You know those “you have memories” posts you get in your Facebook news feed?
Most days, I just glance at mine and keep scrolling. Sometimes I smile at a photo that takes me back to a special time or place. Sometimes I cringe at what I considered post-worthy many years ago. Did anyone really care that I was tired after a tough workout or long run? (Yeah…once I was that person on Facebook. Apologies.)
But once in awhile, those forgotten memories take you to places you never planned to go. At least not first thing on a random weekday morning. When you are supposed to be working.
And so it went today…
Once in a blue moon, there’s a memory that prompts me to click on the “see all memories” button. So I click. I take the Facebook bait.
And one of two things happen. Either I am pleasantly surprised or I shudder wishing I could erase a particular, long-lost memory.
But one thing that has never happened before is that I see a collection of pics from years past that together tell a story. It doesn’t happen very often (ever?!), so it is really surprising, bordering on mythical. Like a unicorn. Or no lines at the post office. Or my island grocery store having every ingredient I need, when I actually need it.
October 10th appears to be one of those mythical days. (Thanks, Facebook, for taking me down memory lane. I’ll probably need an extra cup of coffee – or shot of whiskey – for this trip.)
On this date three years ago, I was in a rental car with a friend and my dog, driving from Schiphol Airport to St. Malo, France. A helluva long ways from the small Midwestern, USA town where I grew up. An adventure, right? I had no idea.
All I knew at the time was that I needed to catch a ferry, so I could start a new adventure on a different rock. A very British speck of land, anchored a few miles off the Brittany coast. A place where Island Boy was born, raised and lived, before common sense kicked in and he headed for a warmer climate. Thankfully he made that choice, or else we would have never met on our favorite beach all those years ago.
But we did meet as luck would have it, and we had great fun on our Caribbean adventures together for several years. But because we are very much responsible adults (or at least we try to be, with mixed success) – and he had some family business to take care of – we cut short our carefree lives together in the sun to return to his home rock. How long we would stay? Nobody knew.
And truth be told, in those early days, I was game for a new adventure. After all, for me it was a new culture, a new experience, a new residential/work visa in my passport. A total change from my sunny, fun Island Girl lifestyle where a messy bun and zero make-up was the order of the day.
It also very much fit in with my desire to explore the world. The fact that I was trading my small rock for an even tinier one – with triple the population – didn’t concern me. Neither did the whole “driving on the other side of the road in a right-hand drive vehicle” concept. Or the exorbitantly high cost of living waiting for me. After all, I was an American lawyer and this was an offshore banking center, so surely I would find a well-paying job in finance, right? And of course I would still technically be an Island Girl. Ah, the simple joys of naivety.
Unfortunately, new adventures don’t always turn out the way you expect. Sometimes they even go horribly wrong.
Sparing you the gory details, suffice it to say my expectations and hopes never quite matched up with reality. Still, I stuck it out for 18 months, during which time I tested my liver even more than I ever could on a Caribbean rock. After all, when the skies are grey and rainy 85% of the time (and darkness sets in around 3:30 p.m. many months of the year), a few G&Ts and several bottles of wine in front of the fireplace suddenly become your nightly entertainment.
And, at least according to Facebook memories, it appears I also enjoyed wine in public spaces, too. Albeit a bit more polished than my tropical Island Girl persona. Duh.
But the British experiment (as I refer to it these days) wasn’t all bad. I styled my hair, put on make-up and could wear scarves again (my fave!). And I worked in London for awhile (no, the finance job on the money laundering rock never materialized). And shopped (a lot). In both the big city and the high street of my far more quaint rock.
And, as a writer, I spent a lot of time in the local rare-books library, researching interesting (and sometimes tragic) stories about the island’s history. And when I say history, I don’t mean the Americanized, watered-down stuff that begins in the late 1700s. I’m talking about real history, from the dark ages on.
And I learned about things like the three witches the island elders burned at the stake during the reign of Bloody Mary. As it turns out, these ladies were not witches at all. They were just outspoken women of their time – one of whom dared to have a child out of wedlock – who all made the mistake of not going to church on the daily. This suggests I probably would have met the same fate had I ventured to my then-current rock a few centuries earlier.
But, interesting research opportunities and shopping aside, eventually I conceded defeat to this deceivingly lush British isle (one that still maintains it’s historically harsh lack of tolerance). I missed the lifestyle, the climate and the friends I had left behind in the Caribbean. And nothing about my new rock was filling the void. Absolutely nothing.
So when my project in London ended, I waved the white flag, bought a one-way ticket on the daily KLM flight from Amsterdam to paradise and hopped on a puddle jumper to the continent. By this time, my beloved, elderly Corgi had passed away, so my travel wasn’t confined to the ferry…made for a speedier exit.
I never looked back. In fact, I actually breathed a sigh of relief and burst into happy tears when the plane wheels finally left the runway of that tiny island airstrip. Of course I got some glaring side-eye from the judgmental local seated next to me. They are a consistent lot, I’ll give them that.
My final destination? The one place I belonged. My little Dutch rock in the sun. Where I’ve been ever since (and feeling more content than I ever felt during the dreadful, failed British experiment).
And even now, another year later, after fully reintegrating into my preferred Caribbean lifestyle, it has still taken a while to wrap my head around what went wrong back in the land of the Queen, snobby rich folks and hedge veg. But I am finally at peace with it all.
In fact, I am now in a place where I can look back and occasionally (dare I say, fondly) remember a few of the fun details from my brief tenure on a British rock. Like long hikes along beautiful cliff paths with my dog. Or learning to love Formula One racing. Or experiencing the magic of central London. Or discovering, first-hand, the people and places of Island Boy’s past (escapees to tropical rocks don’t tend to bring their history with them, so you never really know much about people’s “before rock” existence…that is by design, by the way, and it is part of the island lifestyle allure. Don’t pry.)
No, my time there wasn’t all bad…but then again, nothing ever is all good or all bad, right?
And I also realized something else. There’s no shame in admitting that something you tried just didn’t work out. Because not every experiment will come out all sunshine and ponies and rainbows. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and things will suck.
The key is recognizing it, accepting reality and not allowing yourself to stay in a bad situation just to save face. Life is just too damn short for that. I also learned a few more things:
- Yes, it costs a fortune to ship a 20′ container across the Atlantic Ocean. Twice. It’s just money, I can make more.
- Yes, driving a right-hand drive BMW SUV on the left side of super narrow country lanes bordered by granite walls is as terrifyingly, fucked up an experience as you can imagine. Which explains why I took the bus. A lot.
- No, I will likely never appreciate the British sense of humor. I’m the queen of sarcasm, but those island folks slayed me with their skills. They’re diabolical. I blame it on the weather. Poor buggers.
- Yes, some people will say that I failed at adapting to my new circumstances. There’s “adapting” and outright suffering. There is a difference. Luckily, at my age I have the pleasure of not caring what others think.
- No, I was not the best version of myself when I lived on that rock for those long, painful 18 months. My Caribbean friends kindly pointed out that I sounded miserable the whole time I was away. I suspect my British in-laws would agree.
But the biggest takeaway is that no matter how terrible a time you are going through, nothing is permanent. Nothing is etched in stone (well, except the dates on all those ancient buildings on my former rock). You have the power to change your circumstances. It just requires fortitude and a willingness to make necessary sacrifices. But I can tell you with certainty that making the change and extricating yourself from a bad situation is the best decision you will ever make.
And if I ever forget that truism, I know that every year on October 10th, Facebook will be there to kindly remind me.
I’m a writer living on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Originally from the U.S., I followed my heart to the tropics in 2011 at the wizened age of 43. Since then, I’ve been blogging to inspire and entertain. I love kitesurfing, a good gin & tonic, and corgis.
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