Waiting for tomorrow
Today, for the third day in a row, I am social distancing from the world aboard our little Catalina sailboat called Sonas, the Irish word for “happiness.” It’s an aspiration to remember when I step aboard. They say boats can take on the aspect of their name. Seeking happiness is a good practice.
We have enough food aboard to last a few more days, but we are not far from home, so we will sail back to our dock tomorrow to water our plants, enjoy some TV streaming and A/C for a few nights, and restock our provisions before we set out again. We are almost out of beer. That’s the kind of problem people used to sympathize with, back in the days before.
I realize my kind of social distancing is the envy of many. I am grateful to have a boat to offer an option to sitting at home. Bars, restaurants, beaches, pools, parks, and my yoga studio are closed. The only place to go is Publix, and it is packed with people searching for toilet paper, chicken, bread and eggs. The wine and beer aisles are fully stocked, though. I’ll have no trouble replenishing that provision.
On Saturday afternoon from the deck of Sonas, I can watch a party happening on a sandbar a few hundred yards away. We are about three nautical miles from downtown Tampa, anchored near a scab of land made when the port channel was dredged, called “Fantasy Island.” It’s a misnomer. The island is a mosquito-infested jungle with no amenities except a dock. Definitely no Ricardo Montalban making dreams come true. The magic happens when thousands of white ibis and egrets arrive each morning and evening to roost atop the mangrove thicket, decorating the trees in white. They fly up in great clouds above the low shrubby mangroves, dancing and gliding in ever-changing shapes. It’s enchanting.
The people frolicking in the shallow water below the flight of ibis do not seem to notice. Their boats blare music beloved by the young — hip-hop, electronic pop, house, maybe a country song here and there to break the monotony. This is Florida. People hang out on beaches and sandbars every sunny day.
Today, a fantasy is at play on Fantasy Island: that no one will get sick. Pandemic, schandemic.
I need binoculars to watch the party rollicking on. I can feel the joie de vivre overcoming the doesn’t-feel-real danger of contracting a potentially deadly virus and unwittingly spreading it to others before you realize you have it. The partiers are not mindful of the increasingly plaintive calls to stay away from other people. This daily sandbar party has been going on every afternoon for at least a week, probably longer.
In the news this day, more than a month after the coronavirus began spreading across our nation, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that boats must stay 50 feet apart and carry no more than 10 people. A county sheriff’s marine patrol boat passes by, observes the bacchanalia, and leaves. A few hours later, the FWC marine patrol arrives, lights flashing, and takes time to tell boaters the new rules. No one moves their boat.
When the afternoon sun and humidity create rivulets of sweat down my back, I take a dip in the cool water of Tampa Bay, lie back on an inflatable floating chair tied to the stern of Sonas, and sympathize with the people on shore who just want to be outside, enjoying the beauty of this day. I cannot blame them for wanting to squeeze some joy out of the situation our world finds itself in.
My mind reels at the numbers: more than 113,000 confirmed cases in the United States this day, more than 3,700 in Florida. These numbers climb every day, and we have no idea how widespread the virus is. I cannot be sure I was not exposed while shopping at Publix or picking up take-out pizza.
We do not know. I am here on my boat with my husband of 30 years to stay away from other people. I assume the virus could be anywhere. Perhaps the revelers on the sandbar assume that if less than 4,000 cases (to date) have been discovered in a state of nearly 22 million people not counting tourists, then chances of catching the virus are small. Perhaps they think they are far enough away, or that salt water kills the virus. Who knows what stories people tell themselves? They are not paying attention, I think.
But also I know: People need people. Their laughter makes me lonely.
I awake in the night in a cold, harsh sweat of anxiety. How long will this last? How many must die? Is my family safe? Are my friends OK? Can I breathe? I count my in-breath cool on my nose, raising my belly, and let my out-breath float away. My heart races. I focus on the gentle rocking of Sonas, my little cradle of happiness. I stare out of the hatch above my head and glimpse the sliver of the waxing moon. The moon will grow larger, then smaller, with each passing month. The tide will roll in and roll away again. The sun will rise. I breathe in calm. I breathe out worry.
Sleep returns eventually. I open my eyes to the clear blue sky of another sunshiny day. A day that in any other year would bring millions of tourists to my state to cavort in the white sand, ride roller coasters, flash wands with Harry Potter, wear Mouse Ears, swim, laugh and soak up the sun.
There will be other springs, other blue-sky days. This is what I want to say to the boaters on the shore. Go home. The sand and sun will be here. Wait for another tomorrow.