I made an appointment with my dentist on a recent trip home to Texas. I had some sensitivity near some dental work he did back in May, so I wanted him to check it out and make sure it wasn’t something more serious. Upon arriving, I explained to him that I had moved to Aruba over the summer; still caught up in the red tape of obtaining my work permit, I had not yet been assigned an Aruban doctor and dentist. Chair back, mouth agape, oral hygienist by my side ready to retrieve tools on command, I sat in the chair as he began to inspect the indentations of the surface of my tooth with his tiny steel instrument. Why is that always the time to strike up conversation? It’s always the case with these doctors and dentists. Basically, once the probing begins, that is some kind of green light to ask you about work, weather, or the upcoming holiday season. “Aruba,” he began to query, “That must have taken a leap of faith.” “Uh huh,” I responded as I nodded my head because this was all I could manage. I was in and out of his office in a matter of moments. Nothing was wrong with my tooth, but the short visit made me realize that it had required much more than faith to pack up everything and leave the country.
Boarding that plane back in July was the crossing of a threshold for me. The ambiguity amplified at that moment is one that most people would never choose to experience unless it was forced upon them, which it had been for me over and over again as I moved through one uncertain moment after another in 2014. The year gave me plenty of practice dealing with situations beyond my control. Some of those very difficult moments didn’t even phase me. Coming home to a broken window and anxiously assessing that many things had been stolen or destroyed by scary thieves, you gain a lot of practice dealing with uncertainty when you come home from work to find something like that. Scoping out the crime scene all alone as I walked from room to room, I remember thinking, eh, it’s just stuff. Who cares? Other moments were much more profound. Hearing the ticking of the clock while holding my grandmother’s hand as we waited for her to cross her own threshold to the most uncertain moment of all, now that will change you forever. Americans do not talk much about death, which is why I never knew that a single tiny teardrop will fall when the moment arrives; the hospice nurse told me to look for it and that was when I would know. I will never forget that moment, “Hippest Cat in Hollywood” by Horace Silver was playing on the jazz station we were streaming in the hospice room because jazz was her favorite music. Watching that teardrop fall across my grandmother’s cheek clearly illustrated for me all that I needed to map out my journey forward.
When it came time to assess what I would keep and what I would sell, the only stuff worth keeping in my mind were the things that belonged to my grandmother. We loved all the same things in life. Her paintings and books remind me of what really matters. The only things of my own that seemed worth keeping were nostalgic items, pictures, books and my winter wardrobe. That was it. That was all I wanted. I sold everything else or gave it away to Goodwill. I wouldn’t need the jackets and scarves in Aruba, but maybe I might need them someday someplace on Earth. I have somehow managed to fill an empty home with what I need to live here in under four months after arriving on this island with only six suitcases. There is a simple joy one experiences living with less, and finding what you need on a limited budget and with limited resources ignites the creative process.
I finally made my last major furniture purchase, a dining room table with chairs scouted out at an antique store down the street from my house. The place is like a palace one might come across in a distant land. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies to explore inside. A petite woman rules over this expansive space, and she likes to haggle and then bark orders at you on how to maneuver heavy, cumbersome objects through tight corridors and down treacherous, steep stairwells. My Dutch friend joined me and convinced me that I should buy a table in the attic space we were exploring at the moment because the quality was good and the price was right. After purchasing the table, we both risked our lives transporting it down a winding staircase, but none of us more so than the shopkeeper who would have certainly been killed if we had taken one misstep since she was solitarily supporting the table from below as we precariously made our descent. She insisted we turn the table upside down and slide the top along the incline of the stairs so as to mar the surface even more so than it already had been while crossing the Atlantic from Europe a hundred years ago. “Oil and a rag will smooth the scratches right out,” she insisted.
In addition to a house full of furniture, I also finally have a dentist and doctor here in Aruba which brings me to the finish line of a very long process in international paperwork that began back in March: Many hours spent sitting in government offices in the United States and in Aruba. Costly Fed Ex shipments across both country and sea. The Apostille required from any state where you lived out a chapter in your life story. A series of identical passport photos which I had to retake because my ears weren’t exposed. Turnaround day trips to and from Austin during visits home to Texas to acquire more Apostille authorization after I was told after living on the island for 2 months that the government would need a copy of my divorce decree. The whole process seemed never-ending, and it took nearly one year to complete.
Near the end, there was even more paperwork to take to the Aruban hospital to clear me of every scary disease known to man. Only this time I would really be missing that polite, small talk conversation about the weather as the doctors pricked, poked and probed me. After being ordered into a closet of sorts between two doors, another threshold I suppose, I was told to strip down to the waist as the door slammed shut. Moments later, the door flung open on the other side, and a lab technician gruffly ordered me around in Papiamento. I followed orders as best as I could, sheepishly covering myself and tiptoeing across the cold, sterile room until I found myself standing spread eagle in front of an X-Ray machine. You know you’ve reached your most vulnerable moment when you are standing cold and naked with your arms above your head in a foreign country.
Thankfully, all the international paperwork is behind me and I finally have the much-coveted stamp in my passport so that I can live and work in Aruba and fly to and from the island hassle-free. My home is finally ready for guests; my first guest arrives Monday. I am ready to just relax, enjoy, and focus on finding new adventures when I am not working hard during the week. Today I meet the ostrich, otherwise known as Struisvogel in Dutch, and then off to the beach because this is the stuff that really matters in life–meeting big bird and taking a dip in the cool Caribbean Sea.