When I got married on September 22, 1984, I was 23 years old and had never been anywhere. Well, I hadn’t been much of anywhere. When I was a kid, our family vacations had mostly been to the Texas Gulf coast or Six Flags. I’d left the state with my mother and stepfather twice when I was in junior high: once on their annual pilgrimage to visit my stepfather’s family in Georgia and once on a driving trip to Colorado, but all I remembered of that trip was the harrowing drive to the top of Pikes Peak. In high school, my travels were limited to church choir trips to New Mexico and Kansas and one ski trip to Colorado. For our high-school graduation gift, my stepbrother and I got to fly to New Jersey to visit my stepsister and her husband at Ft. Dix where we did go on a bus tour of Manhattan one day and I learned to eat with chopsticks. I didn’t go much farther in college…a few more ski trips and another stepbrother’s wedding in New Orleans. Anyway, when Dave and I started planning our honeymoon, we wanted to go to the beach, and not Galveston or Corpus. Because the Virgin Islands were so much cheaper than Hawaii, we chose St. Croix.
Until I saw the beach at Hotel on the Cay, I never imagined places like St. Croix existed. Sure, I’d seen photos in magazines, but I’d always assumed they’d been touched up, the colors enhanced. I never imagined a place where you’d need all nineteen shades of blue in a 120-crayon box to recreate the sea. We spent our week snorkeling for conchs and drinking rum punches while we read books under a beach umbrella.
The year after our honeymoon, we returned to St. Croix for our first anniversary and then again in 1987. Then in 1989, the island was devastated by Hurricane Hugo. After watching the news reports about the government sending in armed forces to restore order and then reading about the years it would take to rebuild the island, we began looking elsewhere for vacation destinations: California and Hawaii and Aruba.
A few years ago, I started feeling a pull toward St. Croix again. (To be honest, it might have been after listening to Tim Duncan talk about his hometown.) Dave was less than enthusiastic—still remembering those ugly incidents following Hugo—so I proposed an Eastern Caribbean cruise last January that would make a stop in Fredericksted. We wouldn’t be committing our entire vacation, just a day to rent a jeep in Fredericksted and drive across the island to Christiansted. Maybe we’d even hop the ferry to Hotel on the Cay. Just enough time to check things out and convince Dave to return for a real vacation. Unfortunately, Dave came down with food poisoning the night before we arrived and was confined to our cabin for 48 hours. I called to cancel the jeep. I didn’t think I could handle driving on the wrong side of the road, and I didn’t really want to go alone. It was too late to book a tour, so my only option was to take a walk on the beach.
I’ve always believed that St. Croix is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, but I’ve also wondered if it was simply because it was the first. I’ve since visited Hawaii and Alaska, Costa Rica, Ireland and Germany. Could St. Croix really compare other than in my memory? As soon as I walked off the ship, I realized that it could. If there’s anything more beautiful than the water surrounding St. Croix, I have yet to see it. Dave recovered the next day, and we went on to visit St. Martin, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada…all beautiful, but not one had water so blue it brought tears to my eyes.
I came home more determined than ever to return to St. Croix, but then last week it was glanced by Hurricane Irma and then hit dead-on by Hurricane Maria this week. Just like 1987, the Virgin Islands have been devastated. It would be easy to once again forget St. Croix. There are so many places I still want to travel: Italy and Yosemite and Paris. But now that I’ve been reminded of the beauty of St. Croix, it will remain at the top of the list until the day I’m finally able to return. I don’t know how long it will be, but I do know it won’t be thirty years.