Traveling transforms us. Whether it’s a cross country road trip or a weekend away, like characters in any good story, we’re different when we return home.
The summer before my senior year in college, I spent a week on the island of Martinique with two high school friends. I’d just completed a six-month long paid internship and had been saving my money to buy a computer so I could avoid late nights in the computer lab when I returned to school. But for whatever reason (I was young and stupid?) I decided my computer money was better spent on seven nights and eight days at an all-inclusive resort.
It was my first time being that far away from home on my own so of course I was bound to learn a few things. Things like the closer to the equator you get, the more likely you are to suffer second degree burns on your shoulders. I ended up at the resort’s infirmary on the second day. After that, I learned to wear sunscreen with SPF 1000 and not tropical tanning oil like my friends.
I also learned, when my friend and I took sailing lessons on our third day on the island, that I could not speak French. Six years of studying the language had taught me nothing. Rien. I’m still not exactly sure why our French speaking instructor gave us our first lesson on the beach before sending us out on the water by ourselves. But I can’t blame him. I was the one who said “Oui” when he asked me if I understood what he was saying. And it didn’t help that is was an exceptionally windy day on the island.
He waded into the water with us and gave us a push over the waves and we took off at a good clip, out into the Caribbean – too good a clip, it turned out, and too far into the Caribbean. Our instructor, whose name I can’t remember so I’ll call him Oliver, ran nervously up and down the shore waving his arms and yelling, in French, for us to turn our small Sunfish around. When we finally figured out 1. what he was saying and 2. how to maneuver back toward shore, we advanced quickly on the small roped off area where people were learning to windsurf. Well now Oliver was absolutely beside himself, “Oh Mon Dieu!” We crashed through the ropes and headed right toward two terrified windsurfers who were forced to dive off their boards seconds before we crashed into them (the boards not the surfers.) I think at some point we realized we needed to pull up the centerboard before we finally plowed into the beach. Poor Oliver was twitching and sweating. There would be no second lesson.Everyone was talking about us at dinner that night. My first brush with infamy.
Day four on the island proved to be another day of lessons. Water skiing this time. (By now it’s no mystery how 20-year-old me squandered my computer money on a luxury resort.) The potential for disaster loomed as I sat on the edge of the dock and watched as my fellow water skiing neophytes toppled over while attempting to stand on their skis. But something weird happened when I got into the water and grabbed hold of the rope. Maybe it’s the low center of gravity that comes with being height challenged, or maybe it’s because I’d snow skied before, but I got up on my first try! Applause erupted from the dock. Not only did I get up, but I made it all around the cove without falling. I spent the rest of my free time on the island taking water skiing lessons. By day two, the instructor had me jumping the wake of the boat. That’s when things got dicey. I fell. A lot. I was really disappointed when my instructor gave me a hand and pulled me into the boat. “I’m getting beat up out there,” I complained. “I stink at this.”
That’s when he told me something I’ve never forgotten. He told getting beat up out there was a good thing. “I could pull you in a straight line behind the boat forever, but you wouldn’t be learning anything.”
There have been many times since then, in writing and in real life, when things get messy, and I feel like I’m outside the wake of the boat getting beat up, when I think about what he said. Worth my hard-earned computer money? Maybe.
|The dock where I learned to water ski.|