Nostalgia vs the Chickens
What I remember most about St. Croix is the chickens. You’d think it would be something else—the amazing beaches, the turquoise ocean, the heavenly food—but it’s the chickens I remember most vividly. Other places have stray dogs and cats running around, but St. Croix had chickens. There were so many chickens that restaurants had “anti-chicken spray” sitting out on their tables. You were meant to squirt the birds with water when they tottered up to beg for scraps.
My husband and I never sprayed the chickens. They seemed all right in the end. Their sad-eye game wasn’t quite as potent as a dog’s would have been, so we weren’t overly tempted to feed them. I recall one small, speckled-white bird I loved for no good reason. If I’d been a braver person, I might have taken it home and spoiled it as much as I would a favorite kitten. As it was, we had no home. We were there to buy a sailboat that would become our home, and we had nowhere to keep a chicken, however cute and cloudlike it might be.
Our introduction to the chickens was a persistent, black rooster that woke us promptly at dawn our first morning there. After a long flight and a loud night of locals partying at a bicycle shop (why?) across the street from our hotel, we were greeted by a rooster crowing in the hotel parking lot. The lot was fenced and my husband thought the rooster had gotten locked in. But when he stumbled, bleary-eyed, down to rescue the poor creature, it flew up to an electrical service line, perched like a pigeon, and stared down at him with one eye as if to say, Lord, what fools these mortals be.
I didn’t miss the bicycle-shop parties when we finally switched hotels, but I did kind of miss the rooster.
Our new hotel was on a tiny island and borderline abandoned. It was a crumbling palace with peeling paint and out-of-order water features. There were huge iguanas, white egrets, and other wildlife wandering the place, there to let me know I was only visiting and this was their home. It was beautiful.
In order to get to the main island, we had to take a water taxi. Without a car, we walked everywhere, and the sailboat we were there to buy happened to be located just past notable chicken number three, which had been hit by a car, I assume. It lay in the middle of that backstreet the entire time we were in St. Croix.
I think notable chicken number three was fresh when we first saw it. We skirted around it and felt a pang of melancholy before moving on. As the days rolled on, things got perpetually worse. The bank was weeks late to send the check we needed, and we were stranded on the island, watching helplessly as hurricane season marched ever closer and our savings shrank. Predictably, that dead chicken started to stink. I held my breath every time I passed it, paying close attention to the direction of the wind. I was learning to sail before I ever got on the boat.
Long after the romance of St. Croix began to fade, that chicken was still there. My husband spent his days on the boat we planned to buy, helping the original owner fix it up. I’d gone from starry-eyed wonder to jaded irritation.
I hated the boat, the dead chicken, the sand fleas that had taken hundreds of bites out of my legs because I dared to stand in leaf litter for fifteen minutes. I hated the beach and my sunburn and the mysterious sound of Law & Order playing in the room next door every night until about 6:00 a.m. No one was booked to stay in that room. No one came or went. Some ghost had a police procedural addiction, apparently. I fought back with Say Yes to the Dress and developed my own addiction. War can change you that way.
Every day, I took the water taxi to a boardwalk where cruise ships docked in tourist season. Off-season, the boardwalk was empty. Still, you could tell exactly how far into the city tourists usually walked, the precise point at which they got tired and turned back. All pretense stopped there. It was surreal, like stepping out of a fairy glamour.
I spent my birthday alone, walking to a smoothie bar in a secret-garden courtyard, which I was never able to find again afterwards. Then I walked to a restaurant called No Bones, ordered pasta (with chicken), and spent the rest of the day in my hotel room, weeping to Say Yes to the Dress. Not even the Law & Order ghost joined me.
There was something so lonely about off-season St. Croix, but I still miss it for some reason. Nostalgia is a liar, but we like the stories she tells. No matter how bitter I was about being stranded and eaten alive, it’s all so lovely in my memories. To this day, I’d give anything to taste not only those delicious drinks on the boardwalk, but the toxic-acid in a plastic cup that was a powerful two-dollar margarita I bought at an outdoor restaurant just past the fairy glamour.
But nostalgia never lies about the chickens. She doesn’t know how to categorize them. I think chickens are immune to fairy glamours. Chickens are birds of truth. I wonder if they fade into the background when the cruise ships pull up—or do they stake their territory like ornery, little locals?
I still wish I could have taken that juvenile cloud-chicken home. I’ve since read about a lone sailor whose sole companion was a stray chicken he brought with him on his boat. Apparently, she gave him fresh eggs in addition to protecting him from nostalgia and fairy glamours.