“Travel or vacation?” he asks, one eyebrow raised.
I stall, knowing I can’t possibly get the answer right. What am I being tested for?
The act of choosing between the two 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, gently leading me to more solid ground.
“I travel for clarity,” I say.
But 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. It serves me up, fresh and new. Every time.
How do you explain what it is to see a ghost, or read minds? I speak in tales, like a cryptic old crone.
“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. Approval? I don’t care. Once I start, I cannot stop.
“On a rainy shell strewn beach in Costa Rica last month , I sat and watched the lightning. A single swimmer stayed in the water. He was bobbing and belting out hymns in Spanish, pausing only to dive under the biggest 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.”
“And as he passed by my table at the tea shop, I smelled onions, stale smoke and fresh grief.”
The memory still makes my eyes fill with tears.
”When I travel the world blooms in colorful stories all around me.”
I’m warm and slightly unhinged. My passion makes me blush. Even when I hate travel, I love it.
He offers to get me a drink but I pass. A loaded pause. Then the conversation turns, and heads cack home.
“So, what about your kids?” he asks.
“Back home there is laundry. School. Work. Traffic. Socks and toilet paper and the terrifying news. Every single fucking day.”
There it is. The truth. It oozes out, and begs apology. Like a burp, or a bounced check. It requires far too much explaining. He nods politely, but I don’t think he really gets it. How could he? His life seems nothing like mine.
“I travel to check in. Vacations are for checking 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 give me permission to take a break from the goddamned daily decisions” I state, a too bit defensively.
“And snack on frozen grapes?” he teases, giving away that he has checked out my feed. I’m predictably flattered. But he’s only throwing me a bone.
“Yes of course,” I sigh, ”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 really can’t picture him at a luxury all inclusive. Or even a decent airport hotel. Safari? No problem.
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 unplug. I don’t read newspapers or listen to the news.”
I am even boring myself.
“Isn’t it all a little pretentious? Fake?” he drains his beer now and looks over my shoulder, scanning the room. There are prettier, more single girls waiting to be chatted up.
Isn’t it all a little fake? Do I really need to tell him that 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 their instagram feeds. Other girls will accept his drinks, and flirt with danger a little more unflinchingly. Girls without husbands and children and bee sting allergies.
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, beautiful, glamorous and wise. I can be all those things, but not in this game.
“Of course it’s fake,” I shrug. “But honestly who cares? What’s wrong with a little fantasy?”