Here I am

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There was a tank at the New England Aquarium that showed how icky life could be for creatures spawned in the harbor. The exhibit displayed beer cans stewing in a murky brine. In contrast, the aquarium’s four-story Caribbean tank, with sharks and sea turtles—that stopped my penny loafers in their tracks. I began to tell grown ups I wanted to be a marine biologist. I thought it meant, one day, I might be able to dive into that tank and be surrounded by mind-boggling beauty.

Fifteen years later, I got to see the Caribbean in real life, even though I had become a reporter instead of a biologist. It got me, that first high, those impossible shades of blue as I dove down, belly stirring the white sand as I joined a school of sergeant majors circling soft corals.

Another decade passed. Two girlfriends joined me on trip to Mexico. I booked a one-bedroom house that claimed to sleep nine for $22 a night. As soon as we arrived we shut ourselves in the single bedroom with the sole air conditioner and took turns murmuring the Latin pop lyric “Despacito” to keep the party going.

I’d once lain in a similar heat on the sofa of a 1986 Airstream motor coach. That Airstream sat in a Florida boatyard. A 79-foot-long wooden schooner bobbed at the dock alongside, mid-restoration At the time, I was married. My then-husband’s father had bought the Airstream for us to live in and the schooner for us to work on. At its surface, it had the makings of an Instagram fantasy. You had to know what to look for to get the offline picture. Like the line of glue bordering the rear lights panel on my station wagon, showing where my husband had torn it off after I had locked myself in and him out. 

An invitation from that husband had first brought me to the Caribbean all those years ago. I fell in love with it, and so he added that love to his list of things that could compromise my devotion to him. When it suited him, I still visited the fish and coral, but then I was the one bound by an exhibit I could not escape. 

On the last day of the Mexican adventure, one of my girlfriends and I took a cab to the beach. She wanted a beer. I wanted profound meaning. I shuffled to the water. I wanted to know what it would be like to return to the underwater wilderness now that I’d taken an ax to the glass. Maybe, it would be like that first time. But, the sea was churned by offshore storms, opaque and oblivious to the cinematic reunion I’d planned. 

Still searching for meaning, I realized the trip wasn’t about free diving over a coral reef. It was about snatching back something I’d once allowed someone to take from me. It was about gobbling it up before someone else could take it again, to gorge until its blood dripped down my chin and I finally felt satisfied. 

But the only person satisfied on that beach was my friend with a beer, and I was ruining it by saying things like, “I want my Eat, Pray, Love moment, dammit.” 

So I let it go. The list of things and those I love is in my own hands, now—and it’s not a list of things to devour.