My parents separated 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 left 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. They just parted company for a couple of months. My dad had a career that kept him tethered to our zip code all summer despite the soaring Arizona temperature that drove the rest of us to seek greener pastures that happened to also 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 teen magazines.
There we would remain from sometime in June until sometime in 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 a cooler climate 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 beach 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.
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 breathlessly shared memories, probably the more high-gloss than matte ones, about my childhood summers with my mom and my brother. I settled into my chair when I had finished and awaited his reaction. I expected him to respond with a really effeminate sigh, and to stare at a spot just beyond my shoulder, and to whisper, “I’d like to be there right now.”
Instead he grunted, “Your parents separated all summer? That’s just 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 or compelling adjectives won his endorsement. He felt it peculiar and mean that we left my father behind with little more to keep him company than a television and a fridge filled only with condiments. It’s weird, he kept saying. 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.
So travel together we did for the first several years after marriage. Both hemmed in by frenetic work schedules, it was a simple arithmetic that a long weekend away together was all the time we could spare.
But last year ushered in a change to our vacation norms. We flew out together to the beach town of my sunburned youth, but Greg returned home in advance of the kids and me since I no longer had an office job to return to.
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 13-year-old self, dumping responsibilities on my parents and allowing them to slip 20 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.
But Greg doesn’t get any of this. He’s probably afraid that I’ll try to buy a home here. He’s probably afraid that I won’t want to vacation together ever again.
He’s probably afraid that I’m becoming my mother.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.