Springtime makes me think about rebirth, and of the rebirth of my connection to the Virgin Islands through writing and publishing my upcoming book, Dark Paradise. I lived in St. Thomas during my formative years and I often revisit the locales, smells, and sounds of my youth in my mind. But youth has a different outlook on the world.
When my father passed in 1995, I had to return and live in St. Thomas on my own for one month. I dealt with urgent matters and family squabbles. It was a haze of legality and drama. Then I left for law school and managed things from afar for three years.
At the conclusion of my degree, I returned for several months. I drove a rickety brown Toyota that took fifteen minutes to warm-up every morning. I’d go down, start the car, then go back inside to eat breakfast. It was the first time I’d spent driving on the island as anything except a passenger, and that painted a different, adult picture of my homeland. The daily grind of making a living, dealing with estate matters, and hiring a lawyer changed my naïve perception of the surrounding tropical beauty and the realization that no matter where you go, people are similar in fundamental ways. They show hate, greed, and envy. They torment each other in myriad ways, which is something I explore in Dark Paradise.
They also show love. In St. Thomas, people smile a lot. I smile a lot. My wife believes it’s the result of growing up in that culture. It’s inclusive. People accept your faults and your values. They will take you into their homes. As a white boy in an Afro-Caribbean culture, I was always treated as one of the family. I never felt like an outsider as a child. I felt more like an outsider as an adult.
I know what it’s like to leave a place that feels like home, then return years later. When my mother and step-father moved to St. Croix in 1984, they had to drag me kicking and screaming. I loved St. Thomas with a fiery passion. I had no desire to leave. That love is what triggered my desire to revisit my home world through fiction.
By writing this book, I’ve taken the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the history of the islands that I never learned in my youth. Some of the places I explore in my book are no longer there and I wish they were. The West Indian Manner, a guesthouse I actually grew up in, was torn down and replaced with government offices. Other venues were haunts of mine and my family, while others are only known to me anecdotally or in passing. Between my recent knowledge and my personal experiences, I have learned a lot about a place I feel so connected to, but could not explain to others so well.
I hope to bring both knowledge and an emotional resonance to the reader in Dark Paradise. Despite the outward changes, the Virgins still feel the same for me on a dimensional level. It’s instinctive. It’s in my bones. It’s home.