Jun 26, 2012
Jun 25, 2012
Joel was an enigma to me. Like Kane and Tariq, Tom’s twin kept mostly to himself. Only a good eye would be able to tell Tom and Joel apart in a photograph. Seeing either of them move or change facial muscles was a dead give–away, as they held and carried themselves radically differently. Tom was animated and gregarious; Joel was subdued and an introvert. I used to think that Joel was a bit cold and aloof and I worried for his only son, Derek, but I later learned that with Joel, it was just shyness. I could now see a sweet side to Joel which was passed to Derek by blood, only Derek didn’t know enough to hide this quality in himself yet. Being sweet was not manly, or at least Joel didn’t think so, apparently.
“Listen, ahh… if anything were to ever happen to me and my brother… heaven forbid I mean, could you look after my son? He takes to you, and you’re so good with him.”
I was proudly astounded, though I wondered why his offer wasn’t passed to Joel’s wife, or his father.
“Why Joel, of course I will. I don’t take this lightly. I… I’m touched that you asked me this.”
The whole time we spoke, Joel stared at the tablet that each of us held between us.
Jun 24, 2012
While Jim is like a father to me, Tom is like a big brother and is most protective of Darcy, Derek, and even me. Jeremy too, or anyone he considers weaker. One time, Grady was being hard on Jeremy, calling him a girl, telling him he needed to bronco up, until Tom finally told Grady to knock it off. While Tom is tall and thin and somewhat solid, Grady, like all the men in Security, has a marine body and is very trained in hand-to-hand combat. When Tom stood up to him, Grady looked at Tom in disbelief with his mouth open, but he said and did nothing to Tom, and stopped teasing Jeremy.
When administration matters arise, which occasionally calls for a meeting at Central Lodge, Tom is most professional and takes charge well, not in an over–bearing way, though not weak–mannered either. His leadership is a comfort to me, but sometimes I felt that Adrian is equally in charge, a strong force in the background.
At our campfires, everyone lets their armor down a bit, Tom most of all, and he tells us animated stories of his rebellious teen years, stories that surprise as well as entertain us. He tells us with a boyish eagerness that is quite charming and captivating.
Tom got in his share of high school fights. Coming home a bit bloodied with ripped shirts would engage his father. Joel (Tom's twin brother) once asked his brother “why all the fights?” and Tom had responded “I just can’t stand it when people are wrong.”
Joel remembers a time when they were in second grade, and fourth graders were verbally picking on them. Joel and his brother were tall and thin for their age, and one of Joel’s attackers was a stocky ten–year–old. Joel only reached the other boy’s chin, and the third boy had a reputation as a contentious bully. Being called names and shoved a bit didn’t bother Joel much; he just tuned them out. But it incensed Tom to no end, and at seven years old, Tom swung fists and pulled at the three fourth graders, attempting to land each of them in the mud under the swings, to which he surprisingly succeeded.
One evening in Darcy’s cabin, she and I got our hands on several bottles of red wine and proceeded to get drunk, a rarity for me but not so much for Darcy. Tom came into Darcy’s cabin, and to his surprise, found us drinking. He quickly caught up with us, his two gulps to every one of our sips. When the bottles were empty, Tom revealed that as a teen, he had hated his father and believed him to be an evil man, claiming that his father slept with a couple of neighbors’ wives, took business bribes, and unethically adjusted financial figures. Darcy stroked his short black hair as Tom looked off in the distance with a hardened face.
Jun 23, 2012
I am no longer afraid of Tariq, at least not totally. There are times when an after–work pony ride in the late afternoon on the sand by the ocean will fall into early evening, and I miss dinner. The first time this happened, I had tip–toed into the kitchen during campfire to ask for a grilled cheese sandwich, thinking that would be easy for him to make. Tariq was finishing cleaning up the dinner plates. When he saw me, he sounded off about how I was late for a dinner he labored over. “What da matter with you? Why you miss dinner? This is not good!” I had stood there waiting for him to pause so I could ask for the sandwich, but he never stopped complaining to me. He just continued yelling, and while carrying on, he went to get a plate of leftovers that he had prepared for me. “Missing dinner is no good! It’s jahst no good!” he hollered as he handed me my covered plate. He had kept it warm.
Later, in my cabin, when I had uncovered the dish Tariq had prepared for me, I discovered that he had placed a pink lotus flower diagonally across the plate and over the food.
Another time, on my day off, I had planned to go on a morning pony ride into the woods to see the wild horses on the east side of the island, with intentions of spending most of the day out by myself. I told Jim. Jim told Tariq. Brian came to my cabin door early that morning with a picnic lunch that Tariq had prepared for me. Brian relayed a message from Tariq, stating if I didn’t eat it all and brought back any food uneaten, there’d be hell to pay.
Jun 22, 2012
I visit the doctor as often as I can. He always welcomes me affectionately. “Jamieee!” he says when I enter the Medical doors, the last syllable of my name ending on a lower note. Then he pours me coffee into the dark green mug.
My visits are either a medical need like the monthly blood test I need to do, or more frequently, a social visit. Derek comes to visit the doctor frequently, as does Tom, Darcy, and Brian. Derek and the doctor have a special grandfather–grandson bond, with Jim giving him sweets he orders just for Derek, and Derek swinging his legs as he sits on the exam table, telling the doctor all about his fishing adventure, wonders he finds on the island, or how Adrian is teaching him silat. Of course, we all visit the doctor when we need medical attention – a stubborn splinter, a headache, stomach problems, a nasty cut, sunburn…
As we sip our coffee, we tell each other about how our day is going, how we grew up, and what we miss from home. Jim confides in me that he misses his wife terribly, so much it has become a physical ache. When he describes her to me, his face softens and becomes sad, where his lips smile but his eyes don't. He writes to her every day from the computer room. He says after he returns home from Jackel Island, he will never leave her again.
I told him about the kindness I remember from my mother and father, and then the harsh contrast when I was forced to live with my Aunt and Uncle after my parents were killed when I was nine.
“Did your Uncle ever draw blood when he hit you?”
“No, I can’t say that he ever did. And it wasn’t like I was bruised really either. It was just a lot of shoving and pushing and yelling and ignoring.” I picked at my thumbnail. “I don’t know…” After some silence, Jim reached over to pull my one hand away from the other.
“Do you stay in touch with them?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I said. “I sent them Christmas cards for a while, and my Aunt responded, just signing both their names. There was never a note, just their names.”
“Do they know you’re here?”
“They must have been proud of your accolades with your work with the horses in the States, weren’t they?”
“I don’t know. I suppose, I guess… maybe a little.”
“Well Jamie,” Jim said, setting his clay coffee mug down, “I am proud of all you’ve done. I truly am. And until my time is up,” he said, touching his finger on the table with the words until, time and up, “I’ll send you a Christmas card every year. With a note.”
Jun 21, 2012
I really get a kick out of nine–year–old Derek, not just because he's always giving me his treasures from the island, but because he always seems to be bouncing up to me when I least expected it to show me a conch, a butterfly, a unique twisted limb from the woods, an interesting bug, a colorful flower, discarded snake skin that lays like torn tissue paper in his hand, a tortoise shell, bamboo… and he gives these items to me as gifts. I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, but I didn’t know what exactly to do with them. I didn’t have space in my small cabin, and I figure it wouldn’t be good for a tortoise shell or snakeskin from a dead reptile, bugs, or tiny insects inside tree limbs to lay where I slept. So I keep a little “Derek Garden” outside just behind my cabin with all the treasures he gave me. As I lay Derek’s recently dead butterfly against a teak tree, I thought of all the gems inside the tree knot that Boo Radley gave to Gem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.
One night at our campfire, Derek presented a live banyan tree frog to me in his cupped hands. When he passed me the frog and I tried to take it, the frog slipped out between our hands and jetted in the woods in one huge desperate leap. Derek looked terribly upset. I was touched and pulled him to sit in my lap, which he respectfully refused, telling me he stopped sitting in laps ages ago. “Well Jamie, I’m not too old for laps,” Grady said from the fire pit, to which Darcy said, “You’re such a creep of huge magnitudes!”
Jun 20, 2012
Jeremy is like a little brother to me. He's totally oblivious half the time, always mispronouncing words and facts, not getting it when people became annoyed with him, childish, immature, not aware of boundaries or personal space, but totally lovable and would do anything for anyone he considered a friend. Often after work, I go to the beach and find Jeremy sitting on a rock playing his tin whistle. I sit next to him and listen, letting the mellifluous sounds wash the stable grime off me. Yesterday, he stopped playing his song and matched his whistle to a seagull’s cry in perfect pitch, making me giggle uncontrollably. After I stopped laughing, I extracted a worn photo of my father from my pocket to show Jeremy, only a huge wind gust snatched the photo from my hand and soared it bouncing along the sand towards the sea. Jeremy flew off the rock and ran to get it back for me, but the wind carried my photo further out and further out until it finally landed into the sea. I screamed. Without thinking, Jeremy ran into the water as the waves crashed into his teen–thin body, and he thrashed about, grabbing at the moving square glossy paper that glittered in the sun. After several minutes, he came back to me holding the dripping and ruined photograph of my father.
Jun 19, 2012
“Brian, does Tariq scare you?” I asked him one day when it was just he and I sitting in Central Lodge. It was an hour before dinner, and it was raining hard. “I mean, Tariq being your boss and all. When you’re preparing meals with him in the kitchen, does his constant carrying on scare you?”
“Well, he used to scare me a lot at first, and he still does kind of.” Brian adjusted his shirt over his large stomach and pushed back his curly blond hair. “But mostly, Tariq is just full of hot air, kind of like Earl."
We were both half–laying half–sitting on the same couch at opposite ends with our knees bent, our sneakers touching in the middle of the couch.
“Why? Does Earl scare you?” Brian asked.
"He used to, at first,” I said. “But I’m getting used to him.”
I lightly kicked Brian. He kicked me back. Then we kicked each other about twenty times.
Jun 18, 2012
As the nights fall into days, and the days fall into weeks, I have fallen into a gentle rhythm here on Jackel Island. I can feel the beat of the island and I flow with it. Waking to the symphony of birds each morning, I feel a heightened sense of everything, the feel of shower water on my skin, the smell of the sea air with all its rich foliage, the awe of blue and white and yellow and violet flowers in the fields where the wild horses graze, orange and pink sunrises, the weight of humidity that lingers in the air and fills it, the taste of food where each sensation, sweet–sour–bitter–salty, is amplified, the mournful call of seagulls by day and merbau crickets at night, and the tropical sun tingling and dancing in my pours... I can no longer imagine not living on Jackel Island. I want to stay here forever.
Jun 17, 2012
Yesterday morning I watched the air turned from black to silver to gold as I headed through the path towards the ocean, feeling the dew from the jambu bush and red wax ginger as I brushed my fingers along their leaves. When I heard the ax, I knew Kane was around the corner. Kane was forever chopping wood for our nightly campfires. He says chopping wood is meditative for him.
Kane is an unusually large man, with mild African features, and he has a hint of slanted eyes that holds a fixed piercing gaze. He looks almost Egyptian. Kane is strong and soft at the same time, intense and mild, keen and fluid.
Adrian told me that chopping wood is Kane's religion. This confused me. I asked Kane what his religion was. He said he followed the Odiwanchi way. I asked what that was.
“It is a religion of non-religions. It is where a person learns to hear their heart, to see with their inward eye. Though there are countless claims, no one person knows all things. Every religion is a thought or an interpretation that comes from a person, a human being. Sometimes, this thought is shared and believed by millions of people. Every person is on a different path. One person cannot tell another person the truth, though he can tell him his own truth. Truth must come from within each person. It is not something that is told or taught, but self-discovered.”