Daphne Du Maurier once wrote, “We can never go back again, that much is certain.”
The obscure quote immediately jars memories of the places, people or things to which I’ve pledged a return, a promise mostly unfulfilled as a lifetime passed and presented new challenges.
How many times have you been in the perfect spot on the perfect vacation and thought to yourself “I’d like to return to this place someday’. At the moment of utterance, it seemed impossible that you could live decades and not return to that location that provided respite, peace, tranquility that represented an escape from the rigors of everyday life.
In actuality, most of these experiences are one offs, and a second trip to your most beloved spots or moments is usually more akin to a dream, or a slot on the proverbial bucket list.
So, given the opportunity, what place or time would you revisit if given the opportunity? Can you remember that one moment, or day, that captured perfection and filled one with a joy or tranquility that for the years that followed, seemed illusive or lost.
Most of those memories for me involve years past when the Florida Keys provided that lost sense of paradise for me and many others who made the trek down the Overseas Highway. I was hooked on my first visit in 1975, and, from that day forward, my mind lazily wanders down those tiny islands when the cold winds of winter blow in Richmond.
I made an annual journey to the end of Route 1 for years as life became more routine in the North, noting the changes in the tiny community with each trip, and finding fewer and fewer of the old friends I’d met still hanging around the old Navy town.
But, I kept going back, even when the Conch Republic became a destination for global visitors, and tourism assumed its role as the main source of income for the island. I returned even when the huge cruise ships dropped thousands of tourists daily for their Key West experience.
When I got the surprising news that we were expecting twins, it was the dead of winter, and, while searching for a response to the stunning announcement, a vision of swaying palms, warm evening breezes and grapefruit-laced shots of vodka danced in my head.
So, our first act of preparation for a momentous event in the lives of any couple, was to pack up our 2-year old daughter and head for Key West. We spent a lazy week relaxing by the pool, and evenings were filled with long hunched-over strolls up and down the long wooden planked floors teaching Sophia how to walk in the lobby of the hotel that Flagler built, finally restored in all of its splendor.
After a few days of total relaxation, I contacted a friend who came to Key West and didn’t leave, and had spent the past two decades of his life living the dream of many who couldn’t muster the courage to do what their heart instructed.
I confided in my friend that somehow I knew this would be my last trip to the Keys. The impending responsibility of three small children didn’t include Pirate Punch at Captain Tony’s.
To my surprise, he was spending his last season in Key West and was selling his small condo and heading North.
He explained that the sleepy, Southern fishing village to which he had escaped was only a memory and the island had sold its collective evil and eclectic soul to the devil in the form of wealthy investors who snatched up every piece of available property and built luxury accommodations for a new breed of Conchs.
It was my last visit to the a string of islands still close to my heart and vivid in my mind, and my Florida excursions are now centered around Tampa with relatives. Although the sun is warm and the water crystal clear, I see few reminders of my days on the Keys. The days are shorter, and the nights are tame and early ending, the lines on my face much deeper.
And maybe Du Marnier was right. You can never go back.
What’s left is only a memory and a word to the wise for those who, as we speak, sit on a bar stool in Captain Tony’s Saloon sipping Pirate Punch under a hanging tree and pledging eternal returns to the once unique hole in the wall watering hole ... and to anyone else willing to listen.
Savor the moment …. of that first rush of ocean air, that sunset in Negril, that hike in the Tetons, or that special beach with pink sand, or whatever is your moment in time, slice of Nirvana in a place to which you unfaithfully pledged a return.Live it like it may be your only opportunity for Nirvana, for the truth reveals that, in many cases, once is indeed enough.