Message In A Bottle
On April 16 we were visiting Tim’s Alma Mata, the University of West Florida, Pensacola. We were also excited to revisit our favorite beaches in Pensacola.
Much had changed since Tim received his Humanities degree in 1973. Here we were in 2023. The UWF campus had exploded in size and opportunities. Where once Tim had wandered, barefoot, over the campus with a key to the art studio, the original art studio was now demolished. The old studio had morphed into a much larger building. Barefoot students would not have been accepted today. Here, Tim’s happy memories lay, where he spent endless hours in the print studio and arguing with his philosophy and religion professors. Then, as now, he challenges all ideas, enlarging his education and mind.
We next visited his old Chipley neighborhood where he remembered the albino squirrels. We searched the trees but saw none of these elusive creatures. Finally, Tim did the unthinkable, approaching a couple with a baby in a stroller. He was determined to learn the saga of the albino squirrels. “Hey, I used to live here in the 70s, and there were a bunch of albino squirrels. Have you ever seen them?” Tim asked the cautious family.
Much to our surprise the dad became animated. “Yeah, we’ve seen them, they’re still in this neighborhood. They’re….” He waved vaguely at a number of trees; “out there, still, somewhere. On the other side of the canal…”
Squirrels are evasive, unless tempted with a peanut or two. Determined, we drove to ‘the other side’. While searching the tree tops we spied another resident walking his dog. Tim repeated our question. The kind gentleman replied, “They’re not albino squirrels. They don’t have pink eyes. They’re white gray squirrels.” Okay. We were now searching for white gray squirrels. “Yup. They’re still here. Out there, in those trees.” he vaguely motioned to tree tops, his pooch tugging on his leash.
I suggested we give up on squirrels and get to the beach. Tim muttered under his breath, “I will see a white squirrel before we leave Pensacola. I will.” I smiled enthusiastically, realizing my love was obsessed with squirrels, be it in Tampa or Pensacola. A deterrent to sanity worth thinking about.
Pensacola still has a small town feeling. We checked into our hotel.
Then, we hit the beach after. The pristine white-sugar-sand beaches were as magnificent as we remembered from our previous visits. We explored the beach as the waves nipped our toes. I searched for shells to keep and discovered beautiful works of art in all shades of sun-drenched colors.
Tim recovered cans and bottles to deposit in trash cans. As we turned to leave my beloved noticed one last bottle bobbing in the waves. It bounced to shore at his feet. He picked it up, then called to me excitedly. “Jaynie! Jaynie!” I ran to him wondering what on earth could be so special about a discarded bottle?
The bottle had a cork which had not kept the sea water from it's precious contents. In the bottle we could discern a message. We looked at one another in shock. “WOW” It was clearly a message in a bottle. We carried the bottle, dripping with sea water, to our car.
Ever so gently I removed the soggy piece of paper with handwritten words on both sides, almost indecipherable. I placed the message on our dashboard, hoping it would dry in the bright sun, retaining the words. Pensacola Bay had obliterated most of the writing. The message was disintegrating before our eyes. We were astounded.
Alas, the message was in Spanish, which neither Tim nor I could read. I reached out to one of our Spanish speaking friends and a fellow artist, Ody, who did a quick translation, "Jayne," Ody said, "this is so sad." When we returned home I researched and discovered the full translation, which brought me to tears. It read:
“Rebecca, My Nina, I miss you a lot, and so do your brothers. You were always a smiling girl who made our lives happy. Strong, confident, brave and determined. Always happy. We miss you a lot. I ask God to continue blessing you and he gives me the strength and I will continue to go ahead. I will miss you until the last day of my life! You always were and are my Nina…I love you, Rebecca. You are the best daughter and girl. Exceptional. God gave me the opportunity and blessing to have you for 17 years. I am very blessed to have had you with us for 17 years. My Rebecca. I love you.”
The grief in this mother’s voice was sent directly from her heart delivered in a bottle to strangers on a beach in Pensacola. She wanted to share her grief. She asked for nothing but for her voice to be heard. Her beloved daughter had died too soon. We don’t know how, or why. We only knew one woman in pain had launched her message in a bottle, hoping someone would discover it. She wanted validation of her grief, of her daughter, Rebecca, and the value of her daughter’s life.
We thought long and hard over the discoveries and value this bottle held. Why, we wondered, do people leave messages in a bottle, and then launch them into the ocean? Finally, the answer came to us in myriad ways.
Rebecca’s mom wanted her voice to be heard, secretly, anonymously. She wanted strangers to recognize her love and the loss of her daughter. People leave messages in bottles, we finally understood, because some messages are too painful to be shared with any but strangers.
We clearly heard the emotions behind her words: “I am here. My daughter is gone. Hear my voice. Connect with my tears. Yet, I will survive.'
We felt so fortunate that this message had washed up at our feet. We felt this mother’s pain. We understood that everything should have been beginning for Rebecca, instead of ending. Rebecca’s life was encapsulated in a message in a bottle. This, we realized, is why people launch messages in bottles. To be heard, acknowledged, validated.
There might not be solace yet for Rebecca’s mom, but she is working through her grief. Her message in her bottle was her connection to the living, to healing, a message she wanted to share with the world, launched on ocean waves. She wanted to reach another beating, living heart. She did.
Whoever you are, Rebecca’s mom, we hear you. Thank you for sending your message in a bottle, which I will broadcast on my ocean of words.
Isn’t that why we send messages, however we choose to send them? We are all sending messages in bottles, everyday. My hope is that others find our messages, recognize them, and validate our existence.