Not to be too secretive, but I need to keep the details of it under wraps for a little while longer. I have some plans left to make, but I'm expecting that the whole undertaking may very well be the greatest vacation I have ever been on ...
... that is, since 1985.
In 1985 I took what would be the last vacation of the first phase of my growth as a person. It was the last time I'd go away for an extended time before my adolescence kicked in to overdrive and my "cool" gene took over. Shortly following that--upon entering the hallowed halls of Bishop Connolly High School as a sophomore, getting destroyed by my first love, and discovering the joys of drugs and alcohol--I would start to think that spending time with one's mom was the last thing in the world anyone would ever want to do.
But I remember feeling not at all like I ever did after that trip.
I don't recall all of the details. I know I was fifteen--a freshman no longer--and the world's biggest U2 fan. Their live, four song EP, "Wide Awake in America" had just come out and Bono was sporting a black fedora-like hat in some of the inside cover photos. I wanted one. I wanted his voice too. And I'd sing the impossibly difficult chorus to the song "Bad" at the top of my lungs when I was alone at home, often, much to the assumed chagrin of my next door neighbors.
I remember that Live Aid hadn't happened yet. I remember that because I remember watching it at my cousin's house in Bremerton, Washington, on July, 13 at 5:30 in the morning (the U.S. portion starting in Philly at 8:30 e.s.t.). It was amazing. I'm pretty sure I was up that early anyway due to the time zone difference but U2 was on at some point--that much I knew--and I would have done anything to see them play regardless of when I had to start watching. They were there, somewhere, and I couldn't afford to miss a casual glimpse by the camera of one of them backstage. I was a bit anxious, as they said back in the day.
I remember that west coast portion of my trip quite vividly, partly because my mom would end up having to rent and drive an unfamiliar car (strange, what variables provide aging memories sustenance). From 1977 to the late 1980's she had owned a beautiful, light green Volvo 240 that played an integral role in my childhood. It had an analog clock which I can still hear ticking away, second by audible second, as I sat on the tan leather seats--voluntarily, adamantly, and expectant--while she did her shopping at various farm stands, grocery stores, or clothing stores like Hit or Miss or Fashion Bug. Anyway, we had flown across country and then rented a car--a Buik Skylark, I believe--to travel down the coast to Arizona to go to the Grand Canyon, among other places of intense interest.
I remember hearing Phil Collins' voice on the radio, singing "You Can't Hurry Love" and liking it. I remember that changing shortly thereafter.
I remember seeing my first lesbian couple. It was an indoor tourist stop, somewhere near Yosemite. It was an older couple, both slender and with short hair. The exhibit was dark inside--perhaps a diorama of a wilderness scene with lots of dark blue light. Then I saw the two women holding hands. Gasping, I turned quickly to my mom, who was standing close by, as usual, and opened my mouth to speak. I remember her squeezing my arm and giving me the "we'll talk about this in the car" look. She had always been a progressive person and this would prove to be no different as we discussed the idea of two women forming a romantic relationship. "Anyone who has the capacity to love another responsibly, should," is what she told me. "But just because you don't see it where you live doesn't make it wrong." I may have been fifteen, but in Fall River in the 1980's we had no lesbians--certainly not any who would publicly display it.
I remember going to an emerald mine with her, excitedly sifting through for gems. We found a few and I'm sure I'll come across the box of them in my excavation of the old house.
We explored the national parks. We explored the caverns. We went to gift shop after gift shop where I would beg her to buy me a fedora. She finally relented and bought me a black, felt fedora for somewhere in the vicinity of $40. I remember I wrote my name in the little card that said, "Like hell this is your hat" and stuck it in the inside band in case someone tried to steal it. I remember thinking that the brim was too wide--it didn't look just like Bono's--and so I trimmed it with a pair of scissors--badly--essentially ruining the hat I had begged for and finally gotten. But then again, I had a hard time just liking almost anything like it was as an early adolescent; I had to always screw with it. My hat, my guitar, my bike, my appearance (once even cutting--yes, cutting--my eyelashes off, in an attempt to look more like John Lennon). I just couldn't enjoy it for what it was.
And my mother always talked of that trip fondly. Of how it was the last time she got to spend time with me before she lost the "child" she knew. Not that she held it against me; it was just a natural part of anyone's growth--to run, screaming, from the comforting grasp of one's maker and teacher. She would reminisce about how it was an important time of healing for her. Her mother--my grandmother--had died five years before, and she hadn't taken a full inventory of her emotional situation until she had put some miles between her and the place of her birth and growth and spent time with me. She had put on hold the time of grieving, so as to concentrate fully on the raising of her one and only, her special boy. And she remembered seeing me expanding in inches and in insight as one does after running through the field of pre-pubescence. Because once the playful veil of childhood falls away and one can see clearly the amusement park of sensations and emotions that lie ahead, it is almost always never the same again.
And in saying that, I realize that nothing is ever the same again. Each moment in time may be remembered, but once it is past we can only move on and add it to our collected and ever growing treasure chest of memories.
I used to think in terms like, "Oh, it's not the same without my mom around ... " And this is and was the truth. But even the occasions when she was alive were always different. It was never the same, only similar. We can make the same turkey for Thanksgiving but each year the hand that lifts the fork that cuts the first slice has undergone 365 days worth of life. There are a few more wrinkles and a few more accomplishments; a few cuts, scrapes, and nails grown full and cut bit by bit, and a few hard lessons hopefully learned.
And as long as I have her memory in my heart I can enjoy the uncountable moments in my life in a similar fashion. She may not be here, but I can realize my life with her as a giant part of it. And the experiences I go through now, without her, are never the same, only similar. My birthday next week will be the second since she has gone. It will be the first since my aunt passed on. And this year will be different than the last two, and the last two will be different from the thirty six that came before it. This is the way I live now, and it is, I hope, the way I am someday remembered.
The vacation I am planning now, with the woman I love, will be it's own special and landmark event. I hope for it to be an amazing and unforgettable time in my life. And because it hasn't happened yet, of course, it cannot be remembered; it can only be anticipated.
And this feeling of anticipation--when the clock ticks back from a place in the visible future--is unique. It is in a category all its own. Because it is something that will never grow old, no matter how many years we put in its way.
That said, here's to the future ... may it be good to us all.
Thanks for reading.