Descending from Glee with a soft thud of my old walking boots breaking the dawn silence on the dinghy hull, I tilt the outboard to get the propeller out of the water, deploy the oars and gently row away toward a clearing by the two tugs moored near Mount Fortune.
The morning is still, with hardly a ripple on the lagoon. There’s no-one else around, I could be the only man on Earth in this moment. The ‘slip, slop’ of the oars stirring the water’s surface massages my mind for the few minutes it takes to reach the shallows. It’s a temporary relief from the pain of tragic news of the sudden passing of my close friend and former lover, Debbie Bulman.
The Sun had not yet risen but was now painting the tops of the cotton-candy clouds a new-born pink. Today is the dawn following the vernal equinox. The Sun had crossed the Equator confirming the end of the long British winter and on its way north to dry out my homeland and to turn up the heat in the Caribbean. I had felt happy to have escaped the cold and damp alone, but today I felt like I’d abandoned a treasured friend.
The water here looks about 3 inches deep but the dinghy’s draft is shallow enough to clear the bottom and I reach the cluster of rocks protruding from the shallows. The rocks are unyielding and solidly support my weight to keep my boots dry as I step across to land. The trunk of a nearby shrub offers the perfect mooring point. It doesn’t cross my mind to use the lock and cable. I leave it unlocked.
If this land is private, I don’t care. We all belong to the land, the land belongs to no-one. Ownership is an illusion created by men and supported only by a collective belief.
I didn’t sleep well last night. Grief, guilt, regret, memories and thoughts of lost opportunities sprout out of the shock of unexpected loss. I think of all the things left unsaid, projects left unfinished and dreams left unfulfilled.
Glee is only about a hundred metres south of me but, even this close, gives the impression to be too small to be a home for anyone. The branches of the shrubs are low but thin and easily brushed aside as I turn to move inland. Within a dozen strides, grassland opens up before me.
This is not Britain; there are no badgers and hedgehogs here so what sort of creatures lurk beneath the undergrowth? I take a stick and sweep the knee-high grass as I walk in order to disturb any snakes or whatever might be startled upon my sudden arrival. The vista is not so different from places I’ve been back home and reminds me of our stealth camping adventures around Britain. My throat starts to tighten and squeezes tears up to my eyes over the memories.
I bear left into the woodland. The trees are not as dense as they appear from the water and I easily crouch and duck my way through the woods and over the rise toward the rock at the end of the peninsula. Apart from some discarded boat batteries and beer bottles as I walk along the incline, the place seems unspoiled by civilisation and the land soon levels out to a clearing on a leafy Plateau.
Through the branches of the trees, I can see the boats on the lagoon but I myself am concealed from sight. Deb would have loved hanging out here. It would be places like this on our travels that we’d cook up a meal, read, doze in the hammock and quietly repack the van before moving on. These places were never a destination and we rarely visited the same place twice. Yes, we both would have loved spending some time here. I continue on, for today I have a purpose: to conquer Mount Fortune in the memory of Deb.
I arrive at the foot of the eastern side of the rock and look up, the climb looks too steep and the footholds too far apart so I edge around to the north to find an easier route. The western side beckons me to the summit, not so steep and with plenty of footholds; some steps were a stretch but it was neither difficult or dangerous.
The sun had cleared the eastern hills and had beaten me to the summit. No matter, standing next to the cellphone mast, looking across to all points of the lagoon. I see the whole of the Dutch side to the south, the Lowlands to the west and, to the north, I make out Fort Louis at Marigot and even the island of Anguilla beyond. The view is spectacular. Below me, a small dinghy carves a white line into the dark blue water. The livening easterly wind turns the faces of the yachts into the sun in unison as if to present them for worship at its arrival.
I wander around the mast taking photographs and eventually settle on a rock. The sun slowly escapes the hills and I take time to indulge my random thoughts.
Call it what you like, this is now ‘Deb’s Rock.’ If I had been the first Westerner here, ‘Deb’s Rock’ would be printed on every chart and map in the world. But this is the 21st century. What’s left to be discovered for us in this world? Wherever we go today, the towels are already on the deckchairs…
Grief comes in waves; in peaks and troughs. But unlike the ocean you can’t see them coming, you can only feel the effect as they pass. Here on the summit, I feel numb inside but I know this won’t last. The brain chatters like a waterfall, the heart surges like an ocean swell in a gale and the stomach knots up like a seasick passenger.
I’d stay here all day but what would be the point? I’d done what I set out to do. I’ve admired the beauty of the world and digested the experience. What’s left is all internal and I can take it with me back to Glee.
My own life is not yet done. Each day is a bonus. A bonus that Deb no longer has. If it were possible, I’d trade some of my time to have her sharing this day with me now; or the last few weeks on Glee; one more chance to get her out of the house that, on one hand, held so many good memories for her and her family, plus sustained her with an income, yet ultimately became a prison for her soul…
But these thoughts are futile. Whatever I would have done differently, it still would never have felt enough in the end. And if our choices happen to lead us to a path of self-sacrifice then that’s no good to anyone.
Nevertheless, I feel I’ve somehow missed an opportunity for us both and I can change nothing about it now except change the feeling itself.
I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono: ancient Hawaiian healing prayer)
Tip of the day: Live each day like it may be your last because someday you’ll be right.
In Memory of Debbie Bulman:
2nd July 1961 – 21st March 2016