Scott asks “How do you feel to be home?” and I say “Relieved”. When he answers the same question he says, “Overwhelmed”. Usually I would agree; there’s something about stepping off of a plane from vacation into the chaos of concrete and cars that is unsettling, but today I find signs that read CLICK IT OR TICKET, DETOUR and LEFT LANE CLOSED comforting. I’ve never had a good meal at Denny’s. People say it’s because I never order their breakfast. The last time I was there, treating the priest who almost officiated our wedding (until he won a cruise) to dinner, I ordered Talapia that tasted like somebody’s pet fish probably would if you grilled it, but even that neon sign makes me feel peace as we drive by it on the 405 in traffic.
Tahiti was like a Condé Naste magazine come to life. The deep water was the same color as mouth wash. The shallow water was like an aquamarine jewel liquified and multiplied by twelve million. It has the kind of climate where you really have to make an effort to be hot or cold. But of course, as my mom reminded me when I mentioned I was sad and stoked to come home, life is both bitter and sweet. While we were there, there happened to be an unknown amount of mosquitos carrying a fever and splotch inducing sickness around French Polynesia that none of us had ever heard of. Some people said you never fully recover from it. So each time we ventured from our chartered sailboat to land, I was the one making an effort to be uncomfortably hot in the quintessential climate. Or rather, I was making sure to cover every ounce of my skin with fabric to protect Sprout from a bug he or she won’t know how to pronounce for years. This is the main reason I find the sight of Denny’s so calming at the moment. The other reason is because I’m glad to be headed back to a routine I have more control over; to not have to debate the question “So, what’s the plan for the day?” with five other people.
Eleven days earlier we boarded our sailboat in Ra’iatea, rented from Sunsail Charters. When we started doing these types of vacations over a decade ago, Maddie and Danielle hadn’t even had braces yet.
One year we brought a card game modeled after Go Fish. It was called Go Eat and came with a kid’s meal at Ruby’s restaurants that summer. We would battle it out hoping to be the one to accumulate the most chicken nugget and milk shake pairs. Maddie and I were the most likely to get caught up in some battle over who had won the most games, but you couldn’t count Danielle out for getting upset over kid’s meal cards either. It’s guaranteed that at least one person will cry on family vacation, but so far it’s never been my dad. He loves these vacations. He’s probably already Googled ‘bareboating away from civilization’, excited to present to us the next time we will all be confined to 30 feet together.
One day he and I are sitting alone in the dinghy watching a rainstorm linger and gather over some tall cliffs adjacent to our boat. He tells me those cliffs weren’t formed by volcanoes, like I had believed, but by uplifting, when two plates converged and pushed each other up. Scott is out surfing and we sit watching and waiting for him in the dinghy, having just surfed the right on the other side of the channel. I’m mad at one of my sisters for snapping at me for what I feel is absolutely no reason and seeking counsel from him. He tells me some of his standard advice that could be applied to almost any conflict. “Be the bigger person.” I roll my eyes.
“Dad, doesn’t it ever get to you? …. The drama that goes down on these trips?”
“I try to stay out of it, you know that. I just really enjoy everyone being together. It doesn’t happen as often anymore,” he replies.
“We were all just together at Thanksgiving,” I say.
“Right. That was a while ago,” he says as he looks back, studying the approaching storm.
It’s only been like a month since Thanksgiving, not to mention that two out of three of his kids work at his office, plus his son-in-law Scott, and we were all also together two out of four weekends in December. We’re together all the time, I think to myself. He has a house down the street from me! But that’s when I realize that he can never get enough of his family, even when he’s stressing out and yelling at us (me) to “Just get out of the way!” at the airport. He would never lose faith in his family, in his certainty that he wouldn’t rather spend his life with anyone else.
Now that I’m home, in the comfort of my own house, planning without any debate or input what I will make for lunch, I realize that, that’s what stands out to me most from this vacation and all the trips we’ve taken together as a family. It’s easy to remember the arguments we’ve had. Anger and irritation stick around much longer in my mind than I’d like them to; Love is much harder to give words to.
Even though I can’t really control my mind, I hope that someday it will work more like my dad’s does (except I’ll be much more patient at airports!). I’ll let all the little things fall to the floor, like the soft sand does out of my suitcase as I unpack my one piece swimsuit, and I’ll always be hoping for more time with family too.