This past week, I took my first vacation as a full-time freelancer. It was weird. I didn't have to ask a boss for the time off, didn't have to add the vacation to a company calendar or alert colleagues to my upcoming absence. This was thrilling until I realized I also wasn't going to be getting paid. The freelancer's dilemma.
My husband's family takes an annual vacation in Maine, and this year we would be celebrating his grandmother's 85th birthday as part of the festivities. We would kick off the vacation with a barbecue hosted by my husband's friends from college and end it with a family reunion with the Italian relatives on my dad's side. Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut. Friends, family, seafood, the beach. More miles on our '98 Subaru Outback that by some miracle keeps on running.
I was offered a project that week and considered trying to squeeze in work in the early and late hours when everyone else was in bed, but ultimately I decided against it. I'm glad I did. I love my work, but vacation is a sacred thing. It's a necessity. Instead of editing manuscripts, I read a sad, beautiful novel called Someone, the latest by one of my favorite authors, Alice McDermott. And I ate, and talked, and listened, and sat.
I had long talks with my husband's grandmother, a widow for almost twenty-five years, who at 85 still lives alone, golfs and plays tennis regularly, and walks her neighbor's dog every morning. The family giggles at her forgetfulness and silly insights, but every once in a while she says something so simple and true that it hits like a fist in the gut. "Having your husband die is a crappy, crappy thing," she said to me, and I thought of my own marriage, not even a year old, and wondered where the next years and decades would take us. "Kids are fun," she said, when I expressed worry about becoming a parent someday. "You'll like having them. They crack you up."
At my own family reunion, I sat on the beach and watched the sunset with second cousins I haven't seen since they were little kids. Now they're in their late teens and early twenties, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes when their parents aren't looking. My brother brought a portable speaker down to the beach and put on Nirvana. "Kurt Cobain was my first love," one of my second cousins said, and I smiled thinking that she couldn't have been older than three or four when he died.
I watched my grandmother reminisce with her two siblings, noticing how she and her brother shouted and used wild hand gestures with their sister, who is nearly deaf. I watched my dad, almost fifty-nine but as energetic and happy as the little boy he must've been once as he scrambled out on the rocks looking for hermit crabs in tidal pools.
On the drive back to New York, I couldn't sort out my feelings. I felt terribly sad and joyful at the same time. My emotions seemed to be sloshing just below my skin. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get back to work. I was done with the sea.