Can’t seem to drink enough coffee to wake up from this one though; did it really happen?
It’s been over a year in the planning; the best vacation a guy could possibly want. Over a years worth of e-mails, g-mails and marathon long-distance phone calls. A never-ending series of hurdles I leaped over one after another; sometimes I still surprise myself.
And now it’s over. Had to go back to work this week. But looking back it’s hard to believe it happened.
One year ago/Fall 2008….Need a passport; can’t get that without a birth certificate. Call Mom; ask if I can borrow my birth certificate. Can hear her brow furrowing over the phone; why do I want my birth certificate? Nothing Ma just leaving the country…okay be that way…
Dig out the local phone book; press 1 for English phone calls are made. Find out I can get copies of my birth certificate downtown at the county courthouse for (ta-da!) twenty-three dollars.
The next Friday afternoon I drive downtown and actually manage to find an easy-access parking space within easy walking distance of the county courthouse. Have to go through a metal detector just like at the airport to get in. Stand in a short line, show some ID, shove 23 dollars across the counter and in just a few brief minutes I have my very own copy of my birth certificate.
A Walgreens is just down the street and I saw a sign in there saying they did passport photos. “Uh…yeah. We do; hold on….” I am told to stand against a blue background.
The large black girl behind the photo counter gets out a cheap-looking digital and asks me to remove my glasses. Seven dollars and one blinding flash later, I have a passport photo. Now it’s over to the Post Office where I stand in line to find out the passport office closed about the same time I was looking for that parking place near the courthouse.
That’s okay; the application for a passport was only four pages of personal questions. Had people standing behind me semi-patiently; this thing was going to have to be filled out at home over a cup or two of coffee.
Spend a entire Saturday morning guzzling coffee and filling out the four-page application. Okay now: put this and the photo and a money order for one hundred dollars in an envelope and wait. Two weeks and one hundred and thirty dollars later, I have a passport. I can go anywhere now.
October 2008…My former landlord sells the house; my new landlord drops by with a new lease. Pleased to meet you; oh by the way your rent is going way, WAY up….have a nice day….
Oh fucking great; this will really help me save for that trip. Begin a series of months of “cutting corners” I put off luxuries like going to the doctor for that annual check-up, or getting my dental needs attended to, or a badly-needed pair of new glasses. Get acquainted with every “dollar store” in town. Clip coupons and pick up aluminum cans around the neighborhood like a homeless person. Oh and let’s not forget good old-fashioned just plain Doing Without.
Christmas 2008…My Mom gives me a “Smart Jar” A big plastic jar with a digital coin counter built into the screw-on top that runs on two AA batteries. I start shoving change into the jar every time I come home. Thirty cents here. Fifty-five cents there. Besides the change slowly adding up, it also proves to be an invaluable source of laundry, parking, tollway and car wash change. Soon bills join the growing pile of change within. How much can I save up this way by the time I finally get to Canada?
February 2009…I spend nearly half my income tax refund on airfare. “K” finds me a great deal online; round trip international airfare for three hundred and twenty dollars with tax. Write my Mom a money order for $650 after also putting $330 on her credit card number for a badly-needed new PC. Pay bills with the remainder of my tax refund. Well, that didn’t take long. Bye bye; see you next year.
But another hurdle is behind me. One stipulation of that great airfare deal was I had to buy the tickets six months in advance.
Great deal on the price but that six months damn near killed me. I didn’t want to wait six months.
But what choice did we have?
And it just goes like this the rest of the year. Go to work; get a check every two weeks. Pay rent. Pay bills. Go home, shove my pocket change in the jar, heat up a frozen dinner in the microwave, sit in front of the keypad and write just to keep from losing my mind. It’s the only legal way I have to vent.
I just spent eighty hours not including the time I spend making that white-knuckle drive I make to and from work every day going somewhere I didn’t want to go, working with people I don’t want to be around or can even talk to. Being forced to listen to dumb-as-dog shit “Classic rock” stations relentlessly playing the same crap that made me start listening to Devo or the Ramones back in the 70’s, or what passes for the country-music stations that play the most over-produced country I ever heard but never play Johnny Cash or Ernest Tubb.
Making aircraft parts for some millionaire so he can get richer and somewhere across the world some farmer who didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 can get his sheep bombed, and the politicians can stroke our hair and tell us they’re really doing something. Okay let’s assume I’m comfortable with that; I mean after all like all good Americans I’m more concerned about who the new judge on Americas Got Talent is but I just wish my check lasted a little longer than the time it takes for me to get from the bank to the post office…
And all of this for what?
Oh yeah…I’m going on vacation.
And in-between February and August buying that airfare seems like something I did in some distant dream. Really did have to periodically remind myself that there was going to be a big payoff at the end of the summer for me. But man did that six months drag. Didn’t really sink in that this was going to happen until I started doing little things like having the paper and the mail stopped or borrowing that ancient blue Samsonite suitcase from my parents house. It was going to happen; I was leaving the country. And I was going to meet someone I had been flirting with on the phone and via e-mail for over a year. Up close and face-to-face. Was I ready for this? Started to get nervous.
August finally rolls around. Only going out to buy things I need for the trip makes it seem real to me now. The anxiety builds. Going to meet “K” at long last. All kinds of thoughts start whirling around my head. What if we drive each other crazy over the course of ten days? What if we don’t get along?
Stop it; gotta quit thinking this way. Keep telling myself everything is going to be okay.
The tension only builds as the day of departure draws near. Run around town looking for the best deals on a cell phone. Multiple trips to the bank. Do I have enough batteries? Last minute laundry. As I work my last day at work I can’t help but worry about stupid shit. Am I taking enough money? Will the house be okay? What if someone breaks in while I am gone? Worry worry worry…
August 21st…. The airport shuttle arrives at 3am. I stick the key in the deadbolt and turn my back to my home. Off I go….
Almost twelve hours later I arrive in Canada and step off the ferry. I see a blonde looking at me; it’s her!
We hug; we kiss. At long last we meet! And it turns out I have been worried about nothing. We get along just fine for ten days. In fact they are the ten happiest days of my life.
We go everywhere together hand in hand. A couple. Us.
For ten days I have the best vacation a man could want. I see things and places I’ve never seen. Break that deadly dull routine of mine with a vengeance. For ten days I wake up whenever. Eat whenever.
We watch sunrises, we drive countless times through Tim Hortons. We sail on a freighter up the coastline of Canada to places you can’t drive to. Picnic lunches on the beach. Whale-watching. Shopping at quaint farmers markets. For ten days neither of us are alone.
We “play house” in a serious way. She cooks; I do the dishes. Make a couple of minor repairs around her house. Play with her cat. And we write together on her dining table with two laptops back to back.
We like it.
And then the bottom falls out of everything. Reality rears its ugly head; I have to return to Texas.
The last two days I am there are the hardest. She is in tears constantly or looks like she is about to start crying. I pack my suitcase only when she isn’t looking, knowing if she sees me she’ll get upset again.
The morning I have to leave is cruel. We drive silently down the highway to the ferry. She takes a photo of me with my bags in front of the ferry terminal, looks at the picture and tells me to smile. The second photo shows me with the most forced smile you ever saw. I look like I am about to start crying in the first photo.
Turn my back to her and leave; Gawd this sucks. I do just fine until I get on the ferry; then I find a remote part of the still-dark “sun deck” to sit and have a good cry where no one will see me. A few minutes later I compose myself and find a seat elsewhere in the passenger area. “K” gave me an old fashioned journal book with lined pages; I have been using this as a diary. I sit and look out the ferry window and try to write something, anything but my mind is back on an island far behind me and a certain girl back there I know is driving by herself from the ferry to her house and probably in tears.
It’s all I can do to sit and look out the window and curse those 4000 miles between us as the sun rises in the east.
Two Weeks Later… Got home; the house is okay. Spend the next two weeks trying to get back into my routine. Shopping, yard work, housework…get back to my job; it’s the same old shit: “We need this now.” “This hole is two-thousandths of an inch too big.” etc. My ten heavenly days in Canada seem even more like some distant dream; did it really happen?
When I get home from work the Inbox on my email is full of mail from Her: “I miss you” “I need you” etc.
The phone is ringing; it’s Her telling me she misses me.
I press my forehead to the wall and close my eyes. Dammit; I miss Her too. I really do.
And I listen to the rain falling outside and have never ever felt so helpless in my life.
Damn those four thousand miles.