Vacation instills a new appreciation of home

I was on my third pack of gum and it was before 9 a.m. Seattle time. The plane bobbed in and out of the rainy stew those Pacific Northwest skies are famous for. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and tapped the inside of my palm the way my therapist taught me. I imagined beaches, sunshine and fruity drinks with umbrellas.

The plane convulsed and my eyes screamed open. I leaned closer to the guy next to me and began rambling to distract myself from the coming free fall. I told him I was going home (was he?), and I hadn’t been to good old Seattle for four months now, and my friends were going to throw me a huge party and take me to coffee and new sushi places. I told him Seattle was home to me no matter what, no matter how much that fact broke my parents’ collective Southern Californian heart.

“But I’m all freaked out,” I confessed. “I haven’t been back in four months – since the summer. What if everything has changed? What if my friends forgot me? Not ‘forgot me, forgot me’ but ‘forgot me’ in the sense that we can’t just hang out and, you know, be. Gum?”

“Thank you,” he said.

“Sure. So do you really think it’s possible? That everything and everyone will seem weird and unfamiliar?”

When I jumped into my best friend’s car at the airport she was in mid-yawn. I was confused. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“It’s 9 a.m.”

“In Minneapolis it’s 11.”

She looked at her watch. “So it is.”

We made small talk. Perfunctory pick-someone-up-at-the-airport talk: “Peanuts?” “Pretzels.” “Window?” “Aisle.” “Bumpy?” “Jesus.” Still, I was upset. Where was the big hug? The “You look great!” The “Tell me everything!”

As we whirled by the suburbs and into the city, it occurred to me how normal everything felt. After all, it had only been four months; what was I expecting, the World’s Fair? For some reason I had thought it would be different somehow, like how it is in movies, after-school specials, folk songs and Hallmark commercials – where you go home and everyone is like “wow” (hug) and “how the heck are you?” (kiss) and “you look great” (once over), and you sit down and be the center of attention and tell all. The trees would be singing, the rain would be dancing, the mountains would be harmonizing.

But no Ö it was exactly the same. So the same, it was as though (cliché) I never left. Then I realized well heck, if I’m not going to be the belle of the ball, I might as well enjoy this “vacation” as I would any other. It worked!

What I learned: you can go home again; home is where the heart is; there’s no place like home; and country roads can – and will – take you home.

What I did: sleep (fitfully), eat (a lot), dance (badly), drink (merrily), see movies (good and bad), catch up with friends, rock back and forth for hours at a time in my best friend’s rocking chair, ski, shop for trinkets, talk to elders about stuff.

What I didn’t do: make time for acquaintances; go to the Space Needle; resolve
anything for New Years; hang out with “peeps” (those folks I’d been so wasted with, I mistakenly said I loved them and felt soooo connected to them); drink micro-beer; get emotional over ex-boyfriends; call ex-boyfriends; throw my mouth open and exclaim in my best high-pitched voice: “OooooomyGodIcan’tbelieveithowtheheckareyouoo!?” when I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since college.

In other words, it took me going home to learn the true meaning of vacation. With all the media selling shellacked images of the ideal get-away (e.g., how many limes one should put in the Corona to be cool), it’s easy for a person to forget what vacations are all about. Yes, I almost fell for it: I had visions of traversing the Space Needle, winter camping (which I would hate, but so what?), catching up with the folks at THE magazine because it might look good in a future column or literature class (“Well, my ex-editor saysÖ.”). But thanks to the loyal friends who refused to kiss my ass, I was content just to hang out and be anything but fabulous.

I think I like being regarded by good friends as unfabulous. It grants one the right to discuss ice fishing, watch Survivor or walk in the rain without caring whether it results in bad hair. It allows one to get tired at 11 p.m. instead of doing karaoke with one’s no-shame friends at Ozzie’s. It lets one procrastinate, just as one would at home. It says it’s OK to eat Top Ramen or a pint of ice cream. It’s more KQ, less KDWB. Maybe it was my being unfabulous that made the trip so fabulous.

Something is happening to me now that I am thirty-something. Part of it is a sense of gratitude about the simple things, which nicely welcomes a cozy sentimentality. Something humble and honest the twenties can’t touch. Something that enabled me to really feel the arms of my best friend around me and really hear the familiar clanking of her bracelets. To truly taste the corn tamales my ex made fresh from the crop of the Pike’s Place Market. To really hear the way the friend I’ve known for 10-plus years says my name when she is a bit concerned for my mental health. And to really smell the scent of rain – sweet rain all over the city that will always be home to me – as it falls into the lake, onto the bare skin of the homeless, into the cracks of open downtown loft windows and into the Sound.

On the flight back to Minneapolis, as usual, I got nervous. And, as usual, I asked the lucky guy next to me to talk me through any unexpected turbulence or possible terrorist activity. He appeared confused, but complied all the same. Not only did he repeatedly check on me (“You doing OK?”), but also, toward the end of the flight, he actually came over to me where I was huddled beneath my pea coat like a scared cat.

I was glad to see him, the same way I would be glad to see someone had I been lost for hours in the woods. He took the empty seat across the aisle and asked me how I was doing. Then he pulled out a brown paper sack: “My wife made these chocolate chip cookies,” he said. “Would you like a few?”

I smiled and gladly helped myself. I was starting to feel OK. We got to talking. “Tell me about your trip,” he said. I did. I told him about the little things.

 

Roxanne Sadovsky’s column appears alternate Thursdays. She welcomes comments
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