THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE
Our adventure began with a bit of a snag. Our flight to Tortola (BVI) was to have an overnight stopover in Philadelphia and an early morning flight directly to the sunny Caribbean. However, the day we chose to leave Nova Scotia was the same day as one of the worst snow storms to hit the east coast of the United States in recorded time! Not only were we grounded in Philadelphia – the airport itself was completely shut down for two days! No flights in or out! It was Friday afternoon when we arrived and we weren’t able to leave the airport hotel (where, luckily, we had a room) until Sunday night! And even then, we would not be headed to Tortola as planned, but to Charlotte in North Carolina for another overnight before flying to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on Monday morning.
But all was not wasted. The delay in plans allowed me to spend some quality time with my much younger brother. He was about 8 when I left home for college. Most of my memories of his early years were of babysitting – a chore not well appreciated by a young teenage girl! Over the years we saw each other at family gatherings and when he moved from Nova Scotia to Toronto I visited him there a few times there. But there was not much quality time for two people who share a whole lot of DNA! Getting to know him now, as an adult, has been a real gift.
It is amazing how many topics you can discuss when you’re snowed in! Not only was the airport closed, but the city was shut down as well. Looking out the window of the hotel room, H remarked that the storm ‘didn’t look that bad.’ I agreed, but then we’re from Canada, and no strangers to snow! I quipped that at home we wouldn’t even close the schools for this amount of snow. I exaggerate – but only a little. Anyhow, Canada is equipped to handle snowstorms – it’s what we do. Not so for the more southern parts of our shared east coast. So we waited, eating Philly cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, talking, watching movies and a marathon of ‘The Office’ episodes on Netflix. In fact, I was having such a good time I wouldn’t even have minded another day or so!
On early Sunday afternoon we made our way (without going outside) to the desolated airport to wait for our North Carolina flight, scheduled to leave at 7:45pm. It was a long wait, but since H had access to the only open lounge in the terminal it wasn’t so bad. We had internet access: H did some business and watched a movie while I crocheted half a shawl, played Sudoku, and began a book I bought when the airport stores finally opened (an autobiography by Carly Simon – which, as a big fan of James Taylor – I am loving!). As the time for our flight to leave approached, the departure board showed short delay after short delay – culminating in a very long delay.
It was after midnight when we finally boarded the plane – we had to wait for a flight crew to arrive from another trip. I felt bad for them – they looked fairly worn out. I would have also worried that the pilot’s attention might be compromised due to lack of sleep, but I had taken my Ativan by then so I barely gave it a thought! Once on board (first class section with those oddly shaped seats that fully recline in little individual pod-like compartments – my first experience of this!), it was at least another hour before we took off for a flight that was expected to be about 30 minutes.
It was after 2am when we arrived at the hotel in Charlotte. Because of the scheduling nightmare experienced by airlines and hotels, the only suitable room we could get was in a wing of a Doubletree hotel (usually an okay kind of place) under construction. We wheeled our suitcases over plastic drop sheets, around stacks of ceiling tiles, paint cans, doors, ladders, and various types of carpentry tools. Our next flight was scheduled for early the next morning so we grabbed a few hours sleep before going back to the airport to ‘hurry up and wait’ again.
This flight was smooth and relatively on time – all things being equal. First class again (I’m going to travel with my brother more often!); a smooth flight landing three hours later on the island of St. Thomas. The sunny south at last!
All that was left was to catch the ferry to Tortola. That meant another customs check. I’d forgotten how ‘different’ this experience is in the Caribbean. My brother went through, they merely glanced at his passport. He walked through a scanner, which buzzed, but the woman on duty didn’t bother to get him to do it again; she just waved him through. I had a carry-on bag slightly bigger than his and the agent would not let me pass until I back and checked it. She was adamant that I not take it on board. When I returned I walked by her to the security checkpoint; she didn’t even try to stop me or ask to see my passport. The scanner buzzed as I went through, but again, no big deal – she waved me through as well.
We found outside seats at the back of the boat just as the ferry was pulling away. We looked back when we heard a woman’s voice coming the deck of a restaurant beside the dock, She was waving her arms and pointing to a backpack. The captain backed up the ferry so the woman could toss the backpack directly from the restaurant to the boat! So much for security!
The ferry ride took about a half hour. The colour of the clear blue/green water reflecting a sky of the same colour, the islands poking out of the ocean, the soft warm salt spray, and gentle rocking of the boat made me feel like I was a kid again. Finally, the most excellent part of our excellent adventure was starting to kick in!
I’ve been looking forward to this trip for so many reasons, the first of which was to see whether I could do it. I’ve been wanting to for years. And I may have a bit earlier, if not for a number (large number) of family incidents. But after a year of dullness marked the first anniversary of earning my doctorate, I felt that if I didn’t do something, I may as well just close up shop and wait to die. This is not an uncommon feeling for someone suffering from depression. I felt myself gradually slip into that state. I could see it coming – a great grey cloud of gloom muting, if not extinguishing anything light and happy in my life. Many things in my external world were quite good (did I say I finished a doctorate…), but other things, mostly things involving family were picking away at what people used to call my perky outlook.
Yes, I know I ‘allowed’ it to happen. But that’s just the thing about depression – it doesn’t need your permission. First, for whatever reason, your world becomes smaller. You make up excuses about not socializing and people cut you some slack because they can see your external problems too, and perhaps empathize from their own experience. “I don’t know how you do it,” or “you have so much on your plate right now,” are heard often expressions. Gradually, as you fall into the pit that is depression, you find that you are not socializing because you have “too much on your plate,” but because you’re afraid. When you do go out in public for social purposes or obligations, mostly you end up crying (sobbing even) in front of people you don’t know, and worse – those you know well. No one likes to do that. And it makes other people feel pretty uncomfortable as well.
Soon, even after some of the pressures of external problems let up (only some) and you have more time from temporary partial resolutions of your problems, the depression doesn’t just go away and you begin to see that you will never be able to go back to your perky Pollyanna past. Having had a perky Pollyanna past myself, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the perfect storm of crappy stuff that came my way. Not only were my Pollyanna reserves drained, the apparatus for ‘refueling’ myself was broken – smashed to shreds even. Given the circumstances the only thing I could do was nothing – and then feel really badly about it. Many days were just given over to the looming gloom. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t plan, – hell, I couldn’t even play! Most days I didn’t bother to get dressed, it seemed futile – given a cost/benefit analysis of the energy it would require to do it.
Even the sound of the phone ringing raised my anxiety level at least three points; answering would have been impossible without lorazepam. I rarely answered emails. I had nothing to say – or, better put: nothing I could say. I would list the things that caused anxiety (the root of my depression) and concluded that anyone else with this much negativity going on in their life would probably fare no better. Of course that didn’t help. Funny thing about depression: when you’re depressed misery does not love company – actually, not company in any form.
I could write much more on what it feels like to be depressed but I’ve only recently started to climb out of the pit and I’m seriously worried about falling backward. It’s not that I only look on the sunny side (after having relearned there is a sunny side) that keeps me moving forward, but the drugs – o, the drugs – that seem, at least for now, to be doing their job. My job in the recovery process is to do whatever I can to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And so, back to the trip…
There were lots of other reasons to make this trip – too much snow in Nova Scotia when last year’s near record amounts were still fresh in my mind. A change of scenery is always helpful, and spending time with my much younger brother was also appealing. So I decided to cash in on a long-standing invitation to visit him, my brother. I agreed to accompany him home from his recent visit with our parents.
Oh, and ‘home’ for my bother is Grand Cayman. Enroute, he needed stop over in Tortola for a few days for some business meetings. I’m fine with that. Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands, and was his home until about five years ago. Although often invited I had never been there, so I thought – possibly – this trip could be an adventure for me. A badly needed adventure. A “most excellent” one – even better!
Dr. Regina Coupar
(MA, MTS, D.Min)
Visual Artist and
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