomfortable chair that has been provided. After a mindless amount of time and several unsuccessfully attempts to meditate and bring myself to the unattainable state of bliss I so desperately desire, I give up. I surrender to the Now and suddenly, zzzzzzzzt. Power’s back on. I immediately plug in my laptop, thinking, if all else fails, I can email someone directions on how and where to find my mangled insect-ravaged, carbless carcass in the morning. Fuck the Now. The Now sucks ass.
Looking at my phone, whose only purpose is to mark the passage of ungodly desolate time on this godforsaken island of doom, I remark there are twelve hours til morning, when my taxi driver will return to take me away from this decidedly unZen-like paradise.
The tv hums with political ad after political ad, sandwiched in between shows about Trump and Hilary and Bernie. My mouth waters at the mere thought of sandwiches. I try to arrange myself on the chair and not salivate while thinking of peanut butter and jelly. Of fried bologna with mustard. A BLT. Any sort of any food-like substance crushed between two slices of thick crusty bread sounds heavenly.
Upon tearing open the last of my food stash, I cringe, biting off another mouthful of teriyucky jerky. Filling my stomach is great but now that I’m aware of my high-protein fatigue, my mind spins out of control. I swear at the cashews, snarling insults never before hurled at mere nuts. I have only half a bottle of water left (saving it for an emergency…. does this count yet??) and I don’t dare drink the tap water. One huge clap of tumultuous thunder and the tv fizzles and Yea! Power’s out again! I’m this close to throwing the door open and tearing off into the black night screaming Love Reign O’er Me. Over me, over me, over me, Whaaaoah!
Yet I don’t. Because the stray cats are outside. I know they are. Like Cujo, they probably wait perched outside the door, salivating. They have no doubt provided me with the fleas that infest my room and make my skin crawl. They’re not getting any more sustenance from me! Traitors. An hour of pacing my room later, I try again to mount an attack on sleep while perched against the desk. The mosquitoey histamine crawls across my skin, robbing me of more than a minute of peace, and the intense prickling sting of flea bites is enough to drive me over the edge.
Except, I’m too tired to even drive to the edge. Defeated, I stare in the dark at a blank tv screen. Until 3 AM, when it lights up anew, ready to treat me to the reruns of the same Trump, Hilary and Bernie shows I avoided watching earlier. Delirium is setting in. It kicks off its shoes and rests its feet on my back while I sit cross-legged in the chair, rocking autistically, cursing Travelocity and its promise of utopian serenity. The insect bites on my back become unbearable. And I can’t reach them to scratch because my arms are still sore from hauling my fat ass onto the Baywatch boat yesterday, never mind the additional swimming today.
In my desperation, I smear tartar-control toothpaste on the end of my unused snorkel tube and reach around, swiping it across the itchiest parts of my back. Jacques Cousteau, eat your heart out. The dim promise of sunrise cracks through my window as minty freshness bathes my blistered back. It’s 6 AM and I’ve decided to at least take a shower to get ready for a long day of travel. I still have plenty of shampoo and conditioner! I use the bathroom and flush the toilet. The water sucks away and doesn’t return. Perplexed, I go to wet my toothbrush when I notice a parade of no-see-um bugs (which ironically, I see in droves). They trek across the entire bathroom wall from the door to the vanity and down the sink drain. I turn on the faucet, intent on drowning at least some of the battalion.
That’s when I discover the water that I had just flushed down the toilet was the last water I would see coming out of any faucet. And so, no shower. Just one lone, half-filled bottle of Dasani I had managed to squander. And so, ravenously hungry, no-doubt dehydrated, desperately over-tired, and still somewhat itchy, I bathe myself with 8 ounces of water. Don’t ask. At 6:40, dressed and peering out my window, begging the universe to keep in mind my flight leaves in an hour and a half, I hear the toilet lurch. Curious, I twist the sink faucet. And hey! Water’s back on! So glad Freeman warned me about the nightly drought… Too late to take a shower, though.
The lady in the van pulls up and I cast a weary glance back at the stray cats, nod to Freeman and thank him for being such a gracious host. Not his fault the OMiFuNo Lodge sucks and I’ve just spent fifteen minutes furiously shaking everything out, determined to omit any fleas from my luggage. En route to the island airport, I fantasize about purchasing some vending machine food. Until I get there and realize I just tipped the taxi driver with the last of my cash and now only have my debit card, which they don’t accept. Because, why would they? That would have left me with more than one happy memory of my trip here. My stomach gurgles for another hour until my stinky stuffy plane deposits me back in Nassau.
I’ve never been happier to see an airport in my entire life. After stalking the Wendy’s the minute I land, I scarf down a whole breakfast sandwich and hash browns. I drink an entire 24 oz. bottled water. Carb me, baby! I scope out a bank of leathery chairs and sprawl my belongings out over them, hoping to catch a few zzz’s before my flight to Fort Lauderdale in four hours.
Thinking I’ll set my alarm so I don’t sleep through any boarding calls, I fiddle with my phone, which has, of course, ceased functioning. I take out the battery and restart, only to discover my device has morphed into a Way-Back machine. The time and date displayed is 9:12 PM on November 4, 2012. Have I lost that much sleep? Am I hallucinating? Then the vibrating starts. One text message, two, twelve, seventeen. All the texts from that date in 2012 feed into my small unreliable handheld piece of crap I call a Smartphone. And I’m supposed to rely on this thing to wake me up?
Near tears, I attempt sleep, hoping to God my internal clock will rouse me in time for my flight. But I never actually fall asleep. Because I’m still scratching every available inch of flea-bitten skin I own. Boarding to Fort Lauderdale on a Sunday crunches me with a full flight and other exhausted adults so no window seats and definitely no numbered Hotties. I settle my backpacks between my legs and try not to appear too catatonic.
This is when the itching reaches fever pitch. I feel something biting my ankle. I must be delirious. I bend down to inspect my lower shin, and discover a small red bite. One of those little fuckers has hopped aboard and is now terrorizing me, just when I escaped from Hell Island for good. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, I would endure at least 7 other bites, courtesy of some little six-legged varmint who will be meeting his violent death by insecticide as soon as I get home.
Which I arrange, happily. At around 9 PM. Dusting myself off, I race inside and fetch a can of flea spray (yes, I have these on-hand due to my profession as at times, I bring fleas home from client houses). I open the trunk and aerosize a bigly amount of poison over my belongings. I don’t even care if it ruins anything. That little sucking fucker needs to die.
Stripping naked in front of my washing machine, I boil all garments on the whitest whites setting while I shower with the remaining tepid water and rinse my tears down the drain with glee. I’ll never curse my home sweet home again. I have water. I have food. I have electricity. What I end up not having is a flea-less bed, because somehow I’m still being bitten two days later.
Another round of insecticide ensues, but the nightmares continue for a few more days. I eulogize my snorkel tube while I pitch it in the trash, coated with crusted dentifrice. It’s been a spectacular aid in the war on unreachable itchies.
And so finally, easing back into the workweek, I receive my usual fair share of telemarketing calls. On Wednesday, I’m going through the McDonald’s drive-thru about to order a bunless double-cheeseburger when I answer yet another call. A robovoice informs me I have just won an all-expense-paid vacation to Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
I press End Call and proceed to order a Big Mac and fries.