I've been a little stuck of late. I've wanted to write, but I've been mired in organizational issues that have me stressed out and stretched thin, and so the writing thing is added to a list of other things that I'm slowly pecking away at until I can dig out from under my mental "to do" list and breathe again.
We went on vacation last week. It's just been sitting in my brain gnawing away at me. I need to write about it before the details and feelings are lost, but it's one of those "big" things, so it'll fester for a while and then the danger is I'll just say fuck it and not write it at all. So I'm going to give you just an overview while it's still fresh.
It wasn't great. It was this feeling of being away from where I needed to be. I think (reference first paragraph) I'm feeling a little like I have too much shit to do and not enough time to do it, and vacation was just one of those things that was supposed to be relaxing, but mostly made me aware of all the things I couldn't address because I was busy relaxing.
It wasn't great, but it WAS good. There is, in my approach to life AL (after Leslie) this goal to make things as "normal" as I possibly can for the kids and myself and maintain routines and traditions (where possible) so that Leslie's passing isn't viewed as "the reason we never have fun anymore". I know everything's different. I know nothing will ever be the same again. BUT...I can maintain some normalcy for myself and these kids, and I think that's important.
And maybe that's not a great approach. I don't know. You know I'm just wingin' this shit, but a friend said, "You know, it seems like you're really in a hurry to get past all these 'firsts'." And I think I copped to that. I don't know if that's healthy or not. I do recognize that even if I had a list of a 1,000 things/events that were meaningful in our lives to tick off as "first time doing ________ without Leslie" that still wouldn't mean that once I made it through the list..."Okay! List is all crossed off! I'm over it! No more grieving! Yay!" I know it changes nothing REALLY...but I do feel like, maybe by having the FIRST one done, we'll be more prepared for the NEXT one. By making it past the first one, the next one will hurt less and we'll be able to focus more on enjoying it.
So in April when Leslie passed, a friend of my parents offered his condo in Myrtle to us free for a week if we wanted to get away from it all. And I asked Emma and she said, "I think it's too soon. I don't want to go yet," and I agreed. And then a week or two later she said something else that I thought was wise (one of many little ways that girl has surprised and made me proud since Leslie died). She said, "You know, dad, I think maybe we should go on vacation. I was just thinking how hard it would be to do without mommy there, and then I thought...but so is everything else we're doing. It's all really hard, but that doesn't mean we stop doing it. So I think we should go." And so I told my parents, and we decided to go.
Vacation to the beach was another Leslie tradition. My family didn't have a tradition of yearly family vacations. We did stuff, but I don't remember doing stuff like...for a week. Every so often we would, but not yearly. So after Leslie and I had been dating for a while, she started inviting me along to Ocean City, Maryland with her family. We went there for years before we tried Nags Head (and fell in love with it) and then last year Myrtle (because my parents got a deal on it at an auction).
Sidebar Leslie story. We went to the beach with the same group every year. And every year it was the same thing. Her dad and mom would give us the official copy of the trip tik and we had mapped out stops and regular breaks and the idea was that everyone would stay together as a group as we traveled.
And I was always like...why do we have to go this way? Why do we have to stay together as a group? Why can't we get our own trip tik? What's the magic of this one? And Leslie was ADAMANT. We stay together. That's what we do. We all go this way. We all stay together. And I would just groan and roll my eyes and...stay together. Can't get too far ahead. Can't try this new route. Can't stop to sight-see along the way. STAY WITH THE GROUP!
Until the day a cop pulled me over. I was so fucking mad. Everyone in the group passed us. They passed us on the side of the road and never looked back. Where was the goddamn group??? WHY AREN'T WE TOGETHER!!?? I get it. I wouldn't have stopped either...except I WOULD HAVE! But not because I wanted to. I'd have stopped because my wife would have said, "Pull over and wait so that we stay with the group" and I'd have fumed and simmered and been irritated because I'm a grown-ass man (ish) and I don't NEED to drive in a group. I can get there when I want. I can go the way I want. I can stop and take detours and buy gas from different gas stations if I want...but I'd have done it for Leslie.
Until the day the cop pulled me over. That ended the staying together as a group thing. From that moment on I never accepted another trip tik (well, we took them, but didn't use them). If I got ahead of the group, so be it. If we stopped for an hour somewhere the group didn't stop...so be it. And Leslie accepted this.
I won't go into the minutia of the beach vacation and all that we did or didn't do. There were highs and lows. We did have fun. We did enjoy the ocean. But there were many things I wished I could share with Leslie and there were lots of memories of the previous year to contend with. We were in the exact same condo. Always there was an invisible string behind my sternum stretched to Pittsburgh tugging at me, urging me to go back home.
My parents were great about taking Lily to do Lily-things (the pool instead of the ocean, for example) so that I could take Emma to do Emma-things. But there was a sense of guilt there too - that I was vacationing with Emma and not Lily. So when I'd attempt to get both girls to the beach, and Lily would struggle, I had no choice but to abandon the beach with Lily AND Emma (because I couldn't leave her alone) and I became depressingly aware that the beach vacation wasn't something I could do myself. At least not in a condo, where abandoning the beach meant dragging chairs and belongings back across the beach and past the pools and down the corridors to wait for an elevator, and into the condo to go to the bathroom, only to have to reverse course again to get BACK to the beach with no real sense that the return trip would be any more successful. I felt a sense of fatherly failure at my inability to manage both kids' happiness and well-being and it dragged me down a bit. (I don't need encouragement here...I've made my peace with this reality. I'm not being hard on myself, I just need help. I'll have to make sure I have it. But it bummed me out at the time.)
One of the high points of the vacation, and it's such a little thing, was playing Perudo with Emma and my parents. Leslie loved that game. We didn't play last year because Leslie wasn't feeling great, and we went to Disney or didn't vacation or something the year before, and the year before that Emma wouldn't have been able to play (she wouldn't have "gotten" it). But Leslie and I enjoyed MANY a game of Perudo at the beach with friends, drinking beer around a table and lying to each other about dice. (It's a bluffing game a lot like "Liar's Dice" if you know that game) Lots of laughter and lots of amused shouts and groans, and Leslie was GOOD at Perudo. She was a gifted liar...and competitive. She was so much fun to play games with.
Emma is her mother's daughter...at least where Perudo was concerned. After eliminating my mother and father it was down to the two of us. I had all my dice. She had all her dice. I've never played a game like that where neither of the final two players still have all their dice. And she beat me. She beat me each head-to-head game. I lost five consecutive times and slid my dice one after the other across the table after each loss until she at last triumphed. It was so great.
But seriously...I gotta watch that kid.
On the way up and back we played the license plate game, trying to get all 50 states. Leslie and I did it every year. I still have the piece of paper she wrote all the state names on of the plates we got last year. The whole vacation was like that. Fun little traditions. Recognition that it was without Leslie. Bittersweet maybe? I don't think that's the right word. But maybe.
Anyway...vacation was good. But it wasn't great. And it was hard. But we did it. And now we move on to the next in a long line of firsts.