When Chelsea worked with me for a hot minute, she would alternate shifts for a few months while she was rehearsing to star in The Crucible–which, by the way, was fantastic–in Cranberry. So for a few days a week, Chelsea and I were one the same shift, and we’d usually eat lunch together and talk and e-mail all day. When we’d complain about relationship issues, the troubles were usually really similar–our boyfriends are both shy, they complain about things they can fix or change somehow, and their parents drive us nuts. So when I started talking about going with Paul’s family to Jacob’s graduation from the Marines on Parris Island in South Carolina, which is a solid 8-10 hour drive from good ol’ Pennsylvania, she pretty much immediately said, “Just take a flask and drink the whole way.” Oh, how I wish I really would have.
Thing is, I’ve had issues regarding Jacob and the Marines–or rather how his mother has handled it–since before he actually did it. Originally, he wanted to join the Air Force (in the end, I think his vision is too bad). Her version is she told him to wait until after college. His version, or at least his version as told to me by Brandon, is that she talked him out of it. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. And then after doing the college thing for a couple semesters, Jacob sprung for the Marines around Thanksgiving and took off in February.
Now, I’ve grown up around the military. Every summer, my dad would have to leave for two weeks for training. This has been the way it is literally since my birth–he left for his two weeks just a day or so after I was born. I’m used to the attitudes, the routines, the jargon, and the long absences. My dad deployed three times when I was a teenager–once when I was 13 to Italy, again around 14 or 15 but came home during training due to an error where he wasn’t supposed to have deployed yet, and for the last time when I was 16 to Iraq, where he was ultimately injured and then came home. I’ve seen the guys shipping off to go, I’ve seen the guys come home on leave, I’ve seen them come home.
The short version of what that’s like is high-stress, single-parent household, growing up fast, becoming more independent fast, adjusting to them leaving, adjusting to them coming home, your sense of normal changing all along the way. My dad and I have a mediocre relationship, but that doesn’t make it easy. It really made things confusing for me then and even now, but the bottom line of all the chaos and stress and absence–I hesitate to call it “missing” because I don’t think I truly dislike my dad not being home, it was just the Iraq part that was a problem–is that you just have to pick up and go on. My mom still had work, Brandon and I still had school, we all still had friends and activities and hobbies and things that all still continued in the midst of a deployment. My parents’ marriage may not be the greatest, either, and in some ways maybe that helped, because maybe my attitude all this came from the fact that my mother never broke down. I only remember seeing my mother cry the first time he deployed, and that was it. She was a stoic boss throughout the rest of it. The only breakdowns were mother/daughter fights and teenage angst when she wanted me to clean the house and I wanted to go out because, you know, I was 16. I still do feel like at least half of my teen years were kind of taken from me, but I digress.
Paul’s mom, though, seems to have spent a lot of time crying…over Jacob just going into training.
Like I said, maybe I’m just an insensitive bitch about this because I’m used to it and because I had an example of how to be a badass when times are tough, but the tears and the freakouts and the melodrama were too much for me. I never saw or heard her cry, but I certainly heard about it, and she certainly made no secret of it. All the while, I thought it was a bit much. People deal with things the best way they can and the only way they know how, but when your kid is just several hours away and at training, it’s a bit much. When her sister gave her a bottle of wine at the end of Jacob’s 10-day leave and said, “You’re gonna need this,” she was offended, saying it was as if she was an overemotional, unstable mother who can’t handle her kid leaving, and all I could think was, “But that’s exactly the way you’ve been acting.”
It’s probably also worth noting that when I’ve talked to my own mom about Paul’s mom, it’s been suggested that she can’t handle her kids being away, whereas my mom wants me to get the fuck out because if makes her feel like she succeeded as a parent.
Basically, I expected the trip to Jacob’s graduation to be high-stress and overemotional, and I was concerned about my sanity in a car with them that long. Not to mention I’ve discovered I don’t do too well on vacations. It’s taken me years to either figure that out or pay attention to it, but basically if I’m not with the perfect set of people or it’s not for the perfect time, I want to go home pretty damn early. One of my favorite Hemingway quotes (paraphrased) is, “Never go on a trip with someone you do not love,” and it’s proven to be frighteningly accurate. It also causes anxiety in the sense that I agree to a vacation and think, “Oh, God, I don’t love these people enough and this is going to be horrible.”
For a while, I was actually fine. The night before we left, Katie and I stayed over their house, and all of us girls made a banner for Jacob’s motivational run and stayed up late and talked. Honestly, I really loved getting to just hang out together like that, especially after everyone else went to bed and we could talk a little more freely. In the three years Paul and I have been together, I think I learned more about–and shared more with–his sisters and Katie in that one night than the duration of our relationship, and that was a nice pattern that continued throughout the trip.
Even the drive started fine. We had breakfast at Cracker Barrel, which I’ve always found to be mediocre, and stopped here and there for gas and sightseeing. I went straight-up bum–sweatpants, tee shirt, and glasses with no makeup while the rest of the girls were aiming for cute beachwear, but I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna be in a van for God knows how long. Comfort first.” I slept some, talked some, and things were going well…until exhaustion and cabin fever set in when we were getting really close to the beach house.