“Travel or vacation?” he asks.
I stall, knowing I can’t possibly get the answer right. What am I being tested for?
The act of choosing defines you. Like a signature drink or favorite song. Something cool and organic for the travelers. Vacation pop for the common folk, a secret shame and guilty pleasure.
“I have commitment issues” I joke “Do I really have to choose?”
“Tell me about travel then,” he suggests, leading me onto more solid ground.
“I travel to bring back clarity,” I say.
It’s more of course. Each fresh jab of the unfamiliar cuts away the cataracts on my soul. Travel makes me better able to see and feel.
How do you explain what it is to see a ghost, or read minds? I tell a story.
“Riding on the subway in Greece, I spotted two lovers. I could feel their whispers and hand grazes on the back of my own neck.”
He nods his approval.
“On a rainy shell strewn beach in Costa Rica last month , I sat and watched the lightning. A solitary swimmer remained in the water, belting out hymns in Spanish, pausing only to dive under the waves. I held my breath each time he went under, counting the seconds between the flash and the boom.”
We both hold our breath for a beat.
“One day at a crowded Jerusalem bazaar I saw an old man shuffling slowly over cobblestones. He had a mesh bag filled with bruised peaches. As he passed by my table at the tea shop, I smelled onions, stale smoke and fresh grief.”
“This is why I travel,” I try to explain without sounding unhinged, ” When I travel the world blooms in colorful stories all around me.”
My passion makes me blush. Even when I hate travel, I love it. He offers to get me a drink but I pass.
“So, what about your kids?” he asks.
“Life is not so simple.” I sigh.
“Back home there is laundry. School. Work. Traffic. Socks and toilet paper and the terrifying news. Every single fucking day.”
He nods but don’t think he really gets it. How could he? His life is nothing like mine.
I can feel truth about to bubble out of me.
“I travel to check in, but I also need vacations to check OUT.”
His eyes glaze over and I can see my stock falling. Does it even matter what I do on vacation or what I see? To either of us?
“Vacations are permission to take a break from the goddamned daily decisions” I state, a too bit defensively.
“And snack on frozen grapes?” he teases. So he has seen my feed.
“Yes of course,” I recover, “On Fantasy Island I am greeted with fresh, cool eucalyptus scented washcloths. My bags are carried and my hand is gently held as I step nimbly between the worlds of land and sea. You should try it some time.”
I can’t picture him at a luxury all inclusive. My mental travel agent checks him into a decent airport hotel.
I don’t tell him about how I used to fantasize about airport hotels when my kids were infants. Anything with blackout curtains, a good mattress and a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
“When I am on vacation at a nice resort I sleep like a child in the back seat of my daddy’s car.” I smile. ” I unplug. I don’t read newspapers or listen to the news.”
“Really? But isn’t it all a little pretentious? Fake?” he drains his beer and scans the party, getting bored with my packaged escape tales, I assume. There are prettier, more single girls waiting to be chatted up.
Please. I know my room attendant, who has so lovingly crafted my towels into animal shapes, will probably forget my name as quickly as I will forget theirs.
Other tourists will eagerly take my place, snapping the obligatory poolside-pedi photos and posting them to instagram. Our streams will overlap briefly and we will like each other’s photos before slipping back into strangers garb.
I know it’s not real, this game in which I pretend to be special, safe and loved.
“Of course it’s fake,” I shrug. “But honestly who cares? What’s wrong with a little fantasy?”
“And the other people? You know the cruise ship types? Aren’t they….?”
“Some of them,” I nod. “But some of them are great. We’re still Facebook friends.”
This is true. We may not have had much in common, besides the will to escape but for the time we were together we were like complicit drunks, content with our shared buzz.
” I can’t choose one or the other,” I say.
“Ok, ok. But tell me… What’s the best vacation memory you’ve got?” he challenges me. I know this is a trick. No posh vacation memory can top seeing the northern lights, scaling a peak, witnessing history. I won’t even try.
“I don’t know if I can say, ” I raise an eyebrow, “but it probably happened in bed.”
I’m bluffing of course. It might be true. Unfortunately I can’t remember a damn thing about my last few non working vacations. Good vacations are a pleasant sexy dream you hope to doze off and return to. They leave a hazy residue – the scent of clean sheets and the shafts of sunlight that woke you.
Travel is the real romance, but I’d like to keep vacation on the side.
The conversation is over. I am not cool. We haven’t discussed anything real. Choosing between travel and vacations is sport. Real life is the tricky gray area.
There my reality sits, seeking meaning, wedged between hi def snapshots and luxurious hallucinations.