Illustration by Noa Emberson
When he was 6 years old, Marc Liblin began dreaming in an unknown language. He dreamed it so often that he taught himself to speak it. To others in his French homeland, it sounded like pure gibberish. But to Marc, it was a native tongue.
Thirty years later, Marc still did not know the origin of his mysterious dream tongue. Researchers at the local university took interest and spent two years feeding the alien vocabulary into various linguistical computer programs. Nothing. Later, they took Marc down to the bars by the harbor, in hopes that sailors might recognize the speech from their travels. One day, a bartender interrupted Marc’s monologue. He had heard it before.
The bartender led Marc to the widow of a local sailor. The woman was originally from a tiny Polynesian island called Rapa Ito and when Marc (who’d never traveled outside of Europe) greeted her in his dream speech, she replied immediately in her native Rapa Ito dialect. For hours, the two conversed fluently. The only two speakers of the alien tongue.
We dream of islands. Islands whose names we’ll never hear. Islands no one ever visits. Specks of dust on a galactic ocean. Swellings of bird poo. Piles of shells. Blooms of reef. Population: 43.
From satellites above, we call it paradise. What G-Land might hide there? What unnamed reef? We know just which boards we’d bring when we are someday stranded there when our ship goes down. We know that years afterward, we’ll be rescued by a passing Chinese fishing boat, but we’ll never be quite the same. Like Tom Hanks was. Like Lord of the Flies was. Mutiny on the Bounty guys and Lost dudes. The island and us: We were destined for each other.
In truth, such islands are surely more prison than paradise. Barren rock and broken barnacle. No trees. No water. No bare-breasted chieftain’s daughter to teach us pearl diving. Remote and forgotten. Ruled by madmen and incest. Insane for lack of resources and entertainment. For inbreeding. Rape. Warfare. Cannibalism. That’s what you’d find there. When there’s nothing on TV for a thousand years, shit falls apart.
Hell is an island.
And yet we dream. From across the vast oceans, islands call to us. Cause us to idolize and romanticize castaways and convicts and shipwreckers. Once trapped in their mainland rut…now freed by their tiny island. Sinbad. Shogun. Robinson Crusoe. Swiss Family Robinson. Gilligan. And so we sign up to man lonely research stations. We google “lighthouse keeper job opening.” Book trips on rickety Mentawais charters. Life will be better when our ship goes down. Surely.
In all the vast Pacific, Captain Cook found his way to Hawaii. The nautical unlikeliness of this event continues to baffle men of science. But men of faith know that every island is a lighthouse, calling. A beacon to searching souls. The dream of a better life. A native tongue we’ve yet to converse.
A three-hour tour.
Cook was declared a god when he arrived in Hawaii. And later, they ate him alive with some fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti. But still, we call it paradise. And still, paradise calls to us.
It’s not what you know. It’s what you believe. Life will be better when your ship goes down.
And so you open the atlas once again and trace your fingers across the fields of blue. A tiny pin-prick stops you. You close your eyes. You see her face. You speak her tongue. You know exactly which board you’d bring. You’d paddle out to the empty reef pass while the locals stare in silent wonder. You’d declare yourself a god.
Marc Liblin married the woman from Rapa Ito later that year. They moved home to her native island (population: 43), where he worked as a schoolteacher for the remainder of his days. His children do not dream in French. —Nathan Myers