Key Lime High

17 Nov

Travel Notes of My 40th Birthday Retreat with the 4 Chicks

As I write this, my four-year-old son is screaming for me to get the stuffed Christmas toys down from the attic, trying to break down my bedroom door behind which I am stealthily typing. It’s quite the contrast to two weeks ago today. On that morning, I woke up to silence and strolled around my second-floor balcony, imbibing views of Florida’s tranquil gulf below, stretching out to the horizon before me like a deep blue path of possibility.

Originally, I thought I might want to ring in my big birthday with a party. I envisioned a grand “40’s Forever” theme with lots of great 1940’s music and dancing on a tented outdoor dance floor. But when my writing class was keeping me so busy, I just didn’t have time to plan it. And having moved just over a year ago, I wasn’t sure who would actually come. My husband, Michael, stayed quiet.

When I showed up at Eva’s house for our regularly scheduled Chicks meeting the day before my birthday, I could tell something was off; Peggy and Vivi were both there before me–without coffee. Michael had told me I had to hurry and get back home so we could leave on our trip, some mysterious getaway sans kids to some unknown destination, just the two of us. He had only told me about it after learning I had accepted a freelance job that was to have started the same time, which he insisted I postpone. So my crammed suitcase, which held everything from my winter coat to my bathing suit, waited for my return.

The Chicks sang “Happy Birthday,” and I blew out my birthday cupcake. Then, as I prepared to get down to the day’s business quickly, Michael walked in the door. It was then that I learned the extent of his cover-up. He was sending me and the Chicks away together. They had been in on the secret, too, but none of us knew where we were headed. Michael rushed us into my minivan. Inside, a card included the address of our first way point: a Starbucks about an hour west on I-4. A CD mix of 1940’s music played in the radio. (I think the last mix he made for me was in college. On a cassette.)

After Starbucks, we were given our next address which took us further west and turned us south. We imagined Michael at “mission control,” calling us from a cockpit surrounded by dials, tracking our every mile. He seemed concerned about our timing, saying we had to be somewhere by a certain time. But we Chicks were enjoying the journey, talking and laughing so much that we missed a critical turn and our intended lunch stop, causing Michael some distress. Insisting we had to make up lost time, he gave us our next way point to navigate us back onto our path. Peggy Googled the address. He was sending us to a Publix parking lot.

Just as we pulled into said grocery lot, Michael called again. “You better not be giving us a grocery list,” I told him, only half joking. But that’s exactly what he was doing. He told us we had no more than thirty minutes to get breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days. Getting four women to agree on food was no small feat, but we managed. Michael’s voice was emphatic as we loaded the food into the empty cooler he had left in the trunk. “You MUST LEAVE NOW!”

Giving us the final address, he told us we were 15 minutes away from another parking lot, where a shuttle would take us to a ferry that would in turn take us to our final destination. If we missed the shuttle, we would miss the ferry and would have to pay for another one much later. He directed us to paperwork underneath the passenger seat. We were going to North Captiva Island, where the pirate Gaspar held his concubine women captive.

We boarded the shuttle just in time. After checking-in on the island, we received our own golf cart for transportation and eventually found the private house that would be our accommodations. Walking through the three-story wonderland of comfort and recreation that was called Key Lime High, I marveled at my husband’s creativity, thoughtfulness, and generosity to plan and pull off such a surprise for me and my Chicks. We were four happy captives for four perfect days. It was the best 40th I could have ever asked for, yet something I could not have imagined beforehand. “Trust me,” he had said leading up to the weekend, deflecting my hundreds of demanding questions. “Sometimes you just have to let go of feeling like you have to control everything.”

My son has stopped screaming now and is quietly constructing a Lego tower. I want to keep building, too. To start, I close my eyes and go back to that happy retreat with Eva, Peggy, and Vivi–my dear Chicks who know every painful, exhilarating chapter of my creative triumphs and tragedies–and our shared Key Lime High continues.

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One Response to “Key Lime High”

  1. Chuck McLendon November 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    What a marvelous story and kudos to Michael for his ingenuity for such a great surprise for your birthday. WTG, Michael! Looks like a fabulous place for you ladies. Happy Birthday,Tracey, now belated! LOL 🙂

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