It is an odd thing to take your first vacation at thirty two years of age. It begs the disposition that one is a workaholic, which would be a gross misstatement. Vacations, and the need to take them, like many things, are institutionalized into people. It would be more correct to say that I was raised by workaholics â€“ and unknowingly adopted one of their worst habits, independent of any strong compulsion therefor. Vacations, I am told, are an opportunity to relax, and this fact led to me to the realization that my failure to take a vacation up until this point of my life is not simply a failure to take time and travel but, rather, symptomatic of a much more serious problem â€“ I don't really know how to relaxâ€¦ well, save sleeping, which I always thought was the only real relaxation that people are allowed. The rest of life, well, that's the struggle, right?
I've worked for as long as I can remember. Worked at work, and worked at play. Always wed to the truism planted deep in my consciousness by my hard, and perpetually working parents â€“ hard work pays off. But as you might imagine, those many years of work can make one weary, and weary I have been of late. What may also be important to understanding the forthcoming epiphany is the fact that I did not go to college. Which is not to say that I didn't earn a bachelor's degree in Mathematics at age twenty three, because I did. But I went to a military school, and amidst the all-living-in-the-same-building, the uniforms to class, and endless military responsibilities inimical to that experience there is little, if any, time for the social interactions that color the "college experience" for most of modern American society, nor is any of it really available in any substantial sense. There was a great deal to be learned from my academy experience, however. Please don't think that I'm diminishing it in any way. But much like picking a book in a bookstore â€“ you learn about one thing at the expense of learning about the things in the books you don't pick. So I didn't have college, college friends, college parties, college relationships, or any of the other myriad social experiences which always seem to prove much more valuable to those who attended a traditional school than anything learned in the loosely associated classroom time.
Recently, I was invited to spend a few days in Hawaii with a group of male friendsâ€¦ the closest thing to peers that I have these days. They are fellow cheerleaders (with apologies for the unattended enigma, a story for a different time), and all guys that went to college, real college, and not the very serious but very poor impersonation that I attended. I decided to go on the spur-of-the-moment; exactly the sort of thing that I never do; to the promise of beer-soaked nights, girls with whom we were not yet acquainted, and lots of sunshine. It was exactly the sort of thing I thought that I had "missed out on" in not going to a traditional university. The minor tragedy that replaced my planned tropical frolic was instructive on a number of points.
First, I suppose I should address just exactly what happened, before waxing poetic on lessons learned. With apologies to those who unintentionally played a part in this little drama, for both the dim recollection I have of the subject events as a result of my intoxication, as well as for the lens of angsty-selfishness through which I recall these events, I will give a brief account. On my first night on the island (whose scene for this tragedy makes it all the more comically and ironically tragic) I was out with the guys, drinking heavily, because, mostly, it seemed like the thing to do. All of my co-travelers are big guys, which is to say, they run about a minimum weight of two hundred and forty pounds â€“ which gives them nearly sixty pounds on me, and trying to drink alongside such gentlemen is an exercise in both futility and stupidity. But the urge to fit in is a strong one, and much stronger with me. So, I indulged; or more accurately, over-indulged, and began to grow belligerent. Upon leaving our original venue for another, we were carrying on, on the sidewalk â€“ and as often happens, my belligerency became physical. In what was most probably an ill-fated attempt to prove my worthiness to the group, I engaged the largest amongst them in a bit of jostling back and forth. And not one to taking being pushed around lightly, I got a bit too aggressive for my own good â€“ and my assailee grew tired of my pouncing and took the opportunity to sweep my legs out from under me to put a stop to my attacks. He was successful in doing so.
My inebriated state prevented me from reacting to what had happened, and in a blur I went from running on the sidewalk to landing on the back of my head. I didn't brace my fall â€“ I simply went ass over teakettle â€“ all of my weight to my skull on concreteâ€¦ it was a losing battle. It took me a few moments to realize what had happened, and my first realization was that it had hurtâ€¦ a lot. A few moments later I came that most uncomfortable and sobering of realizations: I was bleeding from my head; not that much, mind you, but seeing one's hand covered in blood after reaching to the back of one's head is startling enough for anyone. I got back to the hotel, and managed to avoid getting any of us into trouble, I showered, I criedâ€¦ a lot, I tried to pack my things and get to the airport, I was prevented from doing so, and ultimately, so I'm told, ruined the evening. The next few days, I self-medicated my way through an enormous amount of pain, and tried to tag along to the otherwise planned events. I found myself wishing to be home â€“ not twenty four hours after I had arrived. I spent too much money at places where I wasn't even drinking â€“ reduced from life-of-the-party to stick-in-the-mud tag-alongâ€¦ all by a little head injury. I finally flew home on my scheduled flight â€“ and on my last day there, and in the subsequent days I finally found value in my first vacation â€“ because while I didn't relax very much, I did learn a few things.
1. Your friends don't always have your best interests at heart. They can't help it, they're people, too â€“ and at the end of the day, they have their own interests in mind. It is a uniquely military concept to put the interests of someone in your charge ahead of you. This is not an idea taught to everyone, and to assume it is, is to be foolish at your own peril. Which is not to say that my friends wished or intended me harm â€“ but it was a vacation for them as well, and there weren't going to not have a good time on account of the fact that I wasn't.
2. Growing up means going your own way, even if you have to go alone. There is a great deal of perspective gained from simply getting older â€“ regardless of what you have and haven't experienced. You know how you are â€“ and trying to pretend you're something different is stupid and silly, and betrays the years of experience that you've obtained. What I really wanted to do on a vacation was spend my days, working out, eating well, and laying on the sand. I didn't need to get wasted â€“ I did it for the same reason I was playing around on a sidewalk while drunk â€“ to fit in. At thirty two, that's just pathetic. If you fit into a group, great; and if you don't, that's great, too, because you don't need to know exactly who you are to know exactly who you're not.
3. You can't go back again, so don't bother trying. I didn't go to college, and trying to live out college-type experiences when you're older is tiring, useless and immature. We are the sum of our experiences, and despite what we are constantly told by lists of things that we should have experienced or accomplished by certain milestones in our lives, none of us are incomplete as a result of not having done something that our friends have done. The things that you want to do with your life should not be compulsions brought on by feelings of inadequacy â€“ they should be interests and passions; dreams and goalsâ€¦ too often our to-do list is colored with things that we really don't want to do â€“ and not the type that are good for us despite their undesirability â€“ but rather, things that we're only doing because our friends are doing or have done them.
4. You don't need vacation to relax. Peace of mind is not obtained simply by a change of scenery, no matter how great or tropical. Learning to relax is important, and I know now that it is â€“ but it's not about taking the time to fly or drive someplace, it's about finding pause in the pace of your life and enjoying what you've done and what you're about to do. Don't take vacation because you think you have to â€“ that the opportunities are limited and that they will slip from you. Take vacations to gain perspective, and to spend time with people you care about.
5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable only around those who TRULY know you. You will have a great many friends in life, and many more acquaintances. If you are a complex being, and most of us not named Paris Hilton are, very few people will really know you â€“ that is, to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, not simply just knowing what they are. Whatever name you have for this small group of people, they are the only people with whom you can trust yourself, let go of all of your control, with no thought of them taking advantage or simply misunderstanding what you're doing. It is a fine thing to bring people into your life, in any capacity. It is the only way we are truly enriched. But those who would diminish your pain for their own enjoyment are probably not people whom you can trust with your life, or your heart.
I found during my vacation â€“ that some people that I look up to were not the giants I believed them to be, and others that were even bigger than I suspected. In the end, our moments of weakness are often demonstrative of who around us is really strong.
In time, my wounds will heal â€“ although not quite yet. Head injuries are not fun, and unlike a bruise on the arm or leg, they are mood altering â€“ a reminder that the thing we keep in our skull is a lot more than just another muscle. But, with strength and perseverance (and a substantial amount of Vicodin, thanks doc) I will get through.
There is one universal truth to vacations, that even applies to those vacations which involve head trauma: they really do make you appreciate being home â€“ even if you live in Los Angeles.
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Glenn T
Lessons Learned on a Vacation from Hell
Copyright © 2010 Glenn T
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