(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.