Family vacation or just summer torture?

My 11-year-old nephew wrote a song the other day while we were on a family vacation at the beach. 

It’s a common meme that when you go somewhere without children it is a vacation, but when you go somewhere with them, it is a trip. 

So, it goes without saying that this weeklong family vacation was a trip. It included me and Kyle, my mom, my sister Jill and her husband, my nephew Austin with his fiancée and all of Jill and Austin’s kids–four of them. 

We started taking this family beach vacation the summer after dad died. Mom contends that dad never would have done such a thing–have a vacation with all of our family, my sisters’ families, kids, cousins, what have you, girlfriends, boyfriends, girlfriend’s children, family stalkers, etc. 

At first when mom said this, I always took it as some sort of flaw in my dad. He either wasn’t patient enough, adventurous enough, or sensitive enough to go off with a bunch of family for a week of fun in the sun. 

Now after having done it for the eleven years since he died, I think my dad just wasn’t stupid enough. 

I mean, I shouldn’t complain. We had four children together who generally got along and played together. No one vomited in my bed. No one broke their arms. No one broke my arm, or my knee for that matter. Just yesterday while we were walking along the beach a giant dog ran up behind us and circled us, the way that dogs do, you know, you hear them panting, they’re coming up fast and then they pass you, create a giant arc and race back to wherever they came, their master’s, the stick they were chasing, the sea gulls, you know. And Kyle, he says to me, “You know my old boss, a dog ran into his ex-wife while they were walking along the beach and broke her knee.” 

And I thought, geez, I just escaped a broken knee. I said, “Were they together when this happened or were they already divorced?” And Kyle said, “No, they were together when it happened, but he told me about it after they divorced. But by the time that he told me, they were divorced, and he sounded pretty gleeful telling the story.” At this point I get a horrified look on my face. I am sure that Kyle didn’t notice it as maybe he thought it was just the sand blowing into my eyes and getting in between my irises and contact lenses. 

So painful. 

“It wasn’t an amicable split up,” he says, and I think, "Wow, I wonder what horrible things that have, or will happen to me, that will give Kyle future schadenfreude if we ever divorce?” I mean we have endured 32 years at this point–34 if you count dating and being engaged (maybe I should say enjoyed instead of endured?!) —so I probably have nothing to worry about. 

But still. 

When he is hovering over my prone form after a dog breaks my knee, can I trust that his look of concern will stay just that? Or in memory after the acrimonious split up will it turn into a mocking laugh of “she-had-that-coming-to-her?” 

Are all of our memories reformed by succeeding perceptions? 

I suspect so. 

Which makes the last morning of our beach stay especially foreshadowing. It is 6:20 am and I am lying in bed thinking, what are my sister and nephew talking about at this hour? Geez, didn’t they do themselves in last night with all the alcohol and cocktails-in-a-can that she bought at the local farmer’s market? Weren’t they gluttons for punishment enough with their 2 am late night drunk discussions? I thought they’d be asleep at least until 8 am. 

I mutter something to Kyle, who is just waking up and, going deaf by the way, poor guy, but still better at perceiving reality than me. He says, “Jean, that’s not Jill and Austin. It’s someone outside.” 

And so it was. We were in a beach rental next to regular-non-tourist people who go to work and have domestic fights at the buttcrack of dawn. And now that I am tuned into the fact that it is our neighbors, and they are fighting, I am super curious. The voices get louder and now we hear trailer shaking slams and the ubiquitous “fuck you” and “fuck off.” Then the accusations of pedophilia and who-had-sex-with-a-fifteen-year-old emerge from the cacophony of sentences, which is both titillating and scary and sad all at the same time. 

I crawl over the bed to the window, dying to see some sort of scene and Kyle, the more decent of us, stage whispers, “Don’t let them see you! Don’t engage! They’ll start in on us! They may have a gun!” At which point I stage whisper back, “A gun? Do you think they might shoot each other? Do you think we should call the cops?” But Kyle–who can’t hear me because he is literally going deaf and sibilants (the sounds we make when we whisper–all the s’s) are the hardest for him to hear–is frantically waving his hand to me to get out of the window while his bedhead cowlick bounces to and fro. 

A sign of what a truly terrible person I am is that I was actually getting excited: Maybe there will be a shot and we will have to call the cops and it will be like a CSI Vegas on our last day at the beach! 

Even now as I am writing, I think about how sad it all was and how truly horrible if someone had gotten injured or died, or even how awful if the accusations were true and this man had slept with a fifteen-year-old and how horrible for that girl and all of it. But in the moment, my true colors shine through like oil on a puddle, and I was interested in the drama. 

How sick of me. 

After about ten interchanges of “You fucking pedophile!” “Fucking LEAVE!” back and forth, back and forth, a final door slam and tires on the gravel indicate that the Jerry Springer show is over. 

And that was the morning of our last day. At that point my sweet little nephew’s song comes to mind. We wrote it together, him with ease and me under duress. He hounded me with incessant determination while I was trying to read a novel in the sand. He kept at it while we were walking the beach. I kept thinking, “Jean, if you acted like James you would have an entire album finished in a week.” 

Luckily for me, he got tired after two songs in two days and let it go, that is after we got the band and album name ironed out. 

The band will be called “Infinite Reality” and the album’s title is “Going Viral.” I wanted to call it “The old lady and the kid,” but he didn’t think it would catch on. I am hoping that his sister Justine will grow into it as well and by the time they are both fifteen and nineteen respectively, I can retire, a multi-millionaire having produced the next “Backstreet-NSYNC-On the Block.” 

His fatigue finally allowed me to read my novel and feel less guilty about the fact that I haven’t written a song myself in months. Thank God, even James got writer’s block. It would have been too shaming if he had kept up the pace. 

But his new song “Headache” played in my mind’s ear while I lay there in bed thinking about the door slamming, 6:30 am pedophile accusations. 

“It’s a headache. It really makes my head bake. It’s a headache. It rumbles like an earthquake.” 

And thus, we can hammer the last nail in the coffin of another post dad family beach trip. Too much alcohol, two extra pounds from eating my mom’s “Monster Cookies” every day, lots of good food, two new songs, lots of sand, and a scene from the Jerry Springer show, we now have the burned toes and ears to prove that we did it. And we still miss you, dad, even though you probably are rolling your eyes as I write this, and secretly giving a sigh of relief that this happened post you.

Leave a comment