On our last day at sea, a thought occurred to me. It didn’t come suddenly, like a tumble of rocks falling down a mountain all at once, and it didn’t emerge slowly, like a piece of heavy driftwood ambling toward the shore and finally settling in the sand. It was more like, I don’t know, the kind of peaceful acceptance that sometimes happens when you wake up from a dream and realize that you’ve been processing something for a while and it is finally ready to reveal itself.
At the time, I was half-reclined on a lounge chair on the top deck of the Carnival Liberty, our ship for the weekend, spooning vanilla frozen yogurt out of a tiny scalloped plastic bowl and watching the waves slap up against the stern. Ryan, poor guy, had succumbed to a horrible case of seasickness and was currently sleeping with the covers up over his head in our suite. Because I wanted to give him some space, I’d been looking for a tiny place of solace on this medium-sized vessel (which, because this was my first real ocean cruise, appeared to me to be a behemoth of a ship with its 5,000 passengers). The task had been harder than I’d thought: I’d just side-stepped a hairy chest contest currently happening on the open deck and a live band wearing Santa hats and blasting innocuous Christmas tunes in the reception. There was a liquor tasting upstairs, people playing board games on deck, and a huge line for the snack bar. I couldn’t imagine where people were putting all this food at this point–in three short days, we’d eaten more food than we could have ever possibly imagined.
On this ship (and off, really), there was something going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here—you could literally pack your itinerary with something every five minutes for the entire duration of embarkation to debarkation if you wanted to. Any many people do; after all, that’s part of the allure of a Carnival Cruise. You will never, ever be without an activity on the schedule. On our last day at sea, though, I didn’t want to cram my itinerary full of towel art demonstrations and Zumba classes (which, by the way, are both awesome classes).
Instead, I needed some time to eat frozen yogurt, stretch out on a recliner while I still could, watch the Bahamas disappear, slowly, from view, one tiny island after another, and write about my thoughts. I needed simply be by myself, as all writers do from time to time.
As I composed the first of many letters to my unborn baby boy, I started thinking about the fact that this might be the last time that I could feel truly alone and together, to wander a ship unencumbered, to sit quietly wherever I wanted with my thoughts and eat frozen yogurt, to hop in a car, to convince Ryan on a whim to go to the Caribbean with me for the weekend. Soon, I knew everything would change (as much as someone who has never been a parent understands that change), and up until this moment, I hadn’t really given myself the headspace I’d needed to process what joys and moments I would be saying goodbye to—and in the process, what joys and moments I would be welcoming.
I’ve always been a traveler, at least in some ways, even when I was little and had never even heard of a passport. I could never sit still. I first traveled abroad, alone, when I was young, in college, curious, and ravenous to see the world. I devoted my graduate studies to writing about and thinking about how other people write about travel. My love for travel—and my tireless yearning for freedom—is part of why I put off the thought of having children in the first place; I didn’t want the responsibility; I didn’t want the roots. Many people know these truths about me.
And here we were—two heartbeats sitting on one recliner, leaving the Bahamas, on a gorgeous sunny December morning. Being confined to a ship on the ocean, with literally nothing but a horizon of blue water ahead, around, and behind us, had finally given me the chance to think of the future, to watch the many couples figuring out to travel with their own young kids. It had been, well, nice.
For one thing, I wasn’t 25 anymore. I wasn’t at the bar in my bikini ordering my third round of margaritas-with-salt-on-the-rim at noon with my girlfriends; I wasn’t hoping to bump into that cute guy I’d seen mulling around the breakfast station at the club that evening. But I also hadn’t lost my sense of adventure and my love for travel—in fact, it’s grown greatly and more complex since my early twenties—and I have more of an excitement for the new and the unknown than I ever did before. These elements of adventure have sustained me long past what I used to seek out when I first started traveling, and now, I think, I’m working on figuring out what this growing belly will mean once my body is again my own and I’ve made a person. What will life be like?
Maybe the margaritas at noon will come back; and if the margaritas only come back at happy hour, once in a while, that’s OK, too. At least I’ll be able to successfully say that I did those things and had those experiences and lived that life and (for the most part!) didn’t regret any of it. Or maybe, I’ll find new joys in things I could have never expected, like dancing with my son in our new home somewhere to a song he’ll remember for the rest of his life, or I’ll find new adventures in taking him to a farmer’s market and watching him try a new food for the first time.
But no matter what, I know I’ll always travel, as long as I can, as long as I am physically able, as long as I am healthy enough and strong enough and devoted enough. It’s a gift I can uniquely give to a new person whose feet have yet to touch the earth, too, and if nothing else, I want to give my love for better understanding this complicated place we all call home. I can’t really promise anything else—a stable future, full financial security, a rock-solid plan with no holes punched in it—but I hope I can at least give this little baby a love for discovery. Not even in my worst, darkest days has anyone been able to take that from me.
And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip to the Bahamas this weekend. I wanted to see the ways in which people from all walks of life came together on a ship the size of a village. I wanted to eat frozen yogurt and watch the sun set. I wanted to do a towel-making class and learn how to properly tie the elephant’s snout shut so it wouldn’t unravel. I wanted to eat desserts and not feel guilty about it. I wanted to be with my husband, my traveling companion for the past ten years of our lives, and I wanted to taste conch ceviche and see those clear blue Bahamian waters.
Part of me, I guess, wanted to get to know you a little bit better, too. With just three weeks to go, I’m equal parts nervous, scared, and excited, and I know that, as cliché as it is, your life will be our greatest adventure, wherever it takes us.
That, I can safely say, is written in the sand.
A special thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines for sponsoring my trip to the Bahamas and for introducing me to the lovely Carnival Liberty ship, where we spend our time at sea.
Post and photographs by Kristin Winet.