Note: This is a continuation of the story from Days 7-8. Click here to go back and read Part 1. There will be a Part 3 shortly. Thank you to my new subscribers! I very much appreciate your interest in my short stories. 🙂
My knees lock as I approach the tiki hut to check in for the cruise to Fort Jefferson. I am not ready – for when the tour is over, it will be time to say goodbye.
But the man sitting at the small table inside the hut looks up at me, and I will look strange if I turn and go back the other way. I force myself to continue walking in his direction. “How many?” he asks me, and I feel pain in my heart. Is he trying to drive it in? I guess I must look like the family woman, like I should have children trailing after me, a doting husband to wait upon me hand and foot. But looks can be deceiving. There is a small line of skin on my ring finger of my left hand that is just the tiniest bit lighter than the rest of my hand. I tell him it is just me. My voice wavers when I say my last name. If things had gone according to plan, my last name would not be Fullbeck.
I am not ready to say goodbye. I try to listen to what this man in the tiki hut is saying. He is talking about forms. I blink and hope that I look like I am understanding. I take the blue folder he gives to me.
I am the first one to check in. I bite my nails, thinking about going back. I have already paid, though, and the reservation is non-refundable. If I called my mother, she would tell me to go, to enjoy it. I would tell her I feel myself becoming too upset to enjoy it, and she would tell me to do my breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are hard to do when you are in such a state that you need them. When you feel that way, the last thing you want to do is breathe. You want to scream, cry, and then once you’ve worn yourself out, you want to dejectedly throw yourself face-down in bed and see nothing but your pillow for the next few days.
My eyes are watering. I dig in my tote bag for my sunglasses. The man inside the tiki hut is looking at me. I wish he would stop. Unable to find my sunglasses, I give up and open the folder to look at the papers he has given me. I want to focus on anything but how I must look to all these people traveling in four’s and three’s and two’s. No one else has come alone. Why would they? Humans are social creatures; they enjoy doing pleasurable things such as eating, drinking, and vacationing in couples and groups. I told my mother this was a bad idea, but she would not listen. She doesn’t understand.
She doesn’t understand at all.
It feels like an eternity before everyone is checked in and we have gone over all the forms, but finally, the tiki hut man – his name tag says “Oscar” on it – tells us all it is time to get on the boat. We form an orderly line at the landing wharf. There are not many children in line, but one still somehow ends up in line behind me. His mother has not taught him the concept of personal space. I feel him brush and bump against the back of my thigh repeatedly. I instinctively inch away from him as much as I can without brushing the person in front of me, but he just follows. It takes another eternity to file onto the boat, and the morning sun is beating down on us. I fan myself with my blue folder.
You are so strong, my mother told me shortly before this trip. But maybe I am not strong. Maybe I am just doing what everyone else thinks I should do at the expense of my peace and contentment. Maybe it is strong that I can go through with it at all. Yes, that is probably what she meant. She and I have different definitions of what it means to be strong. I think people that can weep openly are strong. I think people that can stand up for themselves are strong. But I cannot do either.
I sit on the top deck of the boat and listen to the history of Key West and Ernest Hemingway. We have an Ernest Hemingway fan onboard – or, at least, this man sure does seem to know a lot about him. I only know the one quote. “Write drunk, edit sober.” That is the extent of my Hemingway knowledge. Evidently, he did not really say that. It is a misattributed quote. So in truth, I know nothing about Hemingway. I watch Oscar’s responses to this man, the Hemingway fan. Oscar seems to know a lot too. It is amazing how he can give all this information off the cuff, but I imagine he has been doing this for a long time. He probably prepares for it all, because you never know what you might get on these day trips. I notice Oscar looking at me again. Without thinking, I get up and head to the cocktail bar. I hate it that people are noticing me. I did not come here to be noticed. I came here to fulfill a promise.
I do not want to be remembered. But Oscar – he notices things, and he remembers. His awareness is off-putting. I order a rum and coke and make it a double. I need it strong. I do not want to be here, and I do not want to say goodbye. I am tired of goodbye. Goodbye is tired. I am tired.
I shift my bag to my other shoulder. It is getting heavy. It has been heavy, but I feel it more as the alcohol enters my system. I feel it in my heart too. It hurts, just like it hurt when Oscar asked me how many for the tour. Maybe it is a little worse now.
There is music playing at the cocktail bar. The song has a jangly rhythm guitar with riffs just before the chorus. But it is the lyrics that stand out to me. I hear a line that strikes me. It says, “If the silence takes you, then I hope it takes me too.” I ask the man behind the bar, whose name tag says Eric, which artist is playing. He says it is Death Cab for Cutie. I take my phone out of my bag and type the name in my Notes so that I can remember it later, then put it away.
“Are you a music fan?” Eric asks me. I can tell he is trying to chat me up. He is very blonde, even his eyebrows. He has big blue eyes. I cannot think of him as handsome, not because he isn’t, but because I am broken.
“Isn’t everyone?” I say, and I slip him a ten-dollar bill and take my drink back outside. No matter where I go, I will be noticed.
I am camping at The Dry Tortugas overnight, because I cannot do the thing I am supposed to do in broad daylight while families and couples are sitting on the beach, listening to Sam Cooke songs, drinking their drinks with umbrellas in them and feeling a contentment that is now foreign to me. My entire life has been violently uprooted.
I finish my drink and want to go order another one, but I do not want to look into Eric’s blue eyes again. Luckily, it is not long before we reach the dock of the park. It is time to break for lunch and sign in with the people I have rented the camping equipment from. I do not have much interest in the Fort Jefferson tour. It fills me with bitterness at the memories of nights spent poring over genealogy. Finding out that an ancestor served prison time at the fort for being a deserter from the Union Army in the Civil War had been the entire reason for this little excursion, which was to be the last leg of my honeymoon. The ancestor was not mine, but my fiancé’s. It pains me to remember how his face lit up when I told him that I had bought the tickets.
When I get off the boat, Oscar has disappeared, and Eric is gearing up for snorkeling. I go to a cabana with a sign that says “Camping Rentals” near the dock. I check in to make sure that everything is in order, that I can pick up the equipment once the tour of the fort is finished at two. Everything is all set, and that will be fine, I am told.
I go to another cabana to buy another rum and coke double. I do not feel hungry, but I buy a sandwich too. Maybe I will want it later. I leave my drink on the bar while I wrap my sandwich in extra napkins and think of placing it in my bag but decide not to. There is already too much in there. Defeated, I decide to sit and eat it now.
I am feeling the rum by the time I finish. Once I finish and dab the mustard from the corner of my mouth with a napkin, I throw the wrappings into a trash can and finish my drink. In a fit of sudden worry, I rummage through my bag for the engagement ring that I had placed in there this morning, when I decided it was too painful to wear. Once I see its diamond glint near the bottom of my bag, I tuck it back in and leave it.
As I look up, Oscar is coming back from the beach, watching me.
I fight the urge to turn and run.