I am always late. In middle school, I only made the school bus twice in three years. In high school, I was so consistently late that I was the only Honors student to receive Central Detention – ever. Lateness is endemic in my family. I spent a significant portion of my childhood waiting to be picked up by a parent or grandparent who was always running late. When a family function called for 6 o’clock, we thought ourselves early if we managed to arrive by 6:30. Lateness is so ingrained in my make-up, I never realized how inconsiderate it was until my best friend in college stopped talking to me after she’d waited over an hour for me to show up to dinner. And even then, once we were back on speaking terms, she had to sit me down and actually explain why it was so rude.
I wish I could say this cultural awakening changed me. Unfortunately, I’m still always late, but now I feel guilty about it too. So imagine my relief when I moved to a region renowned for lateness. Island Time! Ah, to finally live in a place where time is set to my specifications. Where I might be – darest I dream – on time!
My first experience with Island Time came a few weeks after moving down. There was an art show and auction put on by the Historical Society one Sunday that started at 5:30pm. After the first uncertain weeks of acclimation to island life, I was looking forward to an event where I could dress up and mingle with my new neighbors. So, of course, we were running an hour late. My heart swelled when I saw the line to get into the event spilling out onto the sidewalk. Here were my people! An hour late was right on time! My dream had come true.
Except that two days later, we realized that Sunday was Spring Forward. Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived ON TIME. That should have given me pause. But I chalked it up to a weird aberration related to the particularities of the Historical Society. Little did I know, for the next three and a half months, my fantasy of Island Time would continue to dissolve like the last half-hearted ice cube in a forgotten cocktail.
The next big shock came when I actually rushed to see a play at the National Park campground. It was scheduled to start at 7pm, and I kept a careful eye on the time as we bounced along the roadway. At 6:57 we parked, and I was about to congratulate myself for being on time when I clearly overheard theatrical voices coming from the stage. When I rushed up to get a seat, I frantically asked the park ranger/usher if I had the wrong start time for the play. She shook her head no, glanced at her watch, and then shrugged.
“I guess we just started a little early,” she whispered.
A little early! Who ever heard of a play starting a little early? On a Caribbean Island, no less? What happened to Island Time?!
Since then, I’ve noticed I’m consistently the last person to arrive at parties; friends and business appointments invariably show up 10-15 minutes earlier than arranged; and even yoga classes are well underway when I turn up on time. To top it all off, just last week as I rushed to make the 9am ferry to ensure I’d be on time to a job interview at 10, I was greeted with the sight of the ferry pulling away from the dock at 8:56am. Watching the ferry drift away, I began to suspect the concept of Island Time was an elaborate karmic prank, here to finally make me pay up for all of my lateness sins.
To be fair, the ferry actually came back to the dock to let us on. And my disappointment with Island Time not being late enough for me is well outweighed by how the slow pace of island life inconveniences everyone else. As I grow more accustomed to the particular rhythms of my island, I’ve come to realize, as my girlfriend sagely pointed out, Island Time might not be about being late after all, but more about timing being unpredictable in general. Things may happen later than expected, but it is just as possible that they may happen earlier. And that’s a great lesson for a girl to learn who has grown used to the world waiting for her.