As I write these words I am sitting on a small private patio, surrounded by palm fronds and the cry of little black jungle birds. I’m protected from the intermittent rain we’ve been having by a perfectly constructed, low hanging palapa. The air is as soft as thinly woven silk, and the same temperature as my blood. Two days ago my husband and I flew to Soliman Bay, Mexico, which is located on the coast of the Yucatan, just north of Tulum.
There is nothing in Soliman Bay but beach, the Caribbean, some lovely houses and lots of palapas to shield one from the sun and rain. Oh, there is also a fish shack. It has no menu, no sign, and no actual structure; one simply looks for the fire pit and cluster of chairs, sits down and is promptly served whatever was caught that day. Yesterday I consumed a platter of ceviche and lobster that was probably meant to serve three people, but I somehow managed to make due. There are no shops here, and no resorts. My husband and I are staying in a tiny palapita that has screens and wooden shutters for windows, and a ceiling fan if it gets too hot.
We are here for only four nights, but as we have three children and no nanny or consistent childcare outside of some family, organizing this trip took literally months of planning, marshaling of every person in our little community and family, and, by far the most challenging of all, somehow accepting or working with the overwhelming, at times crippling guilt I felt about leaving my children. My husband and I have not been on a vacation, or had any extended time together, in seven years. Every trip we’ve taken in that period of time has been with our children and, as every parent knows, travel with children can have moments of unforgettable, bright glee, but it is usually glee wrapped and hidden in a seemingly permanent dusty cloud of chaos.
In the last year and a half my husband has changed jobs three times, I have gone through a bone and soul crushing nervous breakdown, from which I’m still struggling to recover, we have had a third child, and are coming to grips with the fact that our first born child is both intellectually unusual in capacity and emotionally difficult in temperament.
A deep, deep fatigue, of the sort that is beyond the repairing fingers of sleep, beyond words, really, has overtaken us. It is a fatigue that lives in our very cells, and its nature is insidious in that in its growing possession of our lives it has caused us to forget what a rested mind and fully realized daily existence might look or feel like. It’s as if some malevolent sorcerer has given us a tonic, the consumption of which we are unaware as the tonic seeps everywhere and into everything, and its effect is to slowly disassemble one’s senses: touch, of one another, of the soft pelt of an animal, of even our children’s hair after a bath, is dulled. The taste of the most meticulously created Belgian chocolate still retains its sweetness, but its subtle underlying spices are lost on the tongue.
On this trip I have been able to look at my husband’s face. I’ve really seen it, for the first time in a long, long while. Oh, how I love this man. I love his tender, witty heart, his moral outrage, his long suffering loyalty to me and to the healing of my mental anguish; his animal like attachment to our children, his tendency (too much, far too much) to overlook his own sadness in order to be present for his family. We have been together almost fourteen years, and his beautiful face and lively eyes, with their strange color that change with his moods and his clothes, have aged. The sorcerer’s tonic has poisoned him, and he needs to reverse the spell. He needs rest.
Right now he is scuba diving in one of the incredible fresh water cenotes that can be found all around this part of the coastline. He’ll spend the day looking at ancient limestone stalagmites veering dramatically up from the pure crystal waters. He’ll see fish and perhaps turtles and it’s all simply amazing, the infinite beauty and variety of this astonishing planet of ours. But mainly I hope he finds the link between his tired, worn body and the porous limestone shapes, and the water that seeps through them. It is that link, the recognition that our cells, our blood, our bothersome and complicated brains, come from the same material that create the rocks, the sea, the turtles, the clown fish, the manta ray — it is that link that will restore his tired soul.
I read that we all come from stardust.
Yes. Sitting next to the sea, with its lulling secrets, I see it.
I lay on a hammock for hours and hours yesterday, watching the clouds, listening first to the wind and the tide, and then Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and then the wind and the tide again. The whole of the long beach was empty. I had as my primary companions, besides my husband, several dark, long necked pelicans.
These animals are a stunning picture of primordial efficiency: they have huge, seemingly unmanageable wingspans that allow them to take flight and float on the sea wind, wonderfully long beaks that act as both missile and fishing hook for their constant predatory dives into the sea, and swan-like long necks that they bend and twist all around their bodies, like elegant coils of feathered rope.
All day I watched the birds. Three, in particular. They rested on the water, their long black beaks pointed down against their necks. They looked as if they were sleeping, but no: at short intervals first one, and then the other two, would lift up into the air, hover a moment, and then aim and flashingly dive into the sea, usually emerging with gullets full of some hapless fish, which were then swallowed whole in a few undulating gulps.
It was a dance. The resting between the need to move, the lift up, suspended in the salty air, the immersion and then rebound, only to rest once more on the surface of the supporting waves.
At one point, while listening to the opening of the Goldberg Variations, it looked as though the birds were dancing in concert to the music. Illusion, I thought. Well, yes. But truth too. It’s all a dance.
It’s all a dance. On this brief visit to the restoring ocean waters, my husband and I are attempting to regain our footing so that we may join in, and hear the waltz with more clarity and execute the steps with more joyous abandonment.