In 2009, I started a PhD program at the University of Michigan. I was colder, lonelier, and less certain of my academic abilities than ever before in my life, and I spent many hours daydreaming about just walking out in the middle of a statistics class, getting on a plane, and never coming back.
Being the responsible adult that I am, I made it to the end of the semester before I actually got on a plane. My then-beau, Louis, was an avid diver, and I wanted to be an avid diver (I had gotten certified in college, but never really took to it), so we went to the Caribbean for a few weeks.
When you read “Caribbean,” you probably picture blue water and wide white sand beaches, right? Wrong. We headed to Saba, which I like to think of as…the anti-Caribbean. The island is known for two things: 1) awesome diving and 2) the shortest airport runway in the world. The population is about 2,000 people, not counting the American medical students who live in The Bottom, which is the capital.
We dove every day– there’s really nothing else to do there. The food was terrible, the humidity was ridiculous, and Louis was constantly grumbling about missing the NBA finals. We spent most of our on-land time at various bars, hanging out with not only a motley crew of locals but also a few American ex-pats who lived there: a gypsy-looking woman who ran a dog rescue and a guy who said he was a carpenter but was usually drunk to the point of incoherence when we got to the bar around 3pm.
We heard a few versions of the history of Saba. The gist of the story was this: in the 1800s, pirates found Saba and used it as a hideout. Instead of staying put close to the ocean (there’s not really a beach– just a rocky coastline all around the island), they headed up to the top of the island and eventually settled the town of Windwardside.
Even though the island was kind of weird, I felt like being there was perfectly fitting for my life at the time. I had spent the past few months feeling so out of place and unhappy in Michigan (I wrote to a friend back in New York, “It’s like I have to spend the next four years with my shoes on the wrong feet.”), and it was a relief to know that, just like the pirates, I could always find somewhere to hide out.