Monday, September 27, 2010

My Summer Vacation

Published in the Montreal Gazette on September 27th, 2010.  

Five hours into my summer vacation, I was sitting on a porch swing on Lake Memphremagog, raging.
I wanted to blame it on the roof. My husband Tony and I were supposed go on a real vacation, the kind where you travel as far away from your family and friends as possible, and eat in restaurants three times a day. But last year, we bought our first home. And one month ago, when a large puddle appeared on the floor upstairs, we discovered that the roof of that home hadn't been changed in 30 years.

Tony called his father, Papa Greek, who consulted his Hellenic Rolodex and found us some roofers, who told us how much a new roof was going to cost. After we recovered from the shock, we decided that cancelling our "real" vacation was the responsible, home-owning thing to do. So, instead of our dreamed-of road trip to the Maritimes, we'd spend one week in Montreal and my hometown of Ottawa, and one week renting a friend's cottage in Magog.

Normally, I'm the kind of person who feels that the amount of distance between me and my place of residence is directly proportional to my level of vacation joy. Curiously, though, I found myself at peace with the whole idea. We'd have a "staycation," as the kids call them these days. I could do things I never got to do, and see people I never got to see. Then we'd go out into the cottage-wilderness, under the stars, reconnecting with nature and the Earth and barbecued hotdogs.

When we arrived in Magog, Tony announced he was going to give Papa Greek a quick call. I stiffened, as according to my definition of a vacation, phone calls home must only be done in case of emergency.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I forgot to tell him where I put the cheque for the roofers."

I tried to remain calm, as the cheque was hanging from the only bulletin board in our four-room dwelling, in an envelope marked "CHEQUE FOR ROOFERS."

"Don't you think maybe he might be able to figure it out for himself ?"

"Is it a problem if I just call him?"

"No problem," I said, through gritted teeth. "Go right ahead."

There are people who look after things, and then there's Tony. Tony replies to emails not five days or three weeks later, but at midnight on a Saturday night. He keeps entire books of lists of things to do, and whips them out at brunch on Sunday. He records voice reminders on his cellphone when he walks the dog. And one vacation day while we were still in Montreal, he committed the ultimate sin and worked for half a day.

When we got to our cabin, which was perfect and just a few feet from the lake, Tony casually mentioned that he'd invited his friend (who owned our cabin and lived in the cottage next door) and her 7-year-old son over for dinner. I don't know about you, but I tend to go on vacation specifically not to have people over for dinner. But I bit my lip, and tried to rekindle my love for my husband by giving him a back rub. He spent the entire time telling me I was pinching him or pushing too hard, and that's when I decided to say something.

"I don't feel good about the way you're speaking to me," I said.

"What way?"

"You're being dismissive!"

"Why don't you cut me some slack?" Tony asked, and I nearly fell over.


"Give me the benefit of the doubt! I wouldn't talk to you that way on purpose. You were hurting me, so I said something!"

"Well excuse me for trying to relieve some of your tension!" I snapped, and stomped off to the porch swing.

Sitting there, looking out over the lake, I could feel my blood boiling. This was it. I'd had enough. Next year, I was going away ALONE. I'd go to Madrid, or Berlin, or rent my own cottage where I wouldn't have to serve anyone dinner. He could spend every waking minute on the phone and work 20 hours a day if he wanted to.

Then, some other things started to come back to me. Like how, on our first day off, I'd scheduled a spa appointment. And a couple of days after that, I'd had a meeting with someone from out of
town. And then, since I was in the neighbourhood, I got a haircut. In Ottawa, I'd insisted we have dinner with some friends of mine and their baby, and had two doctor's appointments. And coffee with the mother of my oldest friend. And an afternoon with some of Tony's friends whom, I had insisted, we hadn't seen in forever.

And that's when I had a really horrible thought: maybe not all of this was Tony's fault.

At that point, he strolled by, towel draped over his shoulder, and informed me that he had been mistaken: our cabin-neighbour was having us over for dinner, and we wouldn't have to cook anything. And maybe it was the porch swing, but I didn't feel like beating him with a toilet plunger, recently used. As he continued down to the lake, and I remembered our last vacation, which was, in fact, our honeymoon. I'd spent the first week being furious at myself for not being relaxed enough, and it had been Tony who'd suggested I cut myself some slack and just be okay with how things were, rather than fighting tooth and nail to "be in the moment." He'd also reminded me that we'd spent the three months before the honeymoon buying and moving into a leaky-roofed house, all the while planning a wedding involving 50,000 Greeks.

I heard some quacking sounds from the lake, and, swallowing my pride, I left the porch to investigate. The sunset was reflecting in perfect waves across the water, rippling out in all directions. There were two ducks swimming past, stopping in spots to dive below the surface, their little dappled bums raised toward the sky. But it wasn't them quacking. It was Tony.

It is impossible, I learned that day, to be mad at a man who quacks.

And that's when the vacation really began.

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