Hi friends! I’m going to get a little personal today in this post…I hope you don’t mind a break from the “news!” Those of you who have lived here in the past or who live here still may get a little emotional with the prose I am about to share. Every few years, it seems like there is a mass exodus of long time residents from St. John. Folks who have lived here for a while…People who started to dig in roots here, people we call family, who we began to build our holidays and birthdays around. People who we depend on for laughs, dance parties, boat days, beach days, hiking dates and long talks. Every few years, around this time, it feels like a lot of the good ones take off. And this year is one of those years.
Eight years ago, I got my first taste of this mass displacement of friends (AKA Island Family). Two of my very best friends left St. John within a few months of each other, leaving me (then a newbie) behind on the rock. I didn’t know how I would navigate the waters here without them at the time. And, back then, it felt like all of my coconuts were falling from the sky upon their departure. And, there was a collection of words that I found on a blog that helped me get through the tough days upon their consecutive departures.
Recently, a friend shared the this piece of prose….Why? Because this spring, nearly a dozen people who have been here for a substantial amount of time have decided, for one reason or another, that it was time to go. Friendships on St. John are not just that….These are people who we have been through hurricanes with, people who we have started our lives over with, people who we learned how to live on an island with, people we share sideways glances with over jokes only those of us who have been here for a bit can understand. These are much more than friendships. The relationships built on this little rock in the middle of the ocean are a part of your life, long after we move on to different places and different paths…
So, without further adieu, I’d like to share this passage that I stumbled upon so many years ago from Women Who Live on Rocks.
An Open Letter to Departing Island Friends by Chrissann Nickel
It seems like every couple of years, what feels like a mass exodus takes place. All of a sudden, friend after friend, acquaintance after acquaintance, is moving off island, most often headed back to “the real world.” Life on a rock is very transitory in nature, giving the impression that nearly everyone views their time here as a temporary interlude in their otherwise normal life path – one that always had an expiration date attached to it from the beginning. It’s currently one of those times again: lots of goodbye brunches and farewell cocktail parties, lots of people moving on.
In my early island years, I wanted to throw myself around people’s ankles, theatrically begging them to reconsider and stay, and couldn’t imagine what my life here would be like without them in it. Perhaps it’s because many of us are transplants and that this shared experience of island living is so different to what most of us are familiar with, but island life, much like the battlefields of love and war, cultivates deep friendships in impressively short periods of time.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better at goodbyes. At this point, I’m almost expecting people to leave before they even make the decision themselves and therefore, the inevitable news doesn’t come as much of a surprise anymore. Though as each person makes their grand exit, no matter how many times I’ve been through it before, it still always brings me pause to reflect on what it would be like to be the one on that plane, watching the islands and sea fade into the distance, knowing it would be a very long time until I’d see it again. It’s this scene that never fails to well up my eyes with tears and put a lump in my stomach, effectively telling me it’s definitely not my time for that yet, if ever.
Gratuitous emotional moment then pushed aside, I shift gears and turn my focus to the culture shock that surely awaits the departed back in society and have myself a conspiratory giggle. For whether you’ve been here for one year or five, after any significant period of your life spent on a rock, most everywhere else is a sharp contrast to everything you’ve inadvertently become accustomed to.
And so, as I write my goodbye notes, I thought I’d pen a cumulative one, to all the departing island peeps out there – past, present, and future.
Dearest Departing Friend,
It is such a bummer to see you go. You’ve become one of my favorite people to drink with, boat with, beach with, laugh with, and yes – bitch with. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming – in this last year I’ve watched your humor for the island wane and evolve into a bitterness I don’t quite share. I had secretly hoped it was just a severe case of Rock Fever, but as it turns out, you have fallen out of love with this place. And for that reason alone (my selfish wanting-you-to-stay desires temporarily quelled), I am trying to be happy for you that your wish to leave is finally coming true.
While it’s hard to keep the Survivor references out of our remaining conversations (“Outwit, Outplay, Outlast!”; “Quitter!!”; “You have been voted off the island. The tribe has spoken.”), I am doing my best to be supportive of your move. Quitter. Ok – sorry – that was the last one.
I know you’re looking forward to all of the abundance that awaits you in the Land of Convenience. But for my benefit, I’d like to request in advance that you control your urge to text me every time you so casually grab a Starbucks, or find 68 varieties of reasonably priced, perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes at your local farmer’s market, or receive stellar (now normal) customer service. I get it. It’s going to be awesome.
As the one left behind so to speak, I’d rather you share with me your hapless missteps in failing to integrate back into civilization. Make me laugh. I need it. I’m missing you, Quitter.
Tell me about how you are having a miserable time following directions that use actual street names instead of landmarks and how much you miss the simplicity of just telling people to “turn left at the dumpster” to find your house.
Tell me how your toes are dying of Suffocation Disease from being forcibly contained to shoes everyday and how the soles of your feet have hardened without their weekly sand buffering treatment.
Tell me how you nearly got tackled for trying to carry your cocktail out of the bar and how what you miss most (besides me, obvi) is roadies.
Tell me how the first time you had to drive on the freeway again it was like that scene in Clueless, where you went into full-blown panic mode, screaming “The Freeeewaaaay!!” due to the overwhelming speed and activity of it all.
Tell me how aggravating it is to enter the bank, or the post office, or anywhere really, and not have every random stranger greet one another with “good morning/afternoon.” Seriously – rudeness.
Tell me how you took a hike and were more than slightly displeased that there wasn’t a bar at the end of it.
Tell me how cold you are all the time and how wearing bras everyday instead of just bikini tops is just as annoying as you thought it would be.
Anyway, I guess what I’m asking you to do is keep the sparkle to a minimum. I realize we’ve both made our choices – you, to go, me, to stay – and everything is a trade off and that there are perks to both of our homes. But still. I just lost you, the wound is still fresh, and I am not yet in an emotional position where I’m ready to re-mourn the loss of good Mexican food again. In exchange for you not rubbing all of your Plenty in my virtual face, I promise to do the same and keep the breathtaking sunset and boating pics to an absolute minimum, especially in December, January, and February.
But no matter your trials or triumphs as you readjust to your new big world, just remember that the islands will always be here waiting for you should you feel the need to escape and return to your barefoot days. That’s the best part – you’re now in on the secret that there’s another lifestyle option available to you. One that exists just south of normal – a funny, funky Bizarro World in the Sun that you know is not a dream, but an actual screensaver you can live in for as long as you can stay sane (or, until the rum runs dry). And, you have friends here.
The tropics stay in your blood forever – that is an irrefutable fact of science. Once an island girl, always an island girl.
Wishing you all the best on your next adventure,
Your Fellow Castaways Still Limin’ on de Rock
I do hope that you all enjoyed this share…It has been weighing on my mind as to whether or not this is the appropriate venue in which to cast this message that rings so close to home for so many of us here. But, I know there are a lot of you out there who will just “get” the parallels drawn. Whether it be a connection to the heartbroken feels of those of us left behind or the heartbroken feels of those who have had to, for one reason or another, move on.
To my departed island friends, I wish you all the best in the world. I hope that your new paths are lit by the stars and the sun and that you find what you are looking for in your new surroundings. And please, don’t ever forget, in the lyrical words of my dear friend Erin Hart…“Once you come to the island you know you can always come home…”