My brother Dan is in the Navy and is supposed to be coming home from his tour of duty in January. My mom has become somewhat obsessed with the idea that she’s going to get all of us together to take a vacation. She first suggested a fishing trip. I flatly refused this idea because the thought of spending a few days cringing while hooks were stuck into worms, tearing up when fish were caught and breathing their last thrashing, flopping breath, and gagging when they were cleaned sounds like no kind of vacation to me. It sounds only slightly more appealing than finding my significant other in bed with another woman while I was being simultaneously punched in the face, audited by the IRS, and told I had an inoperable brain tumor.
Mostly, though, she has become fixated on the idea of us taking a cruise together. From her fantasy world perspective, I can see why this sounds appealing to her. She has visions of the four of us sipping strawberry daiquiris and staring off into the sunset, bonding and reminiscing over our idyllic childhood while a waiter named Jose replenishes our drinks and a maid named Maria slaves away in our rooms, folding our towels into the shapes of anchors and leaving little chocolates on our pillows.
But I have been on vacations with these people before and I know how they go.
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so if we did anything it mostly involved small day-trips. There was one ill-advised trip to Disneyworld in 1992. We went to Red Lobster in Orlando—what my family considered to be the epitome of fine dining—where my mother and step-father got into a no holds barred fight in the middle of the restaurant. He ended up throwing his lobster’s claws at her after she accused him of “fucking dog-face again” and stormed out in dramatic fashion to fume in the parking lot, still wearing his little plastic ‘Seafood Fest!’ bib.
On that same trip we had a rental car. Riding in this car was like being in the fiery pits of hell because we couldn’t get the air conditioner to work nor the windows to roll down. This was in Florida. In the middle of summer. Anytime we had to go somewhere in the car there was a lot of screaming at each other and howls of “Stop looking at me!” and “Get your sweaty body OFF of me!” [Side note: Eventually we broke down and called the rental car company and the problem was easily fixed. Something about having turned the key “too far” in the ignition. All that suffering. For naught.]
We came home from that trip sun-burned, not speaking, and with a time-share we couldn’t afford because my parents were dazzled by free tickets to Universal Studios.
That same summer we had a big outing to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. During this trip one brother threw the possessions of the other brother out the window and this resulted in a knock-down, drag-out brawl all over the back of our van as they tried to kill each other. On the way back to WV that night, my step-father got mad at my mother in McDonalds for something else she said (it probably had to do with “dog-face”) and threw French fries at her as we sat and ate in silence. They bounced off her forehead one by one as she tried to maintain her dignity by ignoring him and continuing eating. She later paid him back by refusing to get in the car, and we drove for at least a half a mile down the road at 4 mph as they argued about whether she would be joining us for the return trip home.
Finally, there was a second ill-advised trip to Disneyworld in 1993 in order to use this time-share that we couldn’t afford and had been struggling to pay for during the previous year. My mother and step-father were separated by this time (big shocker, I know) and she’d woken up in the middle of the night to him pointing a gun at her head and saying calmly that he was going to kill her. I don’t know how it all played out except that my mother survived and he left, and then suddenly we were on the run. My mom rushed us all into the car without all of our bags packed, convinced that he was coming back to kill her, and we peeled out, spewing gravel from our country road behind us. We didn’t have the money for hotels en route, so we slept in the car in motel parking lots.
My heart swells with nostalgia.