Today I was driving to the grocery store and Island in the Sun by Weezer came on. I was transported back to Costa Rica in November 2015.
The bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum sat in the middle of the table. The party had taken off around me with my two friends, a couple with at least eight tattoos of the Canadian flag between them, preppy fraternity brothers appearing and disappearing from a bathroom, and Cristian, the manager of the hostel, was conversing and drinking with them all. Then there was me. Completely sober. I was at the table, or wandering around, people sat and swung in the hammocks. The sun had set, but it was still warm outside. The afternoon rain shower had since evaporated, and the humidity had thinned out.
Cristian announced: ‘We’ll go to a big party later.’
I followed one of the girls down to the liquor store beneath the hostel. She was blonde, from Rhode Island. She talked about prescription drug abuse at some point. She talked about the waterfront restaurants, and how she worked at one as a hostess. Apparently everyone there is on some kind of prescription medication, just to get by. The fraternity brothers were all collectively in love with her. I was sure they spent all those trips to the bathroom measuring their egos to see who would get to make a move.
I don’t know which one of us opened the door, but I remember being in a place with absolutely no value or interest to me. All these bottles of alcohol on the shelves had no appeal to me. I dutifully followed her to the counter. She paid for it, although I don’t know if anyone else contributed beforehand. We went back up stairs. The bottle sat on the table, while they prepared the peripherals: shot glasses, soft drinks to mix it with, whatever else. They didn’t have coconuts or little cocktail umbrellas but the imagination was there. It was at that moment that I found myself staring at the bottle. I had a guitar string in my chest, and someone had just strummed it. I could just take a shot. It’d be fun. My brain started to play tricks on me too. Remember how fun it was to drink shots of rum, back when you were 16 in Germany? That’s when I heard a voice:
‘All this time you’ve spent staying sober. You’d throw all those days, weeks, and months out. That one shot would reset the clock. With one shot, your clean record is wiped. You would have to start all over again.’
The group of us were walking down an unsealed road to the big party. It wasn’t far from the hostel. Cristian announced: ‘I’m lit up like a freaking Christmas tree.’ Everyone laughed and the conversation picked up again. We passed by a couple of police cars, probably doing a routine traffic stop. Cristian positioned himself in the middle of the group and made himself small. He said something about his immigration status. I don’t know if the police even cared that a bunch of drunk foreigners were out and obviously headed to a local club.
We waited at the bottom of a very big set of stairs, and slowly made our way up and into the crowded venue. There was a big pool outside, but it was roped off. The place was packed, and boring. We left after an hour or two.
The next thing I remember was being near the ocean. There were deck chairs and a swing seat. I wandered out to the beach, then pulled everyone out there with me and ordered them all to look up. In the dead of night, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the stars were out in force. I don’t remember the stars very well, but I remember everyone staying on the beach. One of the frat boys and the blonde from Rhode Island were knee deep in the waves. I noticed they were making out, and I looked away. I guess I’d given them a context to be romantic, but that certainly wasn’t what I meant to do. I wanted to feel sublime underneath the brilliant light of nature and existence. They just closed their blurry eyes to all of it.
That was the one time I was ever tempted to really drink alcohol. The voice that persuaded me out of it was my own. I didn’t want to stop being sober, I didn’t want to lose my progress. I really didn’t want to give up on myself, on the commitment I’d made. If I did, the consequences would have been so much more devastating than a headache. I would have broken a promise to myself. I wouldn’t be able to make any other promises and believe that I could really keep them.
I was distracted thinking about this story while I wandered through the grocery store. I’m no longer close to the friends I had back then. I listened to the voice that night, and since then I’ve been living the life I want to, and keeping my promises.
Note: My cousin works in the Canadian Coastguard here on Vancouver Island. He told me this story. I have embellished it a little. Fair warning, it’s a gruesome tale.
Vancouver Island is situated on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between the Island and the mainland, known locally as ‘the interior’, lies the Strait of Georgia. The weather and storms of the North West Pacific ocean lash against the west coast of the Island. The Strait can also be fairly rough sea to navigate. The Canadian Coastguard perform Search and Rescue operations in Canadian waters, and also maintain lighthouses along the coast.
At the northern end of B.C., exposed to the turbulence of the ocean, lies Triple Island Lightstation. The lighthouse barely fits on the rock it’s built on. It is the only manned lightstation with a 28 day roster, because the conditions prevent a longer stay. Waves actually strike the sides of the buildings during storms, causing the lighthouse to shudder violently. You’d have to be pretty tough, and dedicated to work there.
Back in the day, the lightstations were manned by a lighthouse keeper, and his assistant. Typically the keeper’s wife would be his assistant. As conditions were often too perilous for ships to sail, resupply only ever came when they could. Sometimes it would be over two months before supply ships could dock safely. Families were known to be starving to death when the resupply finally arrived. Especially in the case of a station like Triple Island.
In the early days, mercury was used to hold the lights at the top of the lighthouse. The huge and heavy lights could float and be spun easily on the mercury. Mercury, we’ve learned, is especially toxic when the fumes are inhaled. Mercury poisoning is also known as The Mad Hatter’s Disease.
There’s a story of a lighthouse keeper, his wife, and two children who were manning Triple Island lightstation. Storms and rain plagued the station for sixty days straight. The family were also starving. One day, driven mad by exposure to mercury vapour, and the relentlessly horrible conditions, the keeper’s wife finally snapped. She murdered the children, and seriously wounded her husband. The supply ship finally arrived, and found the keeper bleeding out on the dock.
The supply ship’s captain and first mate searched the station for the keeper’s wife. They found the bodies of the children. One had been visibly gnawed on. There was no sign of the lady. The crew figured she’d cast herself into the ocean, and cleaned and resupplied the station. The replacement keeper was understandably worried, and borrowed the first mate’s pistol, mostly for his peace of mind. He used it on himself forty days later. His final letter read: ‘She’s lonely. I must join her.’