Fiji

Mrs. Volkman has a breakdown our second Tuesday in Fiji because she forgot to pack her blue bikini. She has a red one and a burgundy one, as well as a black maillot, but she does not have that damn blue one. She refuses to leave her cabana all day. That morning, after we see kiersten’s father at the bar, and he tells us that his wife is "flipping," we go check on Mrs. Volkman.

I wait outside the door and hear quiet sobbing and the ping of small objects scattering along the floor: a bottle of pills spilling its contents over the hard tile of the pristine bathroom. Kiersten’s voice soothes, "It’s O.K. mom, it’ll be fine. You just lay down . . . how many?"

I slouch onto the cool pink stucco outside the cabana door, contemplating palm trees and sand and the warm humid air. After ten minutes the door opens and Kiersten emerges, sliding next to me, wedging her small body between the wall and the smooth raw wood patio.

"How is she?" I offer a drag of my cigarette.

"She’ll be all right. I don’t know, Anna. It’s just a fucking bathing suit, you know? But she doesn’t even want to buy a new one. Lord knows we could find something at Calvin Klein. I think she’s almost asleep now." Kiersten squints beyond the dock steps, beyond the pale water, winking incongruously in the dappled sun.

"Where do you think your dad is?"

Kiersten looks at me like I’m a fool.

I mumble an apology and ask if she wants to find her dad and let him know that Mrs. Volkman is fine.

"Yeah. It should matter to him, right?" Kiersten stands.

Mr. Volkman is at the cabana bar, at a table on the sunny side, perched under a yellow and blue umbrella. As we approach he raises his hand to cover his mouth, speaking to the young woman with him. She has a pink sarong tied around her waist and appears younger and blonder than his wife. She glances to us as we descend on their morning Bloody Marys. She turns to smile at him before standing, stalking from the table, landing at a barstool. The woman raises a finger to the bartender, comfortably signaling another drink.

Mr. Volkman proudly smokes a Cohiba. He leans back his heft in the chair. He looks big and round with immense black sunglasses shielding half of his puffy brown face. His hair is slicked, it seems he might have gone for a swim.

"Hello my lovelies! Kiersten. Anna. Won’t you join me?" he gestures grandly to the empty chairs surrounding him. A worn leather briefcase rests in one of the chairs, a copy of Playboy peeking from the top. We sit down, Kiersten facing the bar; I am closest to him.

"How about a drink ladies? Would you like something Anna?" He sips the last of his Bloody Mary and gestures to the frizzy blonde waitress floating among the tables. The waitress walks straight and asks for our orders. She flips distractedly through pages of her rectangle notebook, waiting for orders.

"I’ll have a Mimosa, please."

"Glenfiddich on the rocks." Kiersten does not look up to the waitress; she is fixed on the woman at the bar. Mr. Volkman laughs heartily, "Whoa girl! Way to start the day."

He turns to the waitress and winks. "Mmm, sounds good. I think I’ll have one of those too." She nods and scratches some marks in her notebook then turns on her heel.

No one says anything until the drinks arrive. Mr. Volkman puffs his cigar and Kiersten gazes blankly at the woman, not seeming to register anything. The nail bed of my index finger is sore from the pressure with which I keep thumbing. It had started to bleed from my fidgeting on the flight here.

The waitress alights again, sweeping up Mr. Volkman’s empty Mary glass and dumping fresh drinks in the center of the table. Kiersten grabs and takes a long sip, puckering her lips afterwards.

"Mom is asleep now." She rummages through her straw tote, finding a pack of Sherman’s and a book of matches.

"Oh," Mr. Volkman looks shortly at his daughter. "That’s great. Yeah, hey, she was really going nuts this morning. I couldn’t make any sense of it. I’ll go talk to her later." He glances at his watch.

Kiersten nods to the waitress and points to her now-empty glass. "You know Dad, do you even give a shit?"

There is a long pause during which Kiersten and her dad both take drags from their respective tobacco products, staring impassively.

The air feels thick and heavy. I am forever an interloper on a family vacation of which I have no relation. The moisture of the air is attaching itself to my skin. Humidity is nothing but a sticker, attached to my body, stuck on me. Moisture, becoming a part of myself. I feel the thickness in my lungs as I breathe. I cough. I rub the hair away from the nape of my neck, moisture everywhere. Some of the Palm Trees in the distance sway high, but I feel no breeze.

"Because you know if you don’t, that’s cool. But I think she might be better off if you just left. Give her some money and go." Kiersten glances towards the woman at the bar. kiersten’s hand holding the burnt cigarette shakes. She takes another sip of the richly maple colored drink, ice twinkling and rustling amongst the liquid.

"Oh . . . I just don’t . . . know . . ." his voice trails off and his pupils focus beyond us, towards the knowing water that winks at us from the other side of the wooden railing.

I focus on his drink, not knowing where else to look. The ice is melting in the sun and there is condensation collecting on the outside of the short glass. I can see the water from the melting ice swirling, clearing streaks of clear water around the cubes, cutting swirls in the dark maple, floating down through the dark liquor very, very slowly.

The waitress comes over to our table and drops off another drink for Kiersten, scooping up her empty glass as well as Mr. Volkman’s. "Another?" she asks him. He nods at her and smiles.

Kiersten nods towards the bar, "That woman was with us in Prague last winter, wasn’t she."

It is not really a question and it is not really directed towards anyone in particular. It hangs in the air, swirling around us, polluting us. Mr. Volkman is melting.

"Listen doll," he glances at me and I look down at the table, astutely feeling my imposition here. "Your mother knows what she wants. If she wants me to leave, then, well, I would. She’s fine. You know her. She has always been a touch high strung. Her doctor told me –"

"You don’t help that Dad." Kiersten’s voice rises sharply. She still fixes with anger and tight determination his face. "You don’t help the fact that she is ‘high strung.’ You don’t help the fact that she has to see all these doctors. You don’t help much these days as far as she is concerned."

He tugs at the breast pocket on his short-sleeve madras shirt, sweat collecting around his fraught hairline. Everyone is quiet. I slurp the rest of my Mimosa through the straw, accidentally making too much noise. I look up, blushing. Reaching into my bag I grab a Parliament and lean across the table for Kiersten’s matches. I smoke, feeling very small.

"I am going to leave now." Mr. Volkman pushes his seat away from the table and stands firmly. Nodding authoritatively, he glances at his watch. "You and Anna have a nice day. I am going to try and do the same myself."

He slips one hand into the pocket of his khakis and plucks his drink from the waitress who is just arriving at the table. "Put it on the tab, doll," he smiles as she walks away. "And adieu, girls."

Kiersten and I spend the rest of the day getting drunk at that table. We take the umbrella down and take our shirts off, sunning in our bikinis. We don’t discuss her mother or her father or this conversation.

We laugh hysterically instead. We order drinks and then more drinks and we put it all on the tab, doll, and we chain-smoke and act rude to any man who dares approach us and we miss our afternoon scuba lesson. We have no other option, as I see it.

* * *

The next day Mrs. Volkman is eager. She is pounding away at our door at six in the morning. She insists, through the locked door, through our groaning complaints, that we get up and splash water on our faces, and breakfast with her at the spa.

We do as we are told; she is far too eager and insistent for our hesitations. We enter the fronded sanctuary of the cabana spa, stumbling on our leaden feet. We are escorted to a buffet consisting entirely of fresh fruit and granola and smoothies. They refuse to give Kiersten and I an Irish Coffee, not even a nice caffeinated Mocha. After much begging and pleading ensues, even after the proffering of small cash bribes to the waiter, we are met with restraint and nodded heads. The simple response, humiliating to my ears: "Nothing we can do, Miss."

Mrs. Volkman clucks her tongue, "You girls!" She says it is just as well. "We could all use a little detox now and then."

She chats incessantly through breakfast, outlining the day’s activities of massages and herbal wraps and stair climbing, then shopping and water skiing on the bay. Kiersten and I look at each other, nursing hangovers, bags thick and prodding and dark under our eyes. Unfortunately Mrs. Volkman’s vehemence precludes any deviation from the plan.

After breakfast we are escorted to the spa proper, Shangri-La, and we strip down and are handed terry robes that are the same pink of a good Cosmopolitan. Mrs. Volkman opts for exercise as the first order of the day. Kiersten and I start easy, so we follow Monique to the massage room and relax for an hour long Swedish. Kiersten says she doesn’t know what in the hell is going on with her mother, but reasons that it must to be better than the state she was in yesterday.

We follow with a seaweed wrap and facial. The licorice scent of the oils they use on my face smells of gin and juniper. I find the whole affair very pleasant, very chic, very fitting for two weeks in the South Pacific. I briefly wonder where Mr. Volkman might be, but some tinge in my chest tells me to push the thought away. The tinge tells me to make small talk with Kiersten instead.

We meet up with Mrs. Volkman. She is tweaking off about fresh starts and new lifestyles and better living through chemistry. Meanwhile she fidgets with the manicurist about the proper technique and she flinches and corrects the poor Polynesian woman every step of the way.

It is all over by noon. We shower and change and head to lunch. kiersten’s mother says she needs jewelry and she orders a car to take us around to some of the nicer little shops around the island.

Mrs. Volkman, facing mutiny from Kiersten and I, finally permits us a drink, on account of our having done so well, and it being past noon. Kiersten winks at me in the back of the Towncar, we chime our glasses and watch the ice stir through the cocktails.

The shopping is exhaustive and panicked. Mrs. Volkman insists on trying everything in sight, enlisting the help of every singular sales person employed. She needs everyone fawning over her and bringing her all the biggest and best jewels each shop had to offer. She requests peeks at the newest catalogues, she forces jewels that are too small for her fingers and wrists up and over her plumped flesh.

I try a few pairs of black pearl earrings and a diamond tiara. I mock all of this, I try to become a humble college girl, but somehow I don’t think any of these employees are really buying it. Kiersten could care less. She sips a Diet Coke from a straw and nods at every item her mother holds up to the light. Mrs. Volkman grins at herself in the mirror with every new necklace, bracelet, or ring.

After inspecting every store, every collection, she has us return to the best shop. The sun is setting lower in the sky. From these narrow cobbled roads, as we drive around slowly and tight, I hold my glass in the back of the car and I wipe the perspiration away from my sunglasses. While Mrs. Volkman talks loudly to the driver about the unwieldy tourist season, I observe and the small margins of dirt and mud that leak from the border where the road meets the earth.

All revelry is halted when the car lurches stopped in front of Saint Etienne Bijoux. Then the great picking and buying begins. It all happens seemingly at random: a seven-and-a-half carat diamond necklace with small rubies dangling in between lengthy strands; a sapphire and emerald ring, larger than my thumbnail; two pairs of pearl earrings, one black one white; a pair of diamond studs for Kiersten; and an Onyx watch with a matching money-clip for Mr. Volkman.

At the final store, she turns to me. "Dearest Anna, is there anything you like here?" I demur. I tell her there are lots of nice things and I give her a tight smile. I am trying to stay as far away from this mania as possible. She twitches, then turns and whispers something to one of the men behind the counter.

He hands her a red velvet box, which she grandly presents to me, flapping her arms around high above her head. "Anna. Dear, I am positively thrilled that you could join us for this absolutely fabulous vacation. This is because we all love you so much!" A gorgeous pair of black pearl earrings are buttoned into the red velvet box. I say it really isn’t necessary but Mrs. Volkman insists, saying she wouldn’t have it any other way. She rushes over to me, she hugs me so tightly, she bursts into tears.

We return to the cabana and have dinner. We order old-fashioned juicy steaks and rosemary roasted potatoes; we chase it all down with an excellent bottle of red wine, and a chocolate soufflé. Mrs. Volkman has calmed, and as she prods at the soufflé, she says that she wants to lie down.

Mrs. Volkman seemed defeated at breakfast the following morning. She tells us that her husband didn’t like the watch and money clip, and she says that she just wants to go return it by herself. She is a trooper wading through her day, weary, but still playing the game.

One of these nights I find myself alone at dinner with Mr. Volkman.

It is not a big deal. Kiersten and her mother have gone into town for the day, and apparently they bumped into Emma and Scott Adams, who extended an invitation for them to spend the night on The Remington in Weilu Harbor. Kiersten leaves an unintelligible message for me at the hotel. I can hardly hear above the noise of the propellers slicing the air around her, but I make out that she and her mother are taking the helicopter out to the yacht. Kiersten says they won’t return to Ovalu until early the next morning. There is something mumbled about telling her father to go and have dinner without them.

Mr. Volkman seems lost when I find him playing billiards. I tell him that his wife and daughter wouldn’t be returning for the night. He nods absently and scans the patrons of the room. He reaches into his shirt pocket for a cigar.

He suggests that we carry on as usual and meet for dinner at eight at the Gaughain. I agree. Everything seems reasonable.

I wake from a nap late, and I am already in a haphazard state of mind, rushing around the room trying to find my red sandals and room key, taming my hair into a ponytail, quickly stuffing a box of Parliaments into my handbag.

I arrive breathless and as I stand outside in the breeze. I see the sky and the sandy beach. There is a young couple still lounging on the beach. They can’t be older than thirty; she has a black sarong tied low on her hips. They stand near a bonfire, and they sway in the sand, hugging, laughing.

Why can’t that be me? I ask.

I remind myself to breathe.

Mr. Volkman taps my shoulder and I spin around.

He chuckles, "Come on, Anna." He offers the crook of his elbow, which I accept.

Mr. Volkman knows what drink to order when the waiter descends: Raspberry vodka with a spritz of ginger ale. It is always the first drink before dinner. I don’t know what to talk about. Fortunately he is in a jubilant mood, he speaks at length about his company, about what his work means to him, and how far he’s come.

"I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, although I’m sure it might look that way," he eyes the surrounding tables, he looks around the room. Waving his hand off towards the sea, visible beyond the windows, he continues, "But it’s been a lot of work to get to the place where I am. There have been sacrifices, sure. There have been sacrifices." He doesn’t elaborate. The waiter comes by to refill our water glasses. I lean back as the waiter fills my wine glass with a buttery white wine.

I nod, as if I am following Mr. Volkman’s dialogue. But my mind bends with the slow-moving aqueous grace of circular thought. My thoughts bound through various topics. I think I am getting drunk. I think about the construct that people might refer to as my life. I am so amused with my life these days. My thoughts careen, bumping amongst vodka. Now they circulate in that liquid place of pinot grigio.

It dawns on me that it is December. I had almost forgotten, amidst the hyacinth and the South Pacific, around the jewels and hysteria, safe among the trees and ocean, secluded on this island, that Christmas is in two days. I have failed to call my family at any point in the last two weeks. I recall a tipsy telephone call from the airplane, to my mother’s house in the desert, but I don’t think I left a message.

Mr. Volkman continues, telling me about how he came to work in hotels after struggling through Princeton, how he was ecstatic when he paid off his loans in just three years. He mentions something about meeting Mrs. Volkman during a sweaty summer at the Grande Italia in Rome.

Dinner still hasn’t been served, and I’m nibbling continuously at the breadbasket, picking pieces of rosemary focaccia, absently dusting errant bits of rosemary twigs from my lap, letting my eyes gaze back at Mr. Volkman. I am lulled by the rhythm of his cadences; I am swept by his musing dialogue.

My mother and my three sisters will be at the house in the desert. Everyone will probably drive out for Christmas Eve, and the air will be dry and dusty, pink and hot. As is typical of our holiday celebrations, I imagine someone storming off from the dining room table, slamming the heavy front door after a dramatic row. I see long blonde hair leaping into an old Range Rover. The car will wind down long roads, jetting swiftly into a starless, dry and empty evening.

After the third glass of wine, Mr. Volkman stops eating. "Tell me about your family, Anna." Our salads have arrived, but I’m not hungry any more. Instead I am hot and flustered by a combination of cocktails and anxiety. I don’t want to be the focus of this accomplished man’s attention. I leave my salad untouched, flicking the limpid leaves of lettuce, separating the tomatoes from the carrots in a small pile. I absently spread the thin vinaigrette evenly around the plate, trying to evade him.

He asks if my parents are divorced. I look up, then away. Yes, I tell him. I give him my answer about how that is all right now. I say that I simply consider it just some more water rushing under yet another particularly unpleasant bridge.

I can tell that he doesn’t buy it, my false optimism. Something about that makes me happy.

I think that most people buy it.

The tall waiter swoops to collect our untouched salads. Mr. Volkman asks if I want wine with our main course, and I agree, transfixed for a moment by an honest look in his eyes.

Before the roast quail arrives I continue to pick at the focaccia. I feel silent inside, calmer than I have in months.

"George," he smiles at me. "That’s my name. Enough with this ‘Mr. Volkman’ bit." He chuckled with his lungs and shakes his head, amused by my formality.

My appetite returns once the smoky quail is presented to our table. I eat voraciously, tugging at the small bones of the creature. Mr. Volkman, George, masterfully picks apart the carcass and extricating the birds’ bones, making neat work of the meal. He asks about school, he asks how Kiersten is doing this semester. "Fine," I tell him. "We’re both doing fine, George." I test the name out for flavor on my tongue. It seems to roll relatively well.

The liquid of the Pinot Noir strengthens in my veins, throbbing warmly in my head. My small mouth and weak voice continue to whirl around the table, propelled by nothing more than a sustained whisper. As I lean forward to describe the irreverent quirks of my Anthropology professor, my hand reaches into the empty breadbasket, fumbling distractedly among the folds of the towel that had been keeping the foccacia warm. At precisely the same moment, in a second of fateful coincidence and awful chance, in a speck so quick that I doubt even my heartbeat has registered it before my wrist could snap back reflexively, I feel Mr. Volkman’s hand fumbling in the basket, touching mine.

I think sometimes about moments, about what it really is. I’ve always wondered what makes something real, about how we ever know if something has truly happened, if something has truly mattered. And if I take pains to hold memories back, and if I keep activities, and things I’ve done, silent: do they exist at all?

George. He takes hold of my fingers before I can withdraw my hand from the table, and he holds my fingers softly, interrupting me mid-sentence.

I am capable of returning rapidly to composure, of swiveling back into a scrim of normalcy and pretense. But he has caught me off guard. His thumb rubs the underside of my hand.

"You have delicious hands," he tells me. I hear a catch in his throat. I smile, I melt. It has been a long time since such a compliment.

In my lubricated mind it all seems reasonable. What a kind man, what a gentle man. I flash to his utter generosity, the exorbitant expense he has taken to bring me along on this vacation. I think about the flights and the cabana and the windsurfing and the cocktails and the dining. I think about the pearl studs in my ears, a gift from him and his wife. I think that maybe I will never again find myself in such a beautiful a place as Fiji.

I wonder if love will come my way again. I know, I know, I know that this is not it.

I ponder the nature of risk and the thrill of experience. I sit glazed, a smirk on my face, bemused, weighing my options, weighing my chances.

This, I have never done before.

What delicious sin might it be?

He smiles, cocksure and slick, attractive, suave, mature. His thumb persistently throbs against the underside of my hand. Our fingers rest above the breadbasket. We have finished our quail. Our plates lie greasy in front of us, as I leaned ever farther towards Mr. Volkman. The white shirt clinging to my chest rests dangerously close to the messy remainder of my purple and brown carcass; glossy bones scraped clean, glimmering in butter, slick with grease clinging to them.

He releases my fingers first. It catches me off guard. I inhale (Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe!), and I withdraw my hand to my lap and smile. Perhaps this was all in my head. Perhaps he is being fatherly; perhaps I have overestimated the power of my attraction.

Mr. Volkman smiles and wraps his thick fingers around the stem of the wineglass. He tips the glass to me.

"I’d like to propose a toast." I take hold of my glass, and I know that I’m trembling, but I manage to display the usual guise of composure. "To the most fabulous girl in this room," he nods his head at me. "To the most delicious creature walking this island. To Anna." He reaches his glass to mine, sounding a chime that gives me goose bumps. We both sip the heavy Cabernet.

"Lets get out of here." He signs his name to the tab, closing the leather book quietly. He taps his breast pocket and withdraws a cigar, rising from his chair and offering me a hand. My cheeks burning with the wine and confusion and excitement, and I allow him to help me from my chair.

I nearly stumbled I am so drunk. He takes hold of the crook of my elbow and places my sweater around my shoulders. We stumble out of the restaurant and into the expanse of the hot night. My hair blows everywhere.

I fumble for a cigarette and Mr. Volkman puts his arm around me, nestling me inside his thick arm. I chat ceaselessly about some political theory or other, loud and nervous, warbling and slurring. Probably some mess I learned in a Poly Sci class. All I really care about is the comfort of his arm and the fury of my cigarette and the hot fire of my cheeks. The pale moon is caught above us, as we head down the wooden deck, towards our cabanas.

I let him keep walking past the cabana that Kiersten and I share. I allow myself to pretend that this is the most normal thing in the world. Everything seems reasonable. He marches on strongly, and when we come to his door, he pauses and turns to me. I am trying to maintain composure, stupidly thinking that this might even be possible at this point. Reasoning that this collected attempt at thought will be my salvation, my proof that I am just as adult and mature as any other girl Mr. Volkman (George!) might take back to his room. I allow myself to appear jaded; to act like all of this is the most natural thing in the world.

So I stand tall, facing him, emboldened by my simulated backbone. He looks down at me with a strong face, his keys raised in one hand, and he puts the other hand on my shoulder, searching my face.

I sense a pause. For a moment I almost expect him to turn away from me. He brushes his fingers along my fevered cheek. He is tender, almost, and he makes a motion to brush away the wind around us. I return his look, staring at his eyes, faking every second, praying my fear won’t be revealed.

He inhales. Motion stops. I hold my breath.

Mr. Volkman, I look at his face. It is full and masculine and thick. I can tell that he contemplates, measuring quandaries, pondering failure (Or relishing success?).

I like to think that it is Kiersten who comes to play across his mind. That it is she, the shadow of his daughter, rolling across his face. And maybe there is something speaking to me, telling me that I didn’t care. The fleeting moment when my friends name comes to my fuzzy forethought is dashed. I do not care what this is for Kiersten. This is my own sin. This is my own moment.

The furrow creeping upwards along Mr. Volkman’s eyebrow certainly isn’t his wife. He and Mrs. Volkman barely talk. Kiersten had pointed out her father’s mistress earlier in the trip. She was a woman sitting at the bar, wearing a black bikini tied behind her neck.

He clears his throat and moves hair away from my face. I feel his warm rummy breath on my nose, a comforting steam keeping me warm. He glances to the ocean, resting his hand on the low of my back, holding me in an encompassing embrace. My weak hands tug his coat, observing his moderate girth.

The fog passes over Mr. Volkman’s face (George - my god how I am beginning to revel in that!), and a glint of light shreds his eye. The moment has passed. He leans down, to kiss me.

Like an expert, like the professional that I presumed he would be, he deftly unlocks the door to his suite, and we waltz into the dark shadows without effort. We kiss with urgency, a vigor that I have never known. The world almost stops and I can tell with an absolute authority that I have never had a kiss so urgent, so intense, so focused, in my life. This kiss is what draws me in; this kiss is what made me never want to stop.

In that precise moment, I know. I know that he wants me and I know that he is absolutely there, with me. There is no denying that he wants me, and he isn’t fucking around.

I feel his hands pull me tighter and they sink on my back, drawing me in to him, into his warm strong body. It is all so urgent and it is all so beautiful.

I am utterly wrapped.

Oh my god.

I rest my hands on the white tile of the sink and lean into my reflection in the mirror. I continue crying with a breathtaking vigor. What am I doing? WHAT IN THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? Oh shit. I crouch down on the cold tile, barefoot, and cry harder, it is impossible to breathe in anymore, I’m gasping for air. Gasping for all of them, for Mr. Volkman - George, oh shit, George – and his wife and his daughter. Kiersten. Shit, Kiersten.

How in the hell did I wind up here? In the Volkman’s cabana, kissing Mr. Volkman. Oh Christ. Please, just go away. I drank too much. It’s all too hideous.

I keep to my crying, letting the gasping for air comfort me. Letting my puffing eyes and my wet chin all comfort and punish me. I think I hear him ask, Where are you? but I can’t be sure what’s going on.

There is no turning back if I go back into that bed. I can’t erase that; I don’t care how much I drink. I can’t erase anything, anymore.

"Where are you?" I hear him more clearly, he sounds so drunk, so sloppy and desperate.

I rush, trying to stop my heart racing, trying to keep breathing but I am wrecked. I am heaving up tears and my hair is clinging to my wet cheeks.

I am frozen in the harsh slab of light outside the bathroom doorframe, caught in a moment of brightness and dark shadows. I can’t see beyond the distinct edges of light crashing from the bathroom. I clutch my crumpled shirt to my chest, zipping my pants securely over my hips. In the new darkness I can’t see anything. I can’t see him lying passed out on the bed, I can’t see the bottle of champagne that crashed onto the floor, and I can’t see the failed condom lying on the floor. The light from the white bathroom streams out the doorframe behind me, streaming over me. It is blinding.

"I can’t," I sob. I rush from the room, slamming the door shut behind me. I’m still clutching my shirt, trying to cover my white bra, trying to look normal, trying not to run. I am walking so fast down the wooden deck towards my cabana, trying to wipe the tears from my eyes, trying to dry my cheeks, but the tears don’t stop. I am trying to contain myself, trying to stop this thing from ever having happened. I realize I’m still barefoot. I forgot my red sandals in his bedroom.

I don’t stop. I have to keep moving briskly, try to catch my breath. I can feel the makeup collecting under my eyes, running thickly down my face. I can feel my skin tingling from so much crying and shaking and breathing. It is the color of tar pitch outside. I keep walking fast and narrow, I can’t stop. I need a Xanax, Breathe. I need a cool Scotch on the rocks, I need my bed.

I reach our room and I’m hyperventilating and thank god the door is unlocked and I notice Kiersten’s sheets are still rumpled around her bed, still strewn from this morning. Everything is on the floor and in a tangle and somehow this whole scene makes me nauseous. I’m in the bathroom throwing up sliding down to the cool tile floor. Sitting there, hunched over, trying to catch my breath, I make it stop.

The front door swings wildly in the feverish tropical breeze. Fresh air rushes into the room and the hinge on the door squeaks. I focus on it.

I raise myself up and find the Xanax in my toiletry bag. My breathing slows.

I stop crying and my eyes are dry and propped open. I take three pills and I pour myself that Scotch over ice and I force down the first glass, then I rinse myself in the shower. I dry off and then shut and lock the front door and turn off the lights and crawl into bed naked, clutching another glass of Scotch to my chest as I lay on my side. My hair is wrapped up turban-style in a big white towel. My head sinks into the pillow and I lay there, gulping, thinking about how close to losing it all I came.

I don’t even know.

The last week of the trip feels like a series of fragmented collages, hastily pasted together, a bright, colorful rush of chaos.

We leave Fiji and go to the main island of Tahiti, staying in yet another set of private cabanas with personal beaches and docks running into the warm, heavily salted water. I don’t see much of Mr. Volkman; he is always off drunk with Mrs. Volkman or his mistress. Clearly, he doesn’t remember much of anything because the few occasions he does pop up, he smiles and nods hazily at Kiersten and I over the rim of a Cuba Libre. Things are awkward with Kiersten; I just don’t feel right.

I never seek out my red sandals. One morning when we walk by their cabana on our way sailing, I overhear an argument between Mr. Volkman and his wife. I hear her. She shrieks, "These are not mine you fool! What in the hell is going on here?! These are not mine!" And then a loud thud punctuates the shrieks, as the objects in question hit the wall. I keep walking, waiting for this vacation to end.

Sadly, I just don’t care anymore. I can’t. I feel sapped of all energy for them. I’ve been through my own bender and too much of it was my fault and now all I do is cringe inside. I focus on returning.

Kiersten and her mother have changed their plans and decided to fly to their apartment in New York rather than return to California. Kiersten is taking some time off this semester. She tells me that she’ll call in a few weeks to check in.

Kiersten says her mom needs some time to relax before returning home. She tells me that they need a break.

Mr. Volkman has unexpected business in Hong Kong. He leaves the day before my flight is scheduled to depart.

Kiersten and Mrs. Volkman kiss me emotionally on both cheeks and give me long, clingy, tightly bound hugs, while the limo waits to take me to the airport.











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