Almost exactly one month ago, Peter Holleran lost his short but furious battle with cancer—that implacable and all-embracing scourge of our times. Brooklyn to the core, Anguillian by choice and gregarious by nature, Peter occupied a place in this close-knit community that wasn’t so much prominent as it was dear.
Like so many expats, Peter arrived in Anguilla having already lived one or two previous lifetimes. Successful in the garment industry in the ’70s and the ’80s, Peter liked to claim he’d had so much fun at the time it had all turned into a hazy patch of blissful oblivion in his memory. Whenever someone said something along the lines of “at least we have the memories” to Peter Holleran, he would just flash his trademark smile and clarify, “hell, I don’t even have that!” as he burst into laughter.
That was the Peter of the islands: an entertainer, a kind pirate coming to terms with the challenges of an aggravation that is a million miles distanced from the one you might find in Brooklyn or in Dallas (where Peter lived before coming to Anguilla), but that is grinding nonetheless. He went through several incarnations—you have to, if you want to spend the best part of two decades in the Caribbean—and experienced both the joys and the ruthlessness of living on the wrong side of the confines of the modern world.
Peter was in his fifties when he arrived in Anguilla in the early ’90s with his third wife, Frida, and their cat. They’d come to taste the waters of seclusion, in what might or might not have been the ravenous effects of a mid-life crisis. They rented a pretty property in South Hill, overlooking the sea and with an oblique view into Road Bay, and settled nicely into island life, working at La Sirena. Then the tropics threw the largest spanner it could find to test the resilience, the mettle, really, of these two outsiders: hurricane Luis.
The story of the Hollerans’ ordeal as they locked themselves in the small bathroom of their property with no electricity, no phone, no water, no cat and, as a matter of fact hardly anything at all other than a couple of bottles of booze, told by Peter time and again, and every time with a new twist, an extra touch, some different loop, was simply hysterical. Needless to say, the actual experience was not, and it proved to be the turning point in Frida’s appreciation of the region. Peter, chronically claustrophobic even before the storm, was somewhat traumatized, but his wounds healed and he surfaced from it with even greater conviction that this was where he belonged, that this was where he wanted to be.
And here he stayed—divorced, scarred and facing the prospect of rebuilding his life with little other than his faithful cat, Flip, who was savvier than the Holleran couple and took off to the bush during the storm, only to return with the calm a few days later, probably guided by hunger. Peter’s instinct as a salesman kept him going for the rest of his life: he was food and beverage manager at La Sirena, ran the boutique at Cap Juluca, sold perfumes and watches with his partner, Augusto, from St Martin, joined the team at Kobbe Design in the early days of the company at the Old Manse, got into the real estate business with Sotheby’s, and so on.
All the while, he lived his dream of bare feet in pristine beaches. Peter adored the still waters of Rendezvous Bay and, for years, his local was no other than Bankie’s. The he moved east, and The Dune became too far but he would still be seen regularly in Sandy Ground, usually swearing flippantly, long before the days of Elvis’. Indeed, anyone who stayed long into the night at the Pumphouse back in the day will have seen Peter taking a nap in his Camry before facing the journey home!
And then he fell in love with Marisol, his “Latin chick,” as he used to call her, after whom he pined sufficiently long to be considered acceptable. For the past ten years these two have played sidekick to each other faithfully and relentlessly, providing each other with that level of companionship that is necessary for comfort even in Paradise. I remember distinctly the domestic celebration that was sparked—not too long ago—by mum’s subdued concession to finally agree to allow people to refer to Peter as her “boyfriend:” Peter and I were both slightly bemused, and typically holding a glass—so we toasted boisterously and repeatedly, while Marisol played down the whole affair, rummaging in the background, complaining about the noise and voicing unspecific directions about setting the table.
Despite being close, I saw little of Peter in the past few years. We last met in New York almost exactly a year before his final departure, as we made a holiday out of the National Black Writers Conference. However, there is something poignantly different about this, his definite absence, compared to the circumstantial distance that had come between us in recent years. Ultimately, I guess it is something connected to potential, to the possibility of picking up the phone, sending an email or catching a flight to come and visit. That possibility is gone now, and instead a significant sense of privation has replaced it.
Privation, and injustice. It doesn’t often happen that you think of a 70-year-old man as a person with unfulfilled potential. But when I think of Peter Holleran I think of the dozens of plans—short- and long-term alike—he left only halfway sketched and unexplored. Peter was an avid consumer of life whose body somehow aged quicker than his spirit. When I think of Peter Holleran, I think of him with a Martini in his hand (two olives); I think of him wrestling an unsuspecting lobster; I think of him wrist deep in bbq sauce, blabbering about his next trip to Europe—the trip he never made. When I think of Peter Holleran I become overwhelmed by the most perverse form of melancholy, a nostalgia of sorts for what we never had the chance to go through. And then I realize I am missing something I’d never lost before: a friend.
And yet, Peter managed to drag out his dream for 20 years. Life didn’t let him fade into the sunset, but by his side on his deathbed was the person he loved most in the world, the person with whom he shared his final ten happy years. He left much undone, sure. But he left more deeply carved in the hearts of those around him. Peter Holleran was a lovely man—one of the good ones, no two ways about it. Hence, if he was fortunate (and courageous) to have made at least part of his dreams come true on this island, Anguilla was also lucky to have had him for so many years. A marriage made in heaven, really. May it remain so.
Published by the WEEKender supplement of Sint Maarten’s The Daily Herald newspaper on Saturday, May 6, 2013.