Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Letting Go

Some of you might have noticed my somewhat extended absence from the blogosphere, and I can assure you, it’s justified: on August 1st (technically 2nd since I arrived in Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport well past midnight), I officially relocated back to Montreal.

It’s funny exactly how life chooses to sock it to you emotionally – usually when you least expect it. In my case, I’d known about the relocation for months and months now – honestly, I’d made my decision to leave the island last year but stayed on for financial reasons that are allowing me to take time off to write my next book – so I can’t say I didn’t have a chance to get used to the decision. And in the weeks leading up to the move, I did what I always said I would, quit my job early so I could divide my days between writing, the beach, and hanging out with my friends, generally just enjoying everything about Cayman I didn’t have time for when I was pulling overtime at the office.

And everyone would invariably ask: Are you ready?

‘Course I am. My stuff’s packed up, I had a massive blow-up launch party which made the local papers and doubled as a goodbye bash for me and a hundred of my friends. Any more tanning and I would have effectively become a handbag. I’ve indulged in all the island has to offer, from duty-free jewellery and designer sunglasses, to Piña Coladas by the shore, cursing out tourists and watching cruise ships sail out of the Georgetown port toward a blood-orange sunset and the calm, endless horizon.

The first time I cried a little was standing in line at the American Airlines check out counter, saying goodbye to the friends who’d come to see me off. It was only when the customs officer I was used to seeing every time I left to shop in Miami, visit family in Montreal, or travel to any other place that caught my flighty fancy, wished me good luck upon seeing the expiration date of my last work permit that the loss sucker-punched me to the gut. Even though we’d never exchanged anything beyond hellos and thank yous, we looked at each other in that suspended second, understanding that this was a real goodbye. That’s when it sunk in, after months of mental and actual preparation, that I was now one big angry red stamp in my passport away from going back to being just like everyone else. My time as a tropical Cinderella was up, just like I always knew it would be one day. But when you’re busy dancing away in the arms of adventure, ‘one day’ is just an idea, one that has very little to do with you.

Of course, we always idealize in hindsight. But not all our rosy memories are illusions – in the case of my stint in the Caribbean, most were not. After I’d gotten over the adaptation hump (the first six months), it was pretty smooth sailing for the next four and a half years. I went places I couldn’t have gone to on a Montreal salary, met adventure-seekers like me from all over the world, made the kind of friendships that made me wish I’d met those people back in high school, visited Cuba to my heart’s content, shopped in London and Miami for lack of malls on the islands (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), and had time to write my first novel. Even hurricane Ivan, with all the upheaval it wreaked on our lives, made me understand what it is for a community to pull together in times of mass disaster, and Cayman, scarred and pitiable though it was in those months, was never closer to my heart. Sometime around then, I unconsciously stopped meaning Montreal when I said ‘home’.

The second sucker-punch came upon my very tardy arrival into Montreal, when I looked at the Canadian customs officers and confessed my repatriation.

“Welcome back” she said, with a big, warm smile.

More tears.

It’s been twenty days now, and every day the Cayman experience feels more and more like a distant dream, which really, it was. The Islands are a transient place. They’re an idea, an ideal, a wasps’ nest of small frustrations, a heaven and a haven. Jimmy Buffet has built an empire on their mystique and sang, quite eloquently, about how expatriates to these tiny drifting rafts of humanity are free to come and play paradise with the natives for a while, but will never become a part of island life. They look at us as one might look at a passing storm, with reason. We sweep into town with our running and rushing and modernizing, we complain and adapt and improve and take what we want and leave what we don’t want, and they just sit back and do things as they always have, secure in the knowledge that every storm passes, and every day will go back to stretching out hot and lazy just like the all the ones before, and all the ones to come.

And while my mark on the islands will not be felt any deeper than a footprint in the sand, I will never forget them.

Goodbye Cayman

5 comments:

Marilyn Brant said...

Your tribute to the Cayman Islands was beautiful, Nadine. I imagine your friends there will miss you as much as you miss them. Meanwhile, everyone you know in Canada is cheering on your return. I'm thinking of you as you readjust and hoping the settling-in process will go smoothly for you...

Nadine Dajani said...

Thanks Marilyn - moving is always hard. I honestly never thought I would stay so long and dig such deep roots. But, now I feel like I have a whole other life there, and that's what's wonderful about traveling. You start to see that the world is both really big and really small at the same time, and how that's a good thing.

Maureen McGowan said...

Welcome back to Canada, Nadine.

But while I've never lived somewhere quite as paradise-worthy as the Caymans... I, too, left a place that was somewhat idyllic compared to my home and native land. (For me it was the Bay Area in California.)

It just about wrecked me when I left. And I didn't leave to move home, I left to move to Philadelphia. (Okay, I'm an idiot.) Even if you know why you've made the decision, it's so sad to give up something you loved and make such a huge change.

Good luck getting settled back into Montreal. Here's wishing you a mild winter.

Anonymous said...

Oh Nadine, the island misses you! Mainly your friends, who are still in denial you are gone and are secretly hoping there is a small, small, chance you will move back some day. We are waiting with open arms.....

Anonymous said...

Nadine, it wasn't me (Dara) that left you the 'we miss you' comment but I agree with the sentiment... looking forward to seeing you back here around Christmas :)