This is my 2011 Nude Day Contest Entry. Please read, vote, and comment. Thanks.
It's not a storybook tale, exactly, even though it seemed to start out that way. We were young when we got married; right out of college. We had this fresh perspective on life, ready to make a difference, ready to settle down and raise children in the kind of loving, caring environment we just knew we were capable of providing. We were set. Rick had just secured a position at his Uncle's firm as a personal financial advisor and the world was full of possibilities for myself, a young woman with a graphics design degree.
What we didn't know then, what we learned the way everyone learns, is that the complexities of life can steer us off course in so many ways. In the span of a few very hard years, the dreams we thought were just at our fingertips, slipped so far from our grasp we didn't dare fantasize about them for fear of falling into depression. Ambitions of leaving our dead-end jobs to find opportunities to change the world vanished with the sinking economy, and the daily grind to produce, simply to stay employed, took its place in our outlook. I watched the man I thought was larger than life, the one I adored, turn sour and diminutive as stress became too burdensome to slough. And I could only add to his mental weight as my own drive to start a family became an obsessive quest, turning sex into nothing more than another chore that brought no pleasure and produced no offspring.
By our 5th wedding anniversary we were already considering divorce as a means of saving us both from slipping into delirium. We were mere shells of our own existence with no hope of recovering what he had, what we hoped for, and what we needed to be whole. It seemed hopeless and we were desperate.
But that's where the storybook tale ends and our life began.
Chapter One: Palm Trees and Sand
"I know it sounds a little hokey, Lori, but Steve told me that this couple from their church went and came back completely different."
"Yeah, but, were they...you know...considering..." Divorce. I couldn't bring myself to finish the sentence, to actually say the word out loud.
"Yes. They were even worse than us; fighting all the time, even in public places."
That might be better than this. At least they cared enough to argue. We just co-exist with no words left to say to one another. "How long would we be there?"
"Steve said they went for two weeks. You can go for just one, but two is recommended."
"Two weeks is my entire vacation for the year. I wouldn't be able to take any time off to see my family at Christmas."
"I know, Lori, but if we don't take this time...do something...we might as well just...I mean, I don't know what else to do. Nothing seems to be working. Counseling did absolutely nothing for us."
"No, I know, you don't have to recap all the failures again. We both know the score."
"I'm willing to try this...this one last thing."
"It's a lot of money, Rick."
"What difference does the money make now? I mean, we're just talking about dividing it up, anyway. At least we can say we did everything we could, no holds barred, to make it work."
Damn. He had to say that. I'd always considered myself a fighter; always talked about how people just quit things too soon, before they'd really tried. It was how I was raised and a big part of who I was, and it irritated me that in a small way, he was using that for his own argument. It would've really started a major argument, had it not been for the fact that he was using it to try and save our marriage. And I had to at least give him credit for that.
"Well, how much do you know about this special place that we're going to?"
"Steve didn't have many details. It's an island paradise, sort of. They just said that the less questions you ask in advance, the better. It's safe, it's disease-free, and the people are very friendly."
"It's not like some weird cult or anything, is it?"
"No, nothing like that. This couple still goes to their church and everything. They're completely normal except for the fact that they are blissfully married now, whereas before they were headed for disaster."
"Why no questions, then?"
"I don't know. At this point, I don't care. Call me desperate, if you want. Whatever. That's really what we are, isn't it? If it works, does it matter at this point?"
"No, no, it doesn't. You're right." I knew he was about to launch into another round of 'don't you even care about this marriage anymore', and I didn't think I could handle that argument. Again.
"The only advice Steve said they had, was to keep an open mind about everything, and try to accept the experience."
"Accept the experience? That sounds a little mysterious, doesn't it?"
"It does, but we're both pretty open-minded people. I don't think that sounds too hard or unreasonable. I know that there isn't any wife-swapping or drugs or strange religious practices involved. Steve says this couple is about as conservative as they come."
Part of me hated to go along with the idea. It wasn't because I didn't want to save our marriage deep down inside, it was because I had been at odds with Rick over everything for so long, it didn't feel right to agree with him. God, how messed up are we?
"Okay. Let's do it. At the very least, it will be a break from this place. It's an island, right? So there's palm trees and sand. How bad could that be?"
"Guaranteed palm trees and sand. We do have to go through a health screening and take some vaccines before we go."
"Apparently, this is a fairly secluded place and they have to safeguard against modern-world diseases. Their immune systems aren't prepared for the kinds of diseases we can carry."
"Wow! That sounds so, exotic."
Rick made the arrangements, booked all the travel: two flights, ground transportation, boat, a second boat. It seemed like too much hassle, almost. It was going to take two days just to get there. We had a translator assigned to us and I was beginning to see the reason this trip cost an arm and a leg.
We learned that we would have our own bungalow and that made me relax a bit. I was watching for something odd like communal living quarters or hot coal walking or something like that, but couldn't find anything. There was nothing mentioned out of the ordinary. Nothing that would be worthy of the mystery surrounding this place.
The only thing that caused me the slightest concern was that we had to fly from Brisbane to Port Vila, Vanuatu which was very close to an active volcano. Close to one; not on one. And the island we were sailing to did not have an active volcano on it. So I kept my reservations to myself and happily went along with the plan. I even started to see it as an adventure of sorts and was looking forward to it. At least, the part about it being on a tropical island. Not so much the part about being with Rick.
They told us to pack light and I assumed that was so we wouldn't be bothered with so much luggage as we transferred from plane to plane to bus to boat to boat. Things being as they were, we would be packing our own suitcases and I didn't expect much handling assistance from Rick. As much as he was going to all this effort to save our marriage, I suspected his intentions were really to empty the bank account as much as possible before he stood a chance to lose it in court. I know it was an awful thought, but this was the same man who blamed me for his lacking sex drive. The same man who I suspected wanted to run off with the young girl down the street. He sure is friendly when she is walking her dog past the house.
And I already imagined just how annoying it was going to be to watch him gawking at every bikini that walked by our lounge chairs on the beach. I couldn't see how this could possibly help the state of affairs between us. What could possibly go on in this place that would change my mind at this point?
It's a stretch, really, to think that anything short of a lobotomy would make me forget all the hateful things he's said to me over the last year. And I've said my share, too, I know. But if he wants to do this to prove that he's trying, I'll go along with it.
As the departure day approached, I expected to get more details about the trip but got nothing. We were finally told that our translator would brief us on the last leg of our trip. It wouldn't be cost-effective for him to meet us any sooner than the last stop. It made sense, but it still rang of deceit in my mind. I would have brought it up to Rick so we could have one last argument over it, but I thought it would be much sweeter to let the whole thing fail in a bigger way. Wow, I really can be such a bitch sometimes.
Chapter Two: When In Rome...
We waited anxiously for our translator to arrive at the dock. The heat was stifling in the tiny structure that provided shade, even with the breeze coming off the ocean water. I tried not to let it affect my mood, but how could one not get cranky after hours of traveling in less than hospitable situations. I was tired, thirsty, and hot, hot, hot.
I think it added to my discomfort that I hadn't heard a language that was remotely familiar to my ears in hours. Had the captain of the boat not kept saying 'Temehiki' and shaking his head, I would have been certain we were in the wrong place. Temehiki was the name we were given for our island destination. It wasn't on any map that we could find and not in any internet search, either. If it weren't for the sweet Christian friends of our neighbors, Steve and Linda Landers, we wouldn't have believed this place even existed, much less was the certain cure for marital discord.
I stepped into the blistering sun for a few moments to look around. Nothing. Movement caught my attention and sent my heart racing wildly for a few seconds before I could make out what it was. A figure appeared out of the thicket. It was a woman. She had smooth, deep tan skin, with long, jet black hair cascading carelessly over her bare shoulders. I was so mesmerized by her flowing hair that it took me another second to realize she wasn't wearing a top of any kind. Oh, my...okay. And not wearing much below the waist, either. It was difficult not to stare as she approached. Her breasts were smaller, perky, with nipples that extended to tight points in the center. It was evident that she was young, maybe sixteen, I'd guess.
It caught me a bit off guard and I felt instantly guilty for even noticing her exposed body. Then she just smiled at me, her stark white teeth glowing in the afternoon sun, and waved in my direction before turning to walk down the beach. I was stunned by her openness. I was fully dressed, of course, and that didn't seem to bother her in the least. She felt no shame about being naked.
I watched her walk away until she was completely out of my view. I don't know why, exactly. There was something about her that just stuck with me. Her easiness; how content she seemed to be. Teenagers aren't content. I think the word 'teenager' actually means discontent.
I watched the boat we came in pull away from the dock and my heart jumped up to my throat. Just as I was about to bolt after it, Rick came out of the shelter.
"Christopher will be here within the half hour."
"How do you know that?" I looked out toward the ocean in a near panic. There was no sign of an incoming ship or boat, and the only way back was now dropping the throttle to embark on open water.
"Argus or Arliss or whatever his name was, managed to tell me with a lot of pointing at my watch and drawing pictures on the dirt floor."
"Oh, great. I wonder how the hell he knew, smoke signals? Because he sure as hell didn't get a phone call out here."
"I don't know. He was pretty certain about it, though."
"I hope so. I don't want to still be here when it gets dark."
"No, me either. It doesn't look like anyone even lives on this island."
"I saw a young woman a few minutes ago. She came out of those woods and walked down the beach there. I lost track of her when she rounded that corner."
"Well, that's good news. Means there's life here, anyway."
"Yeah, well not very civilized life. She wasn't wearing a thing."
"I don't think so. I didn't want to stare, so I couldn't tell for sure. You want to go after her and see for yourself?"
"No. Why would you say that?"
"I don't know. It's just...no reason."
"I didn't plan this trip so I could get a glimpse of the naked native women. Seriously, _Lori. What goes through your head sometimes..."
"Don't start, Rick, I swear. Not now, when we're in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by people who don't speak English."
"Okay, okay. Don't worry, it'll be alright."
Our conversation was interrupted by the faint sound of a motor and the unmistakeable slapping of water against the side of a boat.
"I bet this is him now."
We busied ourselves lining our luggage along the shoreline as a young boy tethered the boat to the dock. A tall gentleman, with curly blonde hair and deep blue eyes spoke to the boy in clipped, unfamiliar phrases. He was well tanned with leathery skin, no doubt from years of tropical sun exposure. The deep lines on his face grew more pronounced as he smiled in our direction.
"You're the Connell's, Ah presume?"
"Yes, sir." Rick answered smartly.
The gentleman simply chuckled at him, "It's sort of a joke. No one uses this dock but me. Ah'm Christopher Manning. Ah'll be your translatah while yer in the village."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Rick and this is my wife, Lori."
"Nice to meet you," I chimed in.
"Thank you. Ah've brought some watah; gonna take a bit-a-time to go ovah the local customs."
"How much longer until we get there?" I needed to know the itinerary.
"Depends, really." I placed his accent as Australian in origin.
"On 'ow quickly you can get ou' of those nickas."
"Out of these?" I grabbed my t-shirt in my hands. "What do you mean?"
"Yer expected to live like the na'ives in this village and thay don't wear a stitch. Ah just strapped this 'ere tog on for the trip; so Ah wouldn't scare ya."
"You're kidding, right?" I gawked at Christopher and then turned toward Rick who was not saying a word. "Did you know about this?"
"No, I told you everything I knew." I would have thought he was in on it if his face hadn't turned three shades of red by my accusation. He was telling the truth; he didn't know.
"See, this is why it takes so bloody long to shove off. Ah can tell ya the rest on the way but Ah 'ave to be sure that by the time we dock, yer naked as the day you were born or Janu will just drive us off. And believe me, there isn't anywhere else to go."
"What about here?"
"Can't stay 'ere, neither. Unless you 'appen to be carryin' a shitload of local currency."
We don't even know what the local currency is. Rick shook his head.
"Okay, then. Ah guess we'll set an' 'ave story time."
Christopher strode past us to the minuscule building and plopped down in the doorway, setting down the water jug as he did so. We clamored up the incline after him.
Rick spoke first, "Look, I think there's been a mistake. We weren't looking for some kind of nudist colony thing, or whatever. No one told us that we'd have to go without clothes."
"Nah, if we'd told ya, ya would'na come, now would ya? Ya aren't the first couple spoutin' at me. Ah know why yer 'ere and Ah know bein' in the nick is the last thing you think ya need. But it's the way it is 'ere. This isn't a...what did you call it...a nudist colony thing. It's the way we live; the way the Hiki's 'ave always lived."
"But it's not the way we live. You understand; You haven't always lived there."
"No, Ah 'aven't; sorry to say. But Ah do now. Listen, no couple has evah walked on that island with so much as a stitch on the'r back and that's not changing today. Now, we can talk about yer options but it'll be a short chat. The next boat back to the big island won't be 'ere for another week."
"What about the boat you came in?"
"That boat is going to Temehiki. With or without ya on it. Ah'd rather ya ride along so my conscious stays clear, but it's yer choice."
Rick sat down next to the water jug and opened it. He reached up toward me and gently pulled on my hand as a gesture for me to sit. Then he handed me the open jug. I gathered it was his peace offering.
While I took my first sip of water, Rick spoke. "So, tell me how this whole operation started."
"Ah, yeah. One winter, Ah think it was...can't remember the ye'ah, there was this young couple avin' a real blue, ya know, ahgument, outside the booza on the big island. It was a beau'y. My mate, Roger leans o'er and says to me, Ah remember it like it was yesterday, 'Ah bet they couldn't stay mad like that on your isle.' And Ah knew he was right. That got me thinkin'...Ah could start a business of it. Never run out of unhappy couples. Not in this lifetime, eh?"
He chuckled for a few seconds and looked to us to join in, but then quickly realized that the joke was on us. We were one of those unhappy couples he was referring to.
"Anyway, it started out as sort of me own exper'ment and then people started flappin' their gums..." His voice trailed off and it was clear he was finished telling the story he'd probably recanted a thousand times over.
"How does it work, exactly? I mean, how does being in that village change things for these couples?"
Christopher shrugged, "Ah don't know. Ah'm not a 'ead doctor. It just works. Ever' time."
"You're saying that every couple that has gone to that island is now living happily ever after?"
"All I know is that when they step off the boat, they'd rather die than look at the other one. And when they leave, they can't keep the'r 'ands off each other. What they do af'er that is up to them."
"Anyone come back?"
"A few. Mostly to jus' vacation."
"So, there are palm trees and everything?"
"Yeah, Ah guess."
"And beach and ocean and sun."
Rick turned toward me and shrugged his shoulders. There really wasn't anything else we could do. Despite the fact that I was irritated by the rude surprise, I was also hungry and tired, and ready to start a vacation. I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.
"You know what they say, when in Rome..."
Chapter Three: Small Favors
We found out what the little shack next to the dock was for, after all. It was there to keep our suitcases dry in case it rained. There wasn't enough room in the boat to take them, and there wasn't a need anyway, with no clothing allowed. Christopher assured us that every visitor before us had done the exact same thing, and that the locals had absolutely no use for clothes. We did keep our passports and money and all our jewelry just in case, but I think that was more to make us feel better. I got the impression that the young girl I had seen was a rare sight on that part of the island.
It was a very strange feeling taking clothing off on that shore. Every nook where sweat pooled underneath my cotton tee and shorts, now cooled with the slightest breeze off the ocean. I turned my back to the men in my last display of modesty as I dropped my shorts to my feet and quickly stepped out of my panties. Rick kept his distance, not knowing just how explosive I might be.
In truth, I wasn't as angry about it as I thought I'd be. I mean, we sort of knew something was up from the very beginning. If this was the worst part, well, what was the big deal? People go to couples-only resorts all the time with nude beaches. And this wasn't our first foray into being exposed out in the open. We honeymooned in the Dominican Republic and I went topless one of the days. And then we went swimming off to the side by ourselves and...Oh, God, we did do it in the ocean, I remember. It doesn't even feel like that was us, now. More like some other couple we watched from our loungers on the beach. That whole time in our lives feels like nothing more than a dream now.