Updated: Feb 22
I went to Bermuda last June after not going there for more than twenty years. To me, the whole island is a garden, filled with secret paths and tiny fields of ripening vegetables. The last time was a year after my first husband’s death. I was thirty-four and my father and mother had rented a house on the island for a month. My father was going through his own doldrums. He’d quit work after working for most of his life. He used to be a big deal and then, he was just playing business. We stayed in a house that used to be the American ambassador’s, according to my mother. It was right on the ocean and that’s what I remembered. My body bounced around by the waves, a walk along the beach with a friend of my father’s who told me to get over it, long runs around our part of the island past a hidden garden with clipped bushes, the sea wind at night.
I’d been to Bermuda before and stayed in a hotel with my sister and brother. Once, I brought a tennis racket and thought I was going to die on the flight. Another time I sipped rum swizzles under a thatched roof. Once there were deep blue morning glories on the balcony and we went out on a sailboat into the ocean and it rained.
This time I brought my new family. My husband surprised us with a gift of a few days in Bermuda. I didn’t know I would remember the ghosts once I got there. We stayed in a little room with a deck that looked out at the ocean. My son, just out of tenth grade, slept curled on the pullout couch. My sister and I stayed in the same kind of room at the same hotel. I could see the waves breaking on the reef from my chair. I ate tiny croissants slathered with butter and jam and talked to the scruffy sparrows who begged for crumbs at my feet. We dove into the salty water and later stepped past man of war with their long skinny tentacles drying on the sand.
“This is paradise,” I said. “It better be for the price,” my husband said. “Come on, mom,” my son yelled as he pulled me into the waves. “Show me how to body surf!”
The first day I caught a couple of waves and ended up with a cup of sand in my suit—tiny pink grains that stuck to my skin. “I’m not doing that again,” I said. “Just let me relax.” And I did, floating on the surface of the waves, my toes popping up and down in the clear blue water.
Young women with long dark hair served us food and drinks. I could see them walking past our room in the morning swinging water bottles back and forth. We wandered along a path bordered with airy ferns and snake plants.
One day we caught a ferry to the oldest town, and I bought two detective novels in a tiny shop, sweat pouring down my back. We took a taxi to Fort St. Catherine and saw where the soldiers ate and where they oiled the big guns. The mechanic at the fort whipped out his cell phone and called a friend sailing by on his yacht. “I just ring once, and he knows I’ve seen him,” he said wiping his hands on his apron.
Our bus ride back to the hotel wound past little fields with ripe yellow squash ready for harvest. When we got back, we changed and ran down the stone path to the ocean.
In the newspaper that morning was a story about a murder. A year ago on the beach at the far end several teenagers had killed a kid with a screwdriver, a wooden cane, a crash helmet, and a knife. It was a section with a steep dark cliff and steps up the side, like a pirate’s escape. “Ah, that was far away from here,” one of the beach attendants told my husband, “at the far end of the beach.”
Four Uighurs arrived while we were there, men who had spent over seven years in prison at Guantanamo Bay. Some of those years in solitary confinement. Now they were dressed in pastel polo shirts and smiling in front of a blue house. One day they went swimming. The headline in the paper read—“We’d never heard of al Qaeda.”
I was living all my lives at once. My father at my elbow at breakfast reading the paper as he sipped his coffee. The young woman who was dressed in a black and white dress at the ambassador’s house who couldn’t imagine another life beyond the present.
The last night we ate on the beach at a bistro that served grilled fish and fancy pasta. Our waiter’s name was Raafat and he came, he told us, from Luxor where the temples are. He was a magician and showed us how to tip a glass filled with water and not spill a drop. He was entertaining my son and a table with three boys next to us. “Are you a professional magician?” I asked him, and he laughed and said no.
He pulled a rope from his pocket and showed my son how to break it in two without cutting it. The sun was still high in the sky and I was on my second glass of wine. When he came to clear our plates, I asked him if he had children. “Two boys,” he said, “Five and a half and eight years old.” He spends three months with them each year.
On the way out he kissed me, once on each cheek. I felt lucky to be blessed, in a way, by a magician.
Earlier that day I decided I was as happy as anyone could be at the moment. My sixteen-year-old son throwing himself into the waves and just missing the crest. His long arms scraping the sandy bottom of the sea.