things you can tell just by looking at her {fiji, day 2}

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Are you happy? Muhammad asks. It’s funny you should ask me that because another man posed that very question to me this time last year, I said. The waves are the color of coins when he says, And you were not happy, then? I nod and collect shells off the shoreline, the grit from which leaves a pool of sand in my pocket. The clouds are heavy and under a copse of trees we contemplate the afternoon rain. You are not yet where you want to be, yes? Muhammad says, cradling a small cellular phone in his hand. I turn to him and ask him how could he know the whole of my year after knowing me for seven hours? You didn’t talk for the first hour, he laughs, so I had to find you in your face. Part of me wants to tell Muhammad that I’d made it my life’s work to build a fortress around me — I was that impenetrable; I had much to protect — and can you imagine what it’s like to undo everything that you created? To tear down the walls, brick by brick? Do you know what it’s like to walk with stones in your hands?

The sky opens up and the rain comes down in sheets. On the drive back, Muhammad doesn’t use his windshield wipers as much as I’d like, so I find myself squinting at the road ahead, wondering if he could see, if he’d think it rude of me to remind him to buckle his seatbelt. I had a rough year, the worst I’ve known, but I’m closer to fine, I say. He tells me that he can see this too.

Today I spent the day on a remote beach, Bounty Island. One can only reach it by boat (45 minutes from Denarau), and the sand is bleached white and the water is a cool actinic blue. The kind of water where you can see all the way down to the ocean floor. The kind of waves you want to cleave your way through. The fish remind me of a jazz riff in the way they cymbals clash collide and disperse, at random. They were striped and golden, and glinted in a way that reminds me of the sun.

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Off the top of a boat I dive into the water and feel something resembling a cocoon, swathed by the sea and all that beautiful blue. Come closer, fine. Right here.

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On the island, we feast on grilled fish, lamb and eggplant. The rice noodles are cold and tossed with papaya, and the bread is amazing in ways I can’t describe. Pillows, really. Normally, I keep to myself as I’m wretched with new people, all fumbling words and long stretches of quiet, but I meet an Aussie woman, Tracy, who is traveling alone and we bond over the fact that we’re consultants who are able to take holidays in Fiji. We talk about the Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn, Bali, Indonesian politics, and the fact that men in Australia are no different than the men in the U.S. We laugh as we talk about men with rings on their fingers who casually flirt and how we scatter like mice in the other direction. Tracy says that her mother taps her watch, saying, Soon they’ll be a new crop of divorced men your age. A widening ocean of sorts, and we laugh about this too.

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I wander off for a bit and take silly “selfies,” with my hair all a tangle of curls and my face still pale and flush from sunscreen. I spend an hour on the other part of the island, feet digging in the sand, a blanket of leaves over my head, and I feel good. The best I’ve felt in quite some time, and in this reverie, Muhammad returns.

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I will build what I need to build. I will lie in hammocks and breathe underwater. I will open my eyes in the ocean so I can see, even if the water makes me red in all the wrong places. Open your eyes. Are you happy? You’re not quite there yet… Here is my axel and saw. Here are my two hands, skin rubbed off and burning. Here is my heart the color of a bruise. Bruising. Here is me, both eyes open.

I’ve had my success, and something tells me that this grace will continue. Now it’s time to find that monstrous love.

You’re wrong, Muhammad. I’m already there. I’m already happy.

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