As any widow will tell you, holidays suck. You try and make it through without flailing about and sobbing uncontrollably, especially for the kids’ sake, but it’s difficult. As my husband passed away in the Autumn, a well-meaning friend, who had lost her father right around the same age my daughter lost her father (17), strongly recommended we get out of Dodge for Christmas. She not only recommended it, she generously gave us tickets to Key West as well as accommodations once we arrived! Incredibly kind friend. Again, we didn’t realize how blessed we were until we looked around and found ourselves surrounded with the most magnificent friends.
It sounded like a great idea. We had vacationed in Florida before but not as far south as Key West. So off we went. Hopefully leaving all the sadness behind. The flights were great. The hotel and the staff were fantastic. The restaurants were remarkable. We even signed up for some activities like “snuba” (do the Google … if you ever get a chance, GO! Great fun) and a trip out to the Dry Tortugas and some snorkeling.
It all sounds great, except for the part where my allergies went into hyper-mode resulting in bronchitis and nightly snoring so loud my daughter went to the nearest pharmacy and practically nailed breathing strips to my face. And speaking of my daughter, did I mention she was only 17 at the time? One little bit of trivia that more seasoned travelers would have already guessed – Key West is really not for kids. Hemingway didn’t hang out there for the scenery. It was the bars. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Alcohol is their life blood. Unfortunately, my daughter was four years short of legal drinking age. And I am here to tell you, not being able to drink in Key West is like not being able to eat in Provence. Not fun. At all. Oh, and I totally lost the Mother of the Year award with that trip to the Dry Tortugas. It’s quite a long trip on a very rocky boat with a daughter who gets motion sick. By the time we made it out to the island the poor kid was green.
By the time we returned home from this trip we were both sick and ready to strangle each other. I recently bumped into a fellow who ran a restaurant my daughter and I used to frequent. It is three years since that trip and he is still doing imitations of what we sounded like when we returned (like bad sinus medicine commercials). We might have sounded ridiculous, and we might have been tired, and we might have been cranky… but for the first time in months, we had more than a few moments where we were not sad. So, ironically and possibly not exactly as planned, the trip did work!
Well, if one trip worked, how about another? My daughter’s 18th birthday and her high school graduation were on the same day in May I knew the spring would get crazy with senior year events so I planned a massive gift to cover both her birthday and her graduation – we were going to Paris! I poured over tour books and harassed travel agents until I thought I had the trip as well-planned as possible. With the recent memory of Key West, and lessons learned over years of traveling with an only child, I also told her she could invited a school pal.
So, off the Paris I went with two 17 year olds and enough luggage to clothe us for months. The flight was incredible. We practically had the whole plane to ourselves! We were able to stretch out across multiple seats and actually sleep (we were back in coach — I wanted a great trip but three seats in first class was WAY out of my price range); arriving in Paris ready to take on the City of Light!
Bringing my daughter’s “plus one” was the smartest move I had made in some time. I made the girls promise that every day would we do one touristy thing together and then we could split up until meeting later for dinner. Again, our friends helped us out. A friend who has an office in Paris came through with dinner reservations around the City for each night of our stay. Incredible restaurants we would never, ever have found on our own. So, each day we would head out on our sight-seeing mission, see the sight, then split up, and reconnect at an agreed-upon time for our late, leisurely, magnificent dinner. We went to Montmarte, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tour and just before we left, Versailles.
By splitting up after the sight-seeing, we were not smothering each other and we all were able to have “me time.” My French was good enough to get me around and I had shared some words with the girls so they could politely get help if needed. While they wandered about, I parked my behind in various cafes. Drinking great wine, chatting with waiters, and watching the people of Paris carry on with their lives. Those moments were my favorite but also, on occasion, the most difficult. I was missing my husband like crazy. He had traveled extensively throughout Europe before we married and while he was not a fan of the French, he would have loved this trip.
He would have loved it especially as it was also the last “family trip” we would take for a while – as the next big trips would be to Boston … bringing our beloved daughter to college. After that trip to drop her off at her new “home,” most of my subsequent trips were without her. And without him. Lots and lots of trips. I have been to Ireland and San Francisco and North Carolina and Memphis and San Diego and Charleston ….I tried to explain to my daughter that going to college gave her a chance to change venues, get out of the house, start all over — while I stayed behind. Except for these trips. My chance at escaping the quiet and loneliness of this solitary existence.
Want to know the truth? The trips were a lovely distraction but not an antidote. I had to keep looking for some other remedy. Had to, and have to. Past and future. Oh wait… I forgot… there is always the present. How about today? Today, I write. It’s today’s remedy.