Say Goodbye

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” she says.

“And I’m not drinking tonight,” I reply, tipping my half-full glass of rum and pineapple towards her. “To the lies of Roatan!”

A clink of glasses and we drink. The soft glow of Christmas lights encircling a palm tree casts her face in a stunning juxtaposition of gold and shadows. My eyes trace the contour of her face, mentally absorbing the image of her delicate features, willing my mind to embalm this moment in the timeless formaldehyde of memory.

Our gazes lock. The glimmer of the beachside bonfire dances in her dark eyes. In a glance, we tacitly acknowledge the waning hours.

Say ‘goodbye’, I remind myself.

“I want your life.”

The faces change but the voice stays the same. Old, young, male, female, straight, gay, and the downright strange. An international kaleidoscope of characters floating by like seagrass in a swell, their myriad sun-kissed smiles painting a canvas with the colors that make life beautiful. They speak of homes I’ll never visit, of lives I’ll never know, of loves lost and disillusioned dreams distilled into five or six days of hedonistic escapism. They are many, but the voice is the same.

For five or six days, we speak the same language. We laugh, drink, and dive. Bonds are developed, friendships made, dreams recognized, passions ignited, loves discovered. Then the drift dive of life carries them out of my visibility zone, their faces, lives, homes and dreams fading into the opacity of memory.

Barely enough time to say ‘hello’.

The wind whips the curls of my sun-bleached hair into premature dreadlocks. The boat cuts a chalky V across the turquoise tranquility of the Caribbean Sea. The mooring ball vanishes from sight behind the wake, sweeping with it ephemeral images from the previous dive. Pictures of turtles, groupers, moray eels and eagle rays are filed away in the mental warehouse of the past.

Then the snapshot of her eyes glistening in the dark bubbles up from my subconscious, blinding me to the immediate beauty of my surroundings with melancholic twinges of my reality. I cannot see the reef for the coral. But this is the life I’ve chosen.

Laughter ripples sternward. The customers are sharing pictures. Tonight we’ll share some drinks. Tomorrow we’ll share hugs and goodbyes.

As the boat casts a crescendo of foam from its trail, the memories resurge like waves of seasickness—a collage of lives transformed, hearts broken and final embraces exchanged. When the wake cast by my life is recollected at life’s final wake, I pray my legacy lives on in the lives of those whom I have been blessed enough to affect.

“I want your life.” But do you?

Most people I know spend a large part of their life swimming in very small circles. I am equally guilty: circumnavigating the kilometer of sand spanning the eclectic scuba diving community of West End, Roatan, limits one’s ability to wander too far. My circle, however, is a whirlpool. Lives spin by in the daily whitewash of cruise ship, airline, and ferry schedules, a flotsam of fascinating people fracturing my feeble grasp on anything stable.

Whereas most folks are comfortable floating in a sea of anonymous faces punctuated by a few pairs of white eyes they recognize, I thrive in the turbulence of the tourism industry. I meet incredible people on a daily basis. Whether be it for a few hours or a few weeks, together we forge fantastic yet fleeting relationships underscored by the taint of impending termination. When they step foot into the taxi bearing them homeward, I never know if their oft-repeated desires for my life will ever reach fruition.

I meet over two-thousand new faces every year. I see hundreds of eyes shine with the light of first discovering the majesty of the underwater world. I sweat side-by-side with dozens of interns hoisting their hopes for a future in the dive industry with every pair of tanks they heave. I relish personal moments with my protégés, sharing laughs, beers and tears as we run away from the American Dream.

And then I say goodbye.

The message comes across Skype in emotionless Arial and I am brought to tears.

He was thirty-eight years old. It was only a few weeks ago he staggered down the dock, his dry suit shuffling awkwardly under the weight of the standard tec diving rig, perspiration streaming down his forehead and beading atop the bushy beard surrounding his beaming smile. We swapped stories, photographs, software, and beers. His hearty laugh guffawed across the deck. We bid him farewell, certain he would come back—yet again—to join us on Roatan’s resplendent reef.

It was a heart attack. While diving. He died quickly—no asphyxiation. A mere six meters from the surface. Nothing could be done. Gone.

My mind spins. My heart bleeds.

But then, a quantum of solace: would he have had it any other way? He may have asked for more years—decades, of course—but no man knows how fast the sand is falling in his hourglass. He was pursuing his passion for diving when he passed. He was following a life without regrets, living his dreams as the dream of life faded away.

And so I say goodbye.

“I want your life.”

Tragically, for so many people who declare this during our brief acquaintance, their words are hollow. They return to their lives and resume numbing themselves with the routine, whittling away their years in anticipation of “one day” returning to paradise, colostomy bag in tow. Their dreams dissipate in the day-to-day, forgetting that their days are numbered.

That is why I grow frustrated when people tell me “I want your life.” They don’t. They want the ideal my lifestyle represents without the sacrifices and heartache. They want escape. But life offers none. Whether you are in the so-called reality of the city or the so-called reality of the islands, you still live in the definitive reality of life’s brevity. Words without action are the vapors of history. Their supposed wants are empty.

When you want something, you don’t tinker around the edges; you walk with full confidence in the direction you choose, knowing that where your feet fall is the right path.

It’s a hard path to trod—truly living is life without a safety net. The road plummets precipitously on both sides. But would I have it any other way? Never. I rest peacefully knowing that, when it comes time for me to finally rest in peace, the replay of my life recoiling through my dying neurons will be a slideshow of spectacular experiences. No regrets. I know all my wrong turns, my stumbles and falls have brought me here, and for that I am the luckiest.

And so this is the life I’ve chosen: to say goodbye before you say hello.

2 Responses to “Say Goodbye”

  • #1


    I just stared at my screen for a good three minutes before deciding to tell you that i have nothing to say. I remember sitting in the living room of your house about a year ago and you telling me you wanted to go back and focus on sharpening your writing and blahblahblah. Well, if you truly have been working on honing the skill that was already there, you’ve done it. This was absolutely beautiful and was an almost heart-wrenching call back to reality for me… that I can’t run away from this “American Dream” and find escape even by getting on a plane and flying to an island.

    Keep on Inspiring me, cousin, and I’ll keep on reading.

    And let me know when you guys are hurting for musicians down there

    Much love,

  • #2
    Christie writes:

    I love you Stebs – I agree with Hammy – keep writing – it is a gift you’ve been given. Let it be that and use it well!

    miss you — so glad you were here!

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