For our first (and only, though we didn’t know that at the time) wedding anniversary, my beloved and I chose to fly to Bermuda for a week.
“Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama,” I would sing, repeating this one line over and over as it was the only line I knew. I sang this for months before the actual trip. My beloved would sway in a clunky approximation of a Hawaiian hula and join in with me.
We weren’t going to go, originally. We had run our numbers and decided it would be too expensive. Then, it snowed relentlessly. Then, I wavered, and that was all my beloved was waiting for — the minute I said, “Well, maybe,” he was online, looking for tickets, singing the song.
I found an AirBnb in a quiet, residential part of the island that had easy access to a grocery store; the bus route; and was walking distance from a local beach, which my extensive research informed me was a world-class beach that was often overlooked by tourists obsessed with seeing Bermuda’s more famous pink sand stretches.
The AirBnb had air conditioning, a fully equipped kitchen, Wi-Fi, Netflix, and complimentary beach towels and a beach umbrella. The price was very reasonable because I was booking in November, which is the off-season. Lots of reviews said that Bermuda was temperate in November, but not overly sunny. People recommended waiting for the warmer months. My beloved and I looked out the window, reading this, at the snow driving at the window, and unanimously agreed that any weather above 10 degrees Celsius would feel downright tropical compared to the -25 degrees Celsius weather we were experiencing at the time.
“We can cook in to save money,” I said.
“Totally,” my beloved agreed.
(We never cooked in while we there, but, at the time, we really thought we would.)
We booked our flights. “Economy seats?” we said. We hovered the mouse over Premium Economy seats—fifty dollars extra, each, both ways. We went back and forth. Eventually, we settled on Economy Economy, as my beloved put it. We decided we would use the money towards a night out in Bermuda instead.
By the time we had our place, and our flights booked, we felt incredible. We had arranged for everything to fall just under our budget, and we were going somewhere warm. A beach-only vacation is my favourite kind of trip, and I was especially thrilled. My beloved packed two books with a flair of optimism; I packed six and fretted that I didn’t have enough space to bring more.
I was worried about space because, for a few years previous to this trip, my beloved and I had been travelling carry-on luggage only. I had experienced several back-to-back luggage losses and the resultant stress that the missing luggage caused me, and so by extension my beloved, was no longer worth the extra jeans and toiletries that I would pack in my checked bags. Sometime in late 2016, I bought a wheeled suitcase small enough to suit both North American and European airlines, and he asked for a sleek, black suitcase for Christmas. We stopped checking luggage.
So, when I say I packed six books, I really am illustrating a commitment to, what my beloved called, “the carry-on lifestyle.” I had to sacrifice a lot of clothing to make the books work. Though, to be fair, I only packed four books, slipping two of mine into my beloved’s luggage when he wasn’t looking. He was a fantastically economical packer; I could never understand how he could need so little on vacation. It worked for me, though, because he would also let me put some of my toiletries into his allotted 1L plastic bag of liquids. He would protest at sharing his space, but never seriously. His idea of a skincare routine was occasionally washing his face, so he had no products, really, to bring with him except for his hair gel.
Though, two months before he died, he would sign up for a free trial of a men’s skincare line. He used the sample-size products (an exfoliant and a moisturizer) three times in total (he was supposed to use both weekly) but each time he used the products, he acted as if he had invented skincare. He would prance around the apartment, plumping his face with his hands and cooing.
“One time!” I would exclaim, unable to stop the grin from emerging and spoiling my serious and incredulous tone. “You’ve done skincare one time!”
“I feel radiant,” he would say, and I would roll my eyes.
He was always blowing things out of proportion like that, demonstrating a supremely unearned and charming confidence. He would try something one time and if it went successfully, which it usually did, he would extrapolate that he possessed a skill that was entirely untested.
Once, he agreed to be the swimmer for a team triathlon. The swim was a 2000m outdoor lake out-and-back. My beloved had never swum outdoors, or for much longer than a short paddle on a surfboard in Hawaii. Yet, he was sure he could do it. That was all he had. The surety. He never practiced. When his teammates would ask him if he was swimming, to prepare, he would move his arms through the air like a mime.
“See,” he would say. “I’m swimming right now. I’m practicing right now.”
Pretending to swim through the air isn’t going to help you, I would point out, but he was unbothered.
“It’ll work out fine,” he said. “Surfing is like swimming, right?”
“Wrong,” I would say.
In the end, though, he was right.
It did work out.
His teammates, the cyclist and the runner, ended up cancelling because the runner had to attend a friend’s wedding, which ended up falling on the day of the triathlon. My beloved never had to swim the route.
I shook my head when he told me.
“Typical,” I said.
This roll-with-the-punches, unearned but very much real confidence of my beloved’s often could make him unrealistic and ill-prepared, but it also made him laid-back and easygoing. Which is to say, he was a great traveller.
He arrived late at the airport? Unbothered.
He almost missed his connection because he was standing in line for an Annie’s pretzel and didn’t hear his name being called repeatedly over the loudspeakers of the airport? Well, the pretzel was good, and he still made the flight (barely).
He had to gate check his carry-on suitcase because all the overhead space was already full? No problem!
I, on the other hand, like to arrive at the airport 3 hours before my flight, preferring to sit in an uncomfortable airport chair outside my gate, rather than be stressed about not making it through the security line in time.
I also will only get snacks if I know I have plenty of time before the flight leaves, and I always ensure I’m first in line for whatever number my boarding class is so that I have the best possible chance of getting an overhead bin for my luggage. I try to always book connections with at least 2 hours in between, so that the chance of missing my connecting flight is very, very low.
None of this was really changed by my beloved’s approach to travel. I still insisted we arrive at the airport early (2.5 hours, though, as a compromise), and I would drag him up to stand beside me in the loading line long before it was our time to board. This part particularly embarrassed him. Boarding priority guests—1s, 2s, and 3s—would filter by us while I flashed a smile and said, “go ahead, go ahead.”
“Why do we have to stand here?” he would say, and I would say, “You know why.” He would slump dramatically, and I would keep on standing. Every time we slid our suitcases into the overhead bins, I would say, “See?” and he would just grin at my sense of triumph. The grin always worked on me—its gentle, cheeky radiance.
Ultimately, the combination of our personalities created a very harmonious travel experience. He got us hot snacks, because he was willing to stand in the extraordinarily long lines, and I got us to the airport, and the gates, with enough time for him to go get us those hot snacks. Together, we’d sit in our uncomfortable chairs, and talk about what? I don’t even know. We always talked though. We never cracked out his iPad or my laptop. We just chatted. Sometimes, I slept on his shoulder and he scrolled his phone, looking at @KookSlams on Instagram, his body shaking with laughter, jiggling my head in a way that I didn’t mind.
Sometimes, people talked to me.
This always surprised me, because I really don’t want to talk to people when I travel unless it’s the person I’m with, or unless I require assistance in some way. I feel like I am pretty clear about this, too. I don’t smile at people. I don’t sit near them. If I’m alone, I clearly engage myself in isolated activities like reading, or writing on my laptop with my giant headphones clamped over my ears. If I’m with my beloved, I clearly engage only with him.
Yet, invariably, the man in line behind me at the convenience store would ask me where I got my neck pillow; or the elderly woman sitting beside me at the gate would lean over and ask me if I’m enjoying my book, she’s never seen such a beautiful cover?
This phenomenon, in particular, was a source of lament for my beloved. He always wanted people to talk to him, and no one ever did. He would look around airports, eagerly smiling.
“See,” he would say, “I’m smiling at this lady, hoping she’ll talk to me.”
No one ever did. Sometimes, his smiling netted someone, but inevitably, that person talked to me.
A woman came up to me crying and told me about her divorce. A middle-aged man told me about his daughter that he was flying to see in Texas. He hadn’t seen her in a year. He said something about his daughter being a modern woman. I gathered this meant that she had chosen to stay at school over the institutionalized breaks and take block courses, instead.
The most memorable time, though, which my beloved told people about for years, was the time that a young-ish guy in a natty suit spoke to me the entire flight from Vancouver to New York. He was part of some kind of chivalry club. There were business cards (he gave me one). When my flight landed in New York, he offered to split a cab into the city with me. It was my first time in New York. He worried about me getting fleeced by the driver. I weighed the chance of this guy making me into a skin suit versus the chance of a taxi driver doing the same. It seemed about equal. In the end, I agreed. We chatted about his work (finance) in New York. He paid for the cab which brought me right to my destination: the Andaz hotel, where my beloved was waiting for me on the street. I had texted him that I was on my way when the cab left the airport. When I walked up to my beloved, calling his name, he turned to see me pulling my suitcase behind me, and escorted by a tall man in a suit. To my beloved’s credit, his eyebrows didn’t even twitch. The guy in the suit wished me well, waved at me, called another cab. He disappeared.
“What’s that about?” my beloved said.
When I explained, he just shook his head.
“Of course,” he said. “Naturally that happened to you.”
I shrugged. I explained I thought the whole thing was a part of his chivalry gig.
“Amy,” my beloved said giving me one of his distinct looks. This one involved a slight downward tilt of his head, his eyes looking up through his long, dark lashes. The angle made his eyes seem extraordinary, comically huge. This look, in particular, was why, sometimes, I called my beloved Manga-eyes.
The way people talked to me at airports became a running joke between us, but I know it didn’t really bother him. He loved that people talked to me. By extension, he reasoned, he was that kind of person too. If people talked to me, it was like they were talking to him.
“Basically the same,” he’d say.
To my memory, though, no one spoke to me while we were travelling to Bermuda. Our flight path seemed easy enough, Calgary to Toronto to Bermuda. Our layover between Toronto and Bermuda was 1.5 hours.
But, our flight got delayed.
“No worries,” we said.
We walked around the airport and loaded up on snacks. I bought some striped sour flag candies that were not sour at all. I threw them away, disappointed. When I eat sour candy, I want the lining of my mouth to burn off from the taste.
We looked out the window at the tarmac and sang the song again, “Bermuda, Bahama…”
Ultimately, we sat outside of our gate, or walked around outside our gate, for three hours before we boarded the airplane. We settled into our Economy Economy seats and agreed that when both of you are tall, Economy Economy is an exercise in compaction. I sat in the aisle seat, and my beloved in the middle seat—because he wanted to be right beside me.
We would sit in our airplane seats for another three hours, the plane unmoving. The air conditioning wasn’t working, so the airplane was claustrophobic with still, hot air. Eventually, I looked up how long an airline can leave people sitting in their seats before they have to be disembarked (3-4 hours, by the way).
At three and a half hours of just sitting in the airplane that was just sitting on the tarmac, the whole airplane got unloaded into the Toronto terminal again. The flight attendants handed out slips for meal vouchers. I snatched up two. Free food has always made me feel better.
We ordered bagel burgers, because why not?
Perhaps none of this seems particularly worthy of memory. But I share it because it’s memorable to me. It’s not the delays or the extremely long wait time or even the greasy bagel burgers that’s memorable. It’s how content and unbothered we were.
I munched on the salty fries that left grease stains so intense they weakened the brown paper bag holding them and I said to my beloved sitting across the table, “this is fun.”
“It is,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
I am not even sure why we found it that way. I think we were just enjoying the pleasure of it all — we were on our way to an island to celebrate our first, wedding anniversary, and we would get there eventually. We were together, eating food we hadn’t paid for with anything except our time — and, back then, time felt like a currency we could spend.
We finally made it to Bermuda in the middle of the night.
The cab dropped us off in front of the entirely darkened AirBnb and the driver asked, “You’re sure this is it?”
We stood outside for a moment before entering the apartment. It was so warm, even in the dark, well above 20 degree Celsius. The tree frogs screamed. Humidity plumped my eternally dry skin. My beloved unlocked the door. We dropped our suitcases and immediately looked at each other.
“Is it?” he said.
“Nope,” I said.
“Let’s go,” he said.
The roads in Bermuda are tight, without sidewalks, and dark, without streetlights, but my beloved had thought of this. He fished around in his suitcase, pulling out the red, blinking safety light and the white, steady headlamp that he had brought. He attached the red light to his belt loop, and snapped the headlamp onto his forehead. I navigated via Google Maps on my phone. Every time I looked up to tell him where to turn, I would see him ahead, the red, blinking light signalling that we were okay, he was there, keeping us safe.
The beach-side restaurant and bar were still full of people, even as late as it was.
We took a table on the covered porch, the only table free, and listened to the sea exhaust itself on the beach below.
I took a deep breath, and felt the calm the sea has always brought me meet the calm that he always brought me and the combined force was so strong, I felt a little dizzy.
“Oh this is good,” my beloved said. He had ordered some boozy, Bermudian drink.
“Yes,” I said. “This is very good.”
That would be our refrain over the next seven days in Bermuda.
We woke up late, and lazy. We packed Lunchables in our backpacks and bought sparkling water by the litre and lugged all of it to the beach. We sprang for the fancy, padded beach chairs that reclined. We fed the little, bright birds that pecked at the sand beside us. My beloved ate an entire bag of popcorn. I read all six of my books and wished I’d brought more. We stayed at the beach until it was empty, save for us. I napped by the sea while he climbed the cliffs and waved at me. He was far above me, just a tiny, little speck. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t climb back down the cliffs, wouldn’t come back to settle beside me in his chair, wouldn’t return to his body, fully-fleshed, the speck erased, my beloved returned. And of course, he did. He clambered down and told me about the tide pools he had found behind the cliffs.
On the one rainy day that occurred while we were there, we found a cafe with strong, peppermint tea and delicious pork sandwiches. School aged children in their knee- high socks and burgundy school sweaters yelped and cursed around us.
At night, we ate at little restaurants tucked away in tight, winding corners—recommended to us by locals. One day, we walked the whole of the capital, Hamilton, and another, we talked about going to see the Lighthouse and then didn’t. We watched part of the final season of The Good Place on the apartment’s television. The finale aired the day after we left Bermuda. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to manage watching it without him, despite loving the show. Another night we ordered a plate of harvest carrots and received carrots that were so small and shrivelled they looked like baby fingers, a comparison that made my beloved yelp, “GROSS!” when I offered it up.
We took the bus, and sometimes cabs, and we walked and walked and walked.
That is how I prefer to remember Bermuda.
I don’t linger on the leaving — the bumping of my suitcase down the hill towards the awaiting cab, or the cabbie driving us by the house Beyonce stayed in when she came to Bermuda, or my beloved asking me if Beyonce was the one who had done the album Lemonade?
What I like to dwell on is both of us, single file along the edge of the roads, him ahead, me following, calling out directions. The sun was still in its place and we were still walking then; the night was coming, but it wasn’t there, not yet.