When my kids were still in pre-school, my husband surprised me with an anniversary trip to Key West, Florida. He made all the arrangements and even got my mom to pay a visit and stay with the kids. It was my first time away from my boys and looking back, a defining moment in my life.
My thoughtful husband booked a sailboat excursion on a beautiful boat named Danger for an entire afternoon. We sailed away from the southernmost point of the United States and cut around an ominous looking storm to approach a calm mangrove island where the deckhand told us we would board kayaks to paddle in for a closer view. The sea was glassy where the mangrove roots came up through the water from the coral below and the warm air was filled with the scent of salt and fresh oranges left over from our snack back on deck. In this romantic environment, I should have felt happy, thankful for such an experience. Instead, I felt a clenching around my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about my children back at home in their grandmother’s care and how their lives would change if I tipped my little kayak and drowned. I half heard our captain tell about the ecology of the mangrove isle and how we should watch out for fish falling from above. The falling fish comment brought me out of my panic enough to learn that birds nesting in the mangrove trees might regurgitate their lunch into our kayaks as a defense mechanism. I was feeling a little like regurgitating my lunch as well, but I survived to board the boat for our next adventure.
After the kayaks were put away, our friendly captain told us we had sailed over a coral reef about 90 miles from Cuba. There I was putting on a snorkel mask and fins, preparing to jump ship 90 miles from Cuba while my children were watching Blue’s Clues over 1300 miles away completely unaware that at any moment, I might be eaten by a shark. The clenching in my chest returned as my husband all but shoved me into the water.
After returning to shore, I breathed a sigh of relief as we shopped and ate dinner in the open air. As my husband drove us back to the hotel on our rented moped, I buried my face in his back and closed my eyes. Why was I being so ridiculous?
Suddenly, we came to an abrupt stop crushing my nose into his spine. There was a squeal of tires and a metallic crash as I looked up rubbing the tip of my nose. Just ahead, a white VW Beetle had crashed with another car which sent it careening into a signpost. We pulled over and jumped up to help the passengers of the white car as the other car sped away. The man and woman in the disabled car spoke only French and we did not, so we tried to calm them with gestures and touch. They were injured and bleeding and appeared in shock so we waited silently with them until local authorities arrived.
On the way back to our hotel, my fears kept bubbling to the surface and I felt such a huge responsibility to take care of me for the sake of my kids. What if we had been involved in that accident? Everything we did beyond breathing seemed like such a huge risk that I was exhausted from the effort of suppressing the fear and pretending I was enjoying myself. But then I thought about what I had just witnessed. Those people were not only far away from loved ones, but in a place where they were isolated by language. They were driving around Key West probably having a nice time and then bam they were victims in a traffic accident. I realized I had two options, I could take this as a sign that the world was a dangerous place and beg my husband to fly us home immediately or face my fear and be a better mother to my children by not becoming an agoraphobe. By morning, I determined to choose the latter and I began by teaching myself to drive the moped. After an hour in the hotel parking lot with many abrupt stops and jerky starts, I braved the streets and drove myself the two and a half miles to Duval Street. With the breeze in my hair, I started to feel like myself again. I still couldn’t wait to get back to my kids but I made the choice to let go of my fear.