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…”
19 thoughts on “Tis the Season for Departing Island Friends…”
Have you noticed – how many of them “rebound” after a few years in civilization? I’ve seen that a few times to. They get back to the States and realize they had forgotten how stressful the rat race can be. Next thing you know they are back in the islands or on a boat. Just curious what you have seen.
Beautifully written…thank you for sharing!
Me and my family moved to st John 1979 stayed till 2017!!!!! Our hearts will always be there!!! Was the best of times!! Opening the back yd! And Doug opening Skinny legs!!!!! Doug even died there!!! Our kids grown and have kids of their own!!! Made lifetime friendships!! My heart will always be there❤️❤️❤️❤️
Lived on St. Thomas for 3 years-contract kid do always knew we would be go back to the States. Made some of the deepest and long lasting friendships that continue to this day-across the miles.
Hope you make new friends and continue with older ones to help carry you through this time.
Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing this with those of us that only get to live on the rock for only weeks at a time, and still feel great sadness when it’s time to leave the friends we made in that short time.
What an awesome reflection. While I have never been a resident most of the friends we made in Coral Bay made us feel as though we were. Have been visiting St. John twice a year for 15 years and it is always tough to leave. Thank you for keeping the island close to us.
John and Cindy Cardellicchio
Brava. Great sentiments. I can’t necessarily speak to it as I have yet to spend more than a couple of weeks at a time on St. John. I’m sure your friends appreciate it.
I’ve dreamt of living on St. John since my first visit decades ago. I’m only a frequent visitor, but this post made my eyes well up like they do every time I’m on the ferry leaving my favorite place in the world.
It’s been about 12 months off island for me. Everything’s rings so true with this article. I spent 8 years on the rock and I believe after living there that long, if you do leave….you actually never really leave. Maybe that’s how I cope
Love this..as someone who has always tried to find a way to move to St. John and failed.. it truly puts it all in perspective. Thank you for sharing .. this warms my heart as well as makes me sad
Thank you Hillary! What a great read. I’m grateful that you shared this with us. I’m off island right now and your post made me homesick to be back on our little rock, soon. Thank you for keeping it real. I appreciate you and look forward to seeing you again soon.
Love this Hillary! Sorry for your losses of Island friends. We’ve never lived there but have been there so much for so long we feel it’s our 2nd home.
Living this right now ourselves. Not from STJ but another Caribbean island. And maybe we will be back, but for now the overwhelming need for structure and rock fever have won this battle. I’m pleased to know we are not alone in our “quitter” status, and hope to feel welcomed back when the timing is more suitable in life.
Great piece. I confess, I’m not a full time resident but my wife and I and sometimes friends come to STJ twice a year since the late 80’s. We love the simplicity and friendliness of this slice of paradise. We live full-time on St. Simons Island, Ga.and can somewhat relate with friends moving back to Atlanta saying this is a small island with limits the big city doesn’t have. Having said that, see you on 6/27!
Hillary this is my favorite read!!! I hope yo book a tour wirh you on our next visit. Your News of St John is really the only news I read anymore. Forget mainstream, just give me the island Beat!
Since 1989 when we first came to visit, it has been a go to place. Sure a dream of living on St John happens everytime we come, but on the last day of a 4th week stay we know it wasn’t to be. So we immediately look ahead to the next trip. We do so miss the friends we have made, but it feels so right when we come back again. Not every dream or desire can come true, but we can still be friends for life. M&M
I have been coming to St. Thomas and St. John for 53 years. Spent my second honeymoon at Caneel. This holiday season my entire family and that of my sister will spend 10 days on St. John. Whenever someone asks me where my favorite place is, I answer St. John. There is something magical about it. Thanks to all who have shared their thoughts.
Like Andy said before, some of us live on our “rock” Stateside, and we love it almost as much. (I also love Women Who Live on Rocks!) We’re on Anastasia Island, also know as St. Augustine Beach, FL, and we can’t imagine living in a big city again! Yes, we have many more conveniences than being on St. John (our favorite vacation place!), but it’s still a big sigh of relief when we “cross the bridge” back to the island. Sorry for your friends leaving, though, and thank you for sharing this post.
Great share thank you!