My parents separate every summer. As far as my memory spans, my mom tossed our most basic belongings into the back of an old gray Toyota and we would leave my father behind, the veil of desert dust rising from the driveway in our wake.
They didn’t separate in an irreconcilable differences sort of way. My dad wasn’t George Clooney or anything, eager to open up the Lake Como house for a sweaty Italian summer. They just parted company for a couple of months. He had a career that kept him tethered to our zip code for the lot of summer despite the soaring Arizona temperature that drove the rest of us to seek greener pastures that happened to be oceanfront.
We would arrive, after a day’s travel over barren and desiccated terrain looted by wind and oil derricks, to a sleepy California beach town. My aunt would quietly vacate one of her rental units so that my mom, brother, cat, dog, and I could have a place of our own for our stay. Witnessing us pull into the driveway was like watching clowns spill out of a circus car. Or like watching Octomom give birth. A ceaseless stream of humans and animals scrambling upon wobbly legs to escape a car overrun with Egg McMuffin wrappers, pet saliva, and Big Bopper magazines.
There we would remain from some time in June until the middle of August. My mom reveled in the time she had with her sister while my brother and I delighted in being neighbors with our cousins. Even the dog and cat seemed smugly pleased to be in cooler climates despite the common flea outbreaks for they, too, understood that’s the price to pay for location, location, location. Mostly what we loved was the freedom that came with small town living. Our status went from high-security suburbia inmates, prohibited to fraternize with the other prisoners without supervision, to low-security psych wards able to stroll unaccompanied through the gardens and to take up crafts. All while achieving a tan and hair with body.
When my husband and I were merely dating, still neophytes fibbing about the number of weekly visits to the gym and the people we’d slept with, the topic of summer vacations arose. I settled into my chair, breathless from sharing memories that were more high-gloss than matte, awaiting his reaction. I expected him to respond with a really effeminate sigh, a stare at a spot just beyond my shoulder, and the whisper, “I’d like to be there right now.”
Instead he grunted, “Your parents separated all summer? That’s fucking weird.”
Clearly I had done a poor job of conveying the way it feels to ride a rusty bicycle to a candy store. Maybe he’d missed the part about surfer boys who look 17 forever? Was he just really unversed in utopia?
No amount of persuasive argument, compelling adjectives, or shots of Jagermeister won his endorsement. He felt it peculiar and mean that we left my father behind with little more than a television and a fridge filled only with condiments. It’s weird, he said. And this from a guy who swears that the reason he and his six siblings never had carseats is because they were not yet invented.
I imagined our wedding vows: To have and to hold so long as we both shall take summer vacations together.
Travel together we did for the first several years. Both hemmed in by frenetic work schedules it was a simple arithmetic that a long weekend away was all the time we could spare. By the time we had children, a long weekend morphed into a short week mostly to allow for the recovery from the cross-country trek spent performing a kabuki show at 30,000 feet to keep outbursts at bay.
This year ushered in a change to our vacation norms. We flew out together to the beach town of my sunburned youth, but G will leave in advance of the kids and me. I no longer have an office to rush back to since freelance writing can be done from anywhere and the imaginary checks require no forwarding address, but he must return to his normal work week.
I could tell it rattled him to sign on to the ‘separate but equal’ vacation itinerary. He doesn’t understand why I’m so susceptible to the centripetal pull of this place. He wonders how I transform from a person who doesn’t care for the beach to one who wants to sit there for hours, surrounded by the women of my family, talking about chin hairs and sun spots. A slave to playgrounds at home, they take on a new and imaginative sheen here. I carefully chew salads most of the year, but I’m known to fall asleep with a half-masticated burrito still in my mouth here. I regress to my thirteen-year-old self, dumping responsibilities on my parents and allowing them to slip twenty bucks in my pocket. There’s something emancipating and gleeful about life in a tiny town filled with relatives who know what you looked like with crimped hair and how badly you sucked at lifeguard training camp.
G doesn’t get any of this. He’s worried that when he leaves, I might take out a lease on an apartment here.
He’s worried that I’m becoming my mother.
But at least my mother still wears a bathing suit in public, something I stopped doing right after I outgrew using Clearasil.
(Do you vacation apart from your partner? Is it weird?)