I’m sitting in my new black-and-white bathing suit beside the pool at The Intercontinental, San Juan, with five other similarly attired women. We are talking about books. It isn’t just the palm trees, sunshine, the warmth of the Caribbean sun (particularly after this winter), or the ocean breezes making this lush setting a paradise; it is the company and conversation. I feel alive, maybe even a bit smarter than I’ve felt in a long time. My daily reality and shortcomings have been suspended and I am one of the six accomplished people on this reunion.
Every year at this time I fly to Puerto Rico to spend time at a beach resort with my former college roommates. For at least a few hours before the wine starts pouring freely, I feel somehow a bit sharper than usual. We each grab our current reading material, both in hard cover and e-book formats, and gather around the pool, some in the sun and some under an umbrella and tree. We talk, read, snack, and take dunks in the pool when we get too warm.
The books we are reading are a big part of the conversation, along with what movies and shows we’ve seen, what our kids are doing, and some memories of the past. Even when the subject of the books changes, someone will always bring it back up, whether because she has also read that book or has just seen someone else walk by carrying a book with a familiar title. The hot books of the year are in everyone’s hands and it’s sometimes funny to see someone reading WILD, when that was so two years ago. I was more current, since I had just finished ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE, and was starting THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I wanted to know what everyone else was reading as they lay on the chaises on the blue-and-white striped towels handed out along with a color-coded arm band to provide proof that we are paying guests.
I also wanted recommendations as to what book I should read next. One person was reading REDEPLOYMENT and suggested THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS. Another mentioned AMHERST as well as BLOOD FEUD. Several highly recommended THE INTERESTINGS, especially since it struck a chord with some of the women. I also heard good things about KILL CHAIN, LOVING FRANK, HUSH, and THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK. I have a lot of reading ahead of me.
A few of the people who attended the reunion have been doing so for as long as fifteen years, some more sporadically. Depending on who attends, the sleeping arrangements can get interesting. One year I met a woman just as I was assigned to share a king-sized bed with her. Luckily, it all worked out, and we didn’t even wake each other up on our numerous nocturnal trips to the bathroom.
While there are several things to do in the surrounding area, we rarely do any of them, basically because we’ve been there, done that. The goals of the weekend might be different for each of us, some love the sun bathing, some the relaxing getaway from everyday life and the time to snooze and read, but talking to old friends is the part of the weekend that makes the memories. We make some new friends, too, as friends of friends are invited, and I discovered some people sitting near us who know one of my oldest friends from high school. We first met the woman last year because she was attracted by our poolside canasta playing and mah jongg games.
For a few moments every year a few of us head to the beach, often to take long walks, although not this year, as I had sprained my ankle on some ice a few weeks earlier. But the waves are wonderful to play in, even when they knock me down and my roommate from forty-five years ago has to pull me up. The bonus was that the jewelry lady who stands near the entryway had something I wanted on her table. The trinkets she sells are inexpensive but some look surprisingly good. I bought a nice necklace for only twenty dollars. I consider it a bargain, but for some reason my husband thinks it cost a lot more, because he adds in the cost of the trip.
This year we were only six people so it was much easier than in the past for us to squeeze into a taxi when we needed to go to a terrific tapas restaurant across from a lively casino where some of us even made a little money.
In recent years the trip has become a memorial to a woman who came every year. She and I went all through school together from elementary school through college. Oddly, her birthday and the anniversary of the day she died are both during the yearly trip to Puerto Rico weekend, and we always remember her and miss her.
I’m only home a day and glad to get back to my normal, if somewhat mundane, life. But our trip organizer is already encouraging us to make reservations for next year. I probably should—I know I can’t wait to go.