Pirate island, the definition of anarchy, where as a friend put it even God himself lost his shoes.
I had found my spiritual home.
I gave civilization the finger and went full savage, finding my tribe of kindred spirits on an island removed from an island removed from the world.
But of course I could never live anywhere without context. So even in paradise, away from my books and inhibited from writing, I added to my story. The tourists I would take around Vieques had to bear with my 500 year history lessons, an amalgamated lecture on cultural anthropology and subaltern studies added for free to whatever spearfishing or kayaking adventure they’d signed up for.
I made a good life for myself. I was happy. I was exploring the simpler things, having simpler connections. My relationships were with tourists who came and went without complications.
I spent more time learning about myself. As I’d hear often on the island, it just holds up a mirror, the cracks are all your own.
I could make my rent for a small shack on an acre of land surrounded by trees with a couple spearfishing tours, and then live off the food we caught. I spent the week after hurricane Irene showering in that field below. But homeless habits like washing outdoors feel a little bit different in paradise than in the city.
One day myself and another guide, the boss’s son, took a group on a tour through the mangroves before we all ate our packed meals on a beach just outside the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. We built a decent size fire to pass the time until the sun completely set and the first stars came out. Then we would take them back into the bay to play with the bioluminescence.
One of the girls from the group, she was from Seattle, didn’t tip me that night. Because for some reason she didn’t want to give me both cash and her number. We met up later for drinks and then spent the next day on our own secluded beach.
…where a rock the size of a cinderblock rained down on us from a cliffside while we had just finished up, thinking we had been alone.
I earned a coin slot deep slice in my skull and remember telling the nurses in my broken spanish, whatever you do don’t cut my hair.
It just so happened that my roommate had fallen off his horse that night drunk-riding into town and got kicked in the face, breaking his nose.
We crossed paths in the hospital just before he was being released. They wouldn’t let me go until I got x-rays, and I needed a companion. So he ran home to pack more beer, a guitar and banjo and then we flew together to San Juan in a puddle jumper, singing drinking songs for doctors between naps on empty cots trying to get discharged.
That’s one story.
New lessons in the wild.
But there were stories other than the island giving me enough rope to hang myself.
Older stories, original narratives. This is where the Tainos lived, a word that the original inhabitants of the island used to signify the first, the good. The people that the bastard Columbus said he could pacify with a handful of men and guns, in the name of God and country but most of all greed.
You tell me when did it stop?
Why are the statues still up?
Who owns Puerto Rico’s debt?
It is an island on the southernmost tip of the Bermuda triangle, from which the last native raids were launched on the Spanish. To which escaped slaves fled. From which pirates launched their boats. Over which multiple empires wrestled for control, boasting the last Spanish fort to be built in the western hemisphere.
That fort is now a cultural center run by the United States government btw, which obtained Puerto Rico as a colony – I’m sorry commonwealth – at the turn of the 20th century, and then enforced an agrarian economy of concentrated land owners until they got bought out to use paradise for war.
Not the people, the landowners. The people were forcibly relocated.
It is an island that boasts Playa Caracas because Simon Bolivar landed on its shores to resupply, as well as “Green Beach” and “Blue Beach” because subjugation means the death of traditions and culture but most of all creativity.
After having two thirds of their home confiscated and suffering live impact training bombardments for over 50 years, the people themselves took their identity back and kicked the U.S. out. They built houses on Navy land. They fought a generational struggle that decimated families through overt and covert violence and harassment, that is still plaguing them with military-related pollutants contributing to one of the highest cancer rates in the U.S.
One of the highest poverty rates in the U.S.
One of the highest murder rates in the U.S.
I don’t know this because I read more books. I lived with a widow of the struggle. I loved the island like a home. And I felt its pain because it was my own.
It takes a special breed of evil to poison the land where God walks barefoot.
I learned a lot in Vieques that I didn’t know I needed to learn, holes I discovered not in my education but my character.
I had never really spent time with children, or young mothers. I never knew love in the general sense, not directed at someone but as a form of peace, of meditation.
I knew intellectual humility, but to swim among that which can easily kill you is a different brand of wisdom. To smile back at the barracuda, and know to leave calmly when the shark appears. Because the wild does not tolerate the fearful or the weak, nor the ignorant or boastful, but it does have an order which can be respected.
This was the doorstep of that initial accumulation of capital which would go on to fuel the enlightenment, the engine of western civilization. This is the true beginning of our story.
And for what we lost you now have the words hammock and hurricane.
A friend from my childhood called me while I was on the island. Remember that set of three pictures right after I just smoked weed for the first time and was “trying on identities,” the one on the left where I’m touching my head with my hand? She and her older brother lived with me in that house when she was just 17 and had run away from home.
Her brother was in my 7th grade science class. I watched her smoke her first cigarette, switching over from the sweet smell and taste of cloves to Marlboros.
She was living in Gainesville Florida now as a heroin addict and had just put her boyfriend’s gun to her head, pulled the trigger. Luckily he had removed the firing pin before heading off to work that day.
I told her Florida was a quick jump from Puerto Rico, I’d come by to visit. To say hi, say goodbye, at least give her a hug.
So I went.
And I got arrested for possession of marijuana.
Personally I like the pimped out version on the right. Let’s just all take a minute to say fuck the drug war. About 1/4th to 1/3rd of the inmates in that bay of 500 where I won ramen through aggressive chess were in there for non-violent drug charges.
This was (is?) a for-profit prison, so they hold you for the maximum days before court when they can, each body and each additional day means a better bottom line.
I mean, some of the guys were violent. Prison pro-tip, don’t go around asking people what they got locked up for while you’re writing down notes, looks a little bit suspicious. Luckily I came off as more eccentric than narc.
Or as I put it in the emails above, more constipated than angry. Though I was actually still really high when that picture was taken so I was really just disappointed in you America.
Like really? All this effort for $25 worth of weed and a literal corncob pipe – or as they put it, paraphernalia. And all of this happened in a private residence which we never gave the police permission to enter.
You don’t expect people to just walk into your apt while you’re trying to talk a friend down from suicide, especially not the cops, and then hold you accountable for what they find. At least I didn’t. At least not in this country.
And if she had the gun instead of the pipe in her hand when they burst through the door?
My arresting officers had never smoked weed before. I told them to take some of mine before they turned it in and try it themselves. They were Iraq War vets, could probably use a head change.
A lot of us could.
Never gave me back my fucking corncob pipe though.
no rights reserved
just do your duty to increase da booty