Chapter 1

I woke with the kind of snort that happens when you have your head resting back in the car or, more embarrassingly, at a meeting when you fall asleep at the conference table. I looked around, having forgotten where I was, then inhaled deeply as we passed a break in the seaside jungle and I saw the cobalt blue of the Caribbean Sea. “Incredible”, I said sleepily and then to my friend who was driving, “Ned. Look.”
“Beautiful” she replied.
“Magnificent”, I answered and then, pulling myself up in the seat, “Are we here?”
“I am pretty sure Vita e Bella is just around the corner”, Ned answered.
We were driving a white VW beetle with a bimini roof that we rented when we got off the plane from Boston in Cancun. We had been horribly lost in a maze of Cancun hotels and tourist bars, but now, after nearly 3 hours of clumsily driving this roller skate of a car, we saw the waves breaking over the reef as the jungle opened to expose Tulum beach once again.
“You made it”, I whispered to myself, as we pulled into the sand parking lot of “La Vita e Bella”, a group of brightly colored thatched roof cabanas called palapas that were tucked into the dune on the Mexican Caribbean.
We checked in, peeled winter clothes from our sweaty bodies, pulled on bikinis and walked down the stone steps that led to the beach and the beach bar. The sand was soft and white and the waves called to us to enter. “Let’s have a margarita”. It was always a drink with Ned. I never objected. I loved the fact that I never felt I drank much around my Irish buddy. Like Ned, I loved a cocktail. Unlike Ned, tall, blond and very able to drink, I was a petite, mousey haired athlete who could barely drink more than two glasses of wine without suffering for at least one day. Now I was leaner, not so resilient and much less able to tolerate alcohol. We sat on the patio in the sand and looked over the undulating cobalt blue that gently caressed the shore in front of us. I wiggled my feet into the sand as we sipped our cocktails.
Before we could order guacamole, two dark Mexican men in surfer shorts sat down with us. They didn’t ask, they just occupied the empty chairs at the table. they were slightly drunk, and seemed harmless and amusing. Neither was particularly handsome. The one who sat next to me was charming and the yellow tipped dreadlocks that framed his face made him somehow exotic. It was after 3 pm and he still had sleep in his eyes. His smile was contagious. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but stare at that speck of sleep still in his brown eyes. He spoke good English, certainly better than my nonexistent Spanish. But I found myself not listening, staring at that speck and wondering if he ever looked in a mirror. Then I realized he probably did not and that made him irresistible. Without warning, he lifted the sunglasses off the bridge of my nose to see my eyes.
“They are beautiful.” he said.
“I know.” I replied, putting my glasses on the table. My eyes were green, sometimes a little yellow and my favorite thing about myself.
“Want to swim?” I asked, dieing to get into the water.
“Of course”, he purred.
Not hesitating, he took my chair from behind me and helped me to my feet, taking my hand. Ned raised an eyebrow and I said, “I need to swim”, as I left her with her ‘friend’ and walked down the few stairs to the beach with a confidence and a flair I had only recently acquired. I was not sure if it was from surviving cancer, my surrender to taking a vacation and leaving it all behind, from the tequila after the long journey or from this indigenous man who was walking behind me. But I felt like someone everyone wanted to know. I turned back to look at him as I walked into the warm water and smiled.
“What is your name?” he called to me.
“Joanne. And yours?” I asked.
“Amador.” he said with the accent on the third syllable and a roll on the r.
“Hi Amador.” I said back, successfully rolling my r as well.
I dove into the soft waves, and let the water embrace me. I immediately felt new, not necessarily happy, but clean. I started to cry, forgetting anyone was there I was so moved by the sea, the alcohol and the warm breeze that touched my face when I surfaced. When Amador touched me, I was startled.
“I want to marry with you”, he told me as I turned to face him and let the sun dry my tears. I laughed, loudly, deeply, happily. Somehow, I was flattered, even if his remark was only amusing.
“You don’t even know me.” I replied looking into his eyes.
“I know you”, he said with certainty and continued, “and I want to marry with you.”
I smiled and swam away from him to put some distance between us. I was unsure how to respond and I wanted to just enjoy the sea. I wanted a love affair with the Caribbean, not another man. My experience with men hurt and I did not want any more hurt in my life. But what he said made me feel good and I wasn’t sure why. “Are you that damaged?” I asked myself.
He followed and I relished the attention. With the warmth of the air, the coolness of the sea, the beauty of the sun on the water and an interesting dark man with blond tipped dreads following me, I was in heaven. Amador swam up behind me and put his hand on my lower back. I turned quickly as electricity ran up my spine. I stopped and treaded water.
“Listen, we can be friends”, I said, “That is all. I am not sleeping with you, if that is what you are looking for.” I blurted and smiled at my frankness.
“Too bad,” he said, as if we were both missing something and then followed with, “But, o.k.”, and smiled an incredibly infectious smile. I marveled at his self-confidence.
Un-phased, he pointed to his side and asked me “See this scar?” I looked over, both of us treading water now.
He put my hand just above his waist and took my fingers to gently trace the outline of a 4-inch scar down his side.
“Ouch. That must have hurt.” I told him.
“Si. Baracuda,” he replied.
I laughed and said, “Oh, really?”
“And this one?” he asked as he took my hand and brought it down to his thigh where I felt the scar from a 2 inch gash. I started sinking since he had both my hands but I did not pull it back because, even though I feared it, I was enjoying the feel of a man.
I smiled and replied, “shark?” as my head went under the water and I took back my hand to swim back.
“How did you know?” he said as I surfaced and he followed me toward the shore.
I walked out of the sea and onto the beach that stretched for miles. In my red bikini with orange accents, pale and marvelously thin with baby hair on my head barley half an inch long, I looked different, perhaps alien to some. But I felt exceptional. No one here but Ned and I knew it was from cancer.
As he walked me back to the table, he asked, “May I kiss you?” I hesitated, looked into his brown eyes and noticed the sleep was no longer there. I made him wait a moment and then replied, “Just a little one”, and kissed him on the lips with my eyes open. Ned looked the other way. Her ‘friend’ had already started up the beach.
“Adios.” he said with a little melody to his voice.
“Adios.” I replied and sat down. Then he strolled down the stairs and along the beach. He did not look back as I watched him.
I looked at Ned and we laughed. She shook her head.
“You should have seen how everyone looked at you. They didn’t like that you swam with him”, she reported.
“Really? Why is that?” I asked.
“You know.” she said.
“No. Really. I don’t. What do you mean?” I honestly wanted to know.
“Well, he is black you know.”
I looked at her incredulously, not believing she said it. Then I smiled.
“No, he is not black. I know black and he is not.” I said with innuendo since the last man I let butcher my heart had been African American, Southern to boot. We both laughed. I let her racism slide but it bothered me. And, I could still feel the touch of his scars on my hand. I am not sure which bothered me more, her reaction to his color or how good it felt to be close to him. Before I became confused, I finished the rest of my margarita and put my head on the back of the chair to feel the sun and just be in that moment. I did not want to think about anything, so I forced myself to just feel and not think at all.