Marigot, St. Martin – May 1998
My mother and I sit on a restaurant balcony overlooking Marigot harbor, on the French side of St. Martin. We have taken one last drive around the island and packed most of our luggage. Tomorrow we leave for home.
The timeshare where we’re staying is on the Dutch side of the island, but we’ve spent little time over in that timeshare cruise ship jungle. On our first day, we ventured into Phillipsburg for lunch. As soon as we stepped out of the car we had to deflect jewelry shop peddlers, timeshare hawkers, and various other aggressive salespeople. Buy one get one free! Ten percent off! Buy this! Eat here! Happy hour all day! You come with me now! We ducked into a restaurant to escape.
My mother and I drink rum punch and watch the sky deepen from orange to violet to indigo. The ceiling fan makes a valiant, though futile effort to stir the torpid air. Vintage French variety music wafts out of the nearly empty restaurant. Europeans don’t eat until much later.
Over the past week, we have explored every road and beach on this little island, even the infamous clothing-optional Orient Beach. That was by accident and we didn’t linger. One glimpse of a corpulent, elderly couple frolicking in the sand was enough. Besides, it’s not cool to gawk. We climbed a mountain on Saba and snorkeled in Anguilla. Our slight sunburns have deepened into tans. A fulfilled, confident expression graces my mother’s face. It is the look of someone who has expanded the boundaries of her comfort zone.
A decade ago I promised myself that I would take her someplace warm and sunny. I’d been living in California for a year and was home for a visit. Much of the rage that had propelled me away from Michigan had dissipated. I was free. But my family wasn’t. My mother was now being harassed by the town cop, supposedly because the dog kept getting loose. He would sit in her driveway at night and shine the brights of his cop car into the front window. He would call her up and scream at her on the phone.* The neighbors had all turned their backs on her. She was a divorcee. And then there was my mother’s parasitic boyfriend. The self-proclaimed king of the house. My youngest brother and sister weren’t getting the attention that they needed. I went back to my new life in California, but the worry stayed with me.
Here and now on this lovely balcony, we chat about light things over dinner. Things are good for my mother these days. She’s married to a good man and lives in another town. She’s proof that, eventually, good people do get what they deserve.
*It turns out that this cop was harassing every divorced woman in town. A year or so after my mother moved, he died in a motorcycle accident. He was going way over the speed limit and passing on the right side. He was decapitated.