In the fifth installment of “Love, Recorded,” Matt and Cathreen improvise their vacation, with mixed results.
Cathreen and I have been waiting for our vacation. I call a few times, trying to find out where it has gone. Finally I get a message on Facebook: our vacation has left us. Apparently it has problems of its own. Our family friend lists the reasons why she didn’t get in touch. We were supposed to have been in Maine yesterday.
Illness is involved. It’s hard to be upset. It’s hard to admit that I am upset.
A cat was eaten by a fox. Cathreen says it’s better anyway that we didn’t bring Boise to fox-land.
We decide to stay in and relax. I try all day. I think I succeed a little. I keep imagining the beach, a lake, the ocean. We will take day trips. Hopefully that will satisfy us. Will satisfy me.
We rent a car and drive to Newport to shop and swim and see the mansions. I know this will be a hit because Cathreen watches a lot of HGTV. She spends nights comparing houses online, houses we can’t afford.
We park a short walk away from the shopping district and explore. Cathreen says she hasn’t “shopped” until something is bought. I do not agree with this distinction.
When we go back for the car we can’t find it. I walk furiously ahead, all the way down the line of cars. “It’s either towed or stolen,” I say, slapping my hands together. This is the luck we have made. I shouldn’t have parked there.
Cathreen walks back along the line, holding my hand. I think about our wasted vacation.
But there it is, in exactly the spot we left it.
“It’s either towed or stolen,” Cathreen says. But we are laughing.
We drive up to the mansions in the afternoon. “Not big enough,” Cathreen says about the first. I point to a house that looks made of marble, visible over the trees.
For our second mansion we visit the Breakers. These are audio-guided tours. As we walk in, a man hands us a pamphlet in Chinese instead of a tape-player. I want to punch this man in the face. I know that Cathreen can feel this, because she tries to smooth it over with the architecture. We walk through twenty or thirty rooms.
The people who lived here lived amazing lives. Cathreen smiles and I can see her imagining us in the early twentieth century. I am imagining the same. The bathtubs, the tape says, were made of marble so thick they had to be filled several times before they were warm enough for bathing. A typical day, a woman explains, involved waking up for a trip to the beach, then returning to get drunk on cocktails.
On the way out of the house we take pictures where the lawn meets the cliff of the sea, and I watch my wife for our level of happiness. She tells me to hold out my hand, and puts the camera in it. I get a snapshot of us standing together with the Gilded Age in the background.
We stop at the beach on the drive back and it’s dark and cold and I think that next time we will swim. This has been a good day. Cathreen says we are making our own memories.
As I write this I have to ask Cathreen what we did on Wednesday. She tells me to get her phone; she flips through to see when my mother called. She called on the day we went to the movies. “So smart,” Cathreen says. “We went to the movies on Wednesday.”
“What did we do on Friday?” I ask.
“We played with the landlords on Friday.”
Wednesday we tried to go to the casino, but we got to the ticket office after the last bus left. Instead we watched three movies: The Kids Are All Right, a Korean movie about the war, and Inception. The first brilliant, the last we walked out of. The Korean movie split us. She predicted that I would like it and she wouldn’t, but afterward it was the opposite.
The theater was full of Koreans, which we both thought was funny.
I wake her and we drive up to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. I am on a quest for water. The original plan for Wednesday was to take the ferry to the Harbor Islands. The water we get is rain.
We wait out the rain in an antique shop and an old penny arcade, and eat subs for lunch because we are already out of money. I buy a book. Cathreen uses her tickets for a deck of cards and Tootsie Pops.
When the rain stops we can see people playing volleyball. A beautiful old-fashioned boardwalk leads to the beach, where a sign is posted. The water is full of bacteria.
We sit on the benches and I teach my wife Blackjack: stay, hit, and bust.
“Why didn’t you looking for other beaches before we left?” she asks.
I didn’t know the lake would be contagious.
“I’ll just drive us up the road,” I say later.
We go to a park listed on our GPS. We walk through a stretch of trees to get to a camping area. I feel like Maile Meloy writes in one of her books, like someone is walking around me with a rope, tying up my chest. What if we never get what we want?
Then, behold, a beach.
And we are in the water, watching our toes through the clear depths as the trees tip their branches to the sunset.
We barbecue with our landlords and play rummy on the patio as the sun goes down and turns to night. Later I will have bug bites, but for now I am content. For now I am reading Cathreen’s face to know when she has found the card that makes her hand.
We use our credit card points to take a bus tour out to Cape Cod. For the first leg of the trip Cathreen sleeps. Our vacation has caught up to her. When she wakes she says she kept trying to open her eyes but couldn’t.
We have ten minutes on a beach by the JFK memorial and then we’re back on the bus, lunch is arranged, and we head to the dock. When we get there the harbor cruise is canceled, due to wind. People grumble.
We detour to Plymouth. “A little history,” I tell Cathreen. She’s never seen where this country was started. “Maybe you’ll like it.” I know there is nothing to do there.
At least we didn’t pay for this.
The ride back to Boston only takes an hour. Cathreen says we could go to the Cape any time, if it’s that close. Her eyes light up: the future. Tomorrow is the last day of vacation.
Work hangs over me. The inevitable doom starts to make me cranky. Cathreen notices. I lie on the couch and wonder if our vacation could have ever lived up to my expectations. An entire year of work riding on a week off. We had that one moment in New Hampshire, I remind myself, of perfection.
I will wake up early tomorrow and take the bus to Harvard. I cannot avoid this.
Our cat is crying because we left him alone all week; Cathreen is beautiful where she stands over me wanting more attention. I hope we gave enough of ourselves this past week, I am thinking. I hope our vacation stays inside us.