Ahhh… The Island 15.
What is it, you ask? Do you remember that first semester in college where you completely let go, ate whatever you wanted (chicken flavored Top Ramen noodles anyone?), had the late night munchies (thanks to everyone’s sweetest friend, Mary Jane), and could drink a 12-pack of Budweiser? Remember how it led to a food baby pooch, tight jeans, swollen cheeks (yes, my face swelled like I was stung by 1,000 bees), and you knew you had officially gained the inevitable Freshman 15 everyone warned you about? Well, your first year (or two) transitioning into island life can be a lot like those early college years. Hence, “The Island 15.”
Recently, I found myself trying to squeeze into my pre-island life jeans. I hadn’t really noticed the extra layer of happiness I had managed to add around my belly and thighs until my once-loose jeans couldn’t make it past my saddle bags without doing the wiggle, bend, and stretch. Once I finally buttoned and zipped them up, I had a hard time breathing and looked down with resignation to see my wine belly hanging over the waist band. Touché island life, touché!
I don’t know about you, but when my move to the islands was still in the dreaming stage, I imagined I’d surely be in the best physical shape of my life, what with the year round sunshine, lack of snow, and minimal rain. Before I moved here, I envisioned myself swimming, running, and preparing every day for the annual Iron Man race. I had imagined that I would be some hot island babe with a smokin’ bronzed bod, sun-drenched “sex hair”, and at least a four pack. Girrrrrrrrl, was I wrong! Now, my preparation for the Iron Man involves setting up a Bloody Mary bar at a tail gate party to gawk at the oh-so-physical humans who flew here to torture themselves. How did I get to this point without even noticing? I wondered.
The problem, I found, was that I had basically started to enjoy life! My “workouts” had become curling Coronas, johnny cake eating competitions, deep belly laughs, uncontrollable dancing to live bands (Ziggy’s Bigfoot is my fav!), and leisurely strolling on sandy beaches (very leisurely… think: sitting and sipping something fruity with a girlfriend while admiring the windsurfers who are actually doing a workout). In moving to an island, I surprisingly found that my perspective on life had shifted – now, I would rather spend my time building memories than building muscles.
Take yesterday, for example: I had planned on running (because I was now determined to shed the Island 15 I had gained over my 2.5 year stint on island), but then there was a celebration to be had. And if you are an island girl too, you know how we like to celebrate… every damn thing! It is just a way of the islands – any excuse to have a party, pop bubbles, and EAT! So while I desperately wanted to fit back into my pre-island jeans and slender my tree-trunk legs (a “compliment” I received from a Crucian man, which will make for another great story for another day…), I also desperately wanted to celebrate. There I was, stuffing my face with creamy lobster mac n’ cheese topped with bacon, sipping on a bottle of wine (yes, the entire bottle plus two glasses of champagne), and enjoying every drop of LIFE. Did I regret missing my run at this point? Hell, no!
My pants may be a bit tighter and my eyes may be bit heavier in the mornings sometimes, but my heart is definitely fuller.
So cheers to my fellow island girls rockin’ the thunder thighs, muffin tops, and happy hearts! Let’s continue celebrating, shall we?
Back when my husband and I first got married, we lived on a somewhat small and very sparsely populated island in the southern Bahamas. All the Bahamian locals were friendly and welcoming. A lot of them remain good friends today that I still keep in touch with. We were asked to dinner often and while it was always delicious, it was always “local”: Jamaican curry goat, fish and grits, and all the lobster a girl could dream of (steamed, boiled, grilled, baked, sautéed). Lobster was plentiful there because everyone, including me, speared it themselves.
But these dinners were always out of my comfort zone as well. As fun as they were, they were never quite “comfortable”. I had to explain over and over again why, because of my suburban Atlanta upbringing, I didn’t mind one bit giving up the eyeballs out of my fish to someone more excited about the treat. Or why I wasn’t “finishing” my chicken by sucking every last bit of gristle and tendon off and even removing the marrow from the bone. Or that I really would rather let the home’s resident nine-year-old finish my Vita Malt (I could never figure out exactly what the thick, warm, heavily-malted beverage was good with). No one was ever rude about my finicky nature and I wouldn’t give up the years I lived among those friends for anything, but due to my polite Southern upbringing (you finish what the host serves you, say thank you, and possibly take another helping), I always left feeling like I had been somewhat rude for leaving the fins of the fish on my plate. And no one likes to constantly leave dinner parties feeling rude.
Toward the end of our time on that island, a couple from Key West moved in a few dirt roads down from ours. They had spent many many years of their life living on their sailboat and decided it was time to settle down (for at least half the year) and build a permanent structure they could spend winters in. It was so nice to have people moving in near us because our home was so remote. Maybe 3-4 other people lived out on our long road in our sparsely populated settlement. Multiple days could go by without another car driving down our road. So here we were, with new potential friends right in the “neighborhood.” They invited us over one night for a little dinner party, and the thought was so comforting and familiar (steak fajitas! margaritas! guacamole!) that I could barely stand the wait. When you live and eat outside of your comfort zone for long stretches at a time, the thought of a brief encounter with the familiar really lifts your spirits. They even invited us to bring my dog over instead of leaving her home alone. New friends (not easy to come by in such a small place). Familiar food. An evening I had no way of failing at.
You see where this is going, don’t you…
On the highly anticipated evening of our little gathering, Seth and I loaded ourselves, our appetizer contribution, a bottle of wine, and my dog, Saylor, up into our truck for the 1/2 mile dirt road drive to their place. Once there, Saylor bounded out of the truck and tore furiously around the yard. Because I didn’t have a fence at our house, she didn’t get a lot of free time outside. I decided to let her run while I carried the appetizer inside. About three minutes later, I came out and called her name. Nothing. I wandered down the driveway a bit a called again. Nothing. Annoyed that she might have run into the dense island bush surrounding their yard, I called louder. Then I wandered out into the road, and there she was. I could see her shape lit up under a lonely street lamp on the little dirt road, not moving, lying on her side. None of us had heard the car. Maybe one, two at most, would drive down our road in a day’s time. But in the three minutes I had carried our appetizer inside for our glorious, long-anticipated dinner party (steak! on our island! completely unheard of!) with our new potential friends, someone had driven by and hit her without stopping.
I stood in the road, crying, and yelled for Seth. He came out with our new friends following behind him. They were now confronted with us: two people they had just met for a total of ten minutes, invited into their home, now standing and crying in the road with my dead dog lying ten feet away. (Clarification: I was distraught. Saylor, named after a very dear friend, had been my dog prior to marriage and Seth’s arrival on the island. She had kept me company as I lived there alone for a few years. Seth didn’t have much of a problem holding himself together.) There were no vets on our island. One would come from a bigger island once every few months. If you had a dog you needed spayed or neutered, he’d do it for you then. In your driveway. Or on a back patio table. So there was nowhere to take her. I was so thankful that we were able to determine that she was, in fact, dead because on that island when you had an animal that was suffering, the only option was to call a police officer and have them shoot it. You think having your dog hit by a car can ruin a dinner party? Imagine having the police come over to shoot it in the head. That’s pretty much the definition of party foul. But fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.
Our new friends offered to help us bury her. So with our fajitas and fresh guac waiting inside, we loaded my dead dog into the truck and drove her home as I continued to cry. Seth and our brand new friends took turns and dug a big hole in our side yard, wrapped her up in an empty dog food bag (as a deterrent to other dogs thinking they’d dig her up), covered her with rocks (also a deterrent), and buried her. They even brought a palm tree to plant on top of her (another deterrent – though this was a long way from home where my family buried hamsters wrapped up in pretty cloth and planted azaleas on top of them). After burying our dog, our new potential friends said something along the lines of, “Well, we still have fajitas…”
Remember when I said I was so excited about this dinner party because I knew it would be comfortable and familiar? Almost like I was home again? That there was no way I could mess it up? No fish heads to leave on my plate? Or bits of a goat’s leg bone chips to spit out? Well, yeah, having my dog die and then allowing practical strangers to help us bury her within the first 30 minutes of our dinner party topped all of those. So I drank margaritas and cried all the way through the next few hours. And they made sure my glass stayed full.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the night, but we must have made a good impression because we’re still friends with this couple today. (Meaning, Seth must have made a good impression because I lost count of my margaritas and the tears only increased per drink.) We went beaching with them. They gave us plants for our yard and helped me learn about gardening. We exchanged recipes that were possible with the limited ingredients available on island. When we needed it months later, they helped us out with some of the moving process as we prepared to move our life to another island. But, I can’t say I remember being invited to any other dinner parties at their house.