“I’ve come to a decision,” he spouted. After about 10 seconds of uncomfortable silence while he was visibly struggling with how to say what he wanted to say, it all came out in a rush. “I’m tired of fighting the world. I’m tired of only seeing pictures of places I want to visit and reading stories about other people doing things I want to do. I’m tired of working 51 weeks a year so that we can afford to go on a one week vacation on a tight budget only to have a few brief days to try and see all there is and do everything.”
This was followed by another uncomfortable silence. We were all wondering what that meant. Is he leaving? Are he and mom getting a divorce? Are we moving to Brazil? Zamibia? Are we taking a longer vacation this year?
In a blur, the words came spewing out of him like he just couldn’t contain them any longer. “I’ve decided that I’m going to sell everything and buy a boat and travel the world and see the places and do the things and meet the people and eat the foods and swim the beaches and climb the mountains and I’m going to do this with or without anyone who wants to come with me!”
This was, needless to say, followed by another uncomfortable silence while we tried to digest this onslaught of unfamiliar thoughts.
In order for you to understand the gravity of this declaration, you have to understand that I come from a family that tried VERY hard to appear ‘normal’ in every and all respects. My parents were married with two kids, two cars, a house, a middle class income, and had kids who took piano lessons and went to Sunday school because society considered that the normal thing to do. My mother in particular was consumed with appearances. Regardless of whether all things in life were hunky dory, it was of utmost importance that nobody outside the family had a single indication that we weren’t Perfect. In retrospect I’ve come to appreciate just how unhealthy this was, but at the time it was just How It Is. It led to a lot of important things that desperately needed to be talked about and addressed being ignored instead, which only helped them to fester and become significantly larger problems. The guiding philosophy appeared to be that If we pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t exist. It led to things like my father’s desire to see the world in a boat coming to all of us as a complete surprise, my mom included.
The passion with which he made his declaration was intense enough that we had no doubt he was serious. This was obviously something that had been boiling in him for a very, very, very long time. What ensued after the uncomfortable silence was the first and only fight that I ever witnessed between my parents in all their long years of marriage. Not that the fight was loud, violent, or even visible. That would just simply not be acceptable. After all, what if the neighbors were to hear? Instead, my mother’s eyes teared up, and she quietly got up from the table and went to her bedroom saying in a deadly calm voice, “Robert. May I speak to you in private please?”
Dad got up with a look of fear on his face and sheepishly followed behind. As soon as the door closed my brother and I looked at each other with wide eyes and scrambled out of our chairs, rushing as quietly as we could to put our ears up to the door of my parent’s bedroom. We could hear whispering – harsh whispering- inside. It was apparent that this was news not only to my brother and I, but to my mom as well. I couldn’t tell what she was saying, but I could tell she was both shocked and angry. This continued for some time until the door suddenly swung partially open and my mother’s tear streaked face came shooting through the crack. Very calmly and quietly she said, “You boys need to go outside and play for a while so that your father and I can discuss this. Don’t come back inside until I call you for dinner.” When my mom used that tone, there was no room for discussion. So out the door we went.
By the time dinner rolled around, my mom’s makeup was fixed, a meal was prepared and on the table, and both mom and dad had forced smiles on their faces. Again with the pretending and appearances. Mustn’t upset the children, you know.
Over dinner, the preceding Proclamation was amended by my mother. Turns out that dad wasn’t going to get his wish. Period. He was greatly mistaken about what he wanted and mom had set him straight. He had agreed that he was Wrong. She was willing to talk about purchasing a sailboat, but only as a strictly recreational device for sailing on local lakes and rivers. She knew several other people with boats and it would improve our image in the community if we had one too. We would NOT be living aboard a boat. We would not be going the places and doing the things and meeting the people and eating the food and there certainly would be no climbing of mountains. What would the Millers next door think of us if we just picked up and left like that? What would the ladies in her bridge club say after she was gone? So this is just not going to happen and you boys don’t need to worry about having to change your routine or do anything out of the ordinary.
What my mother was unaware of (because she hadn’t asked and it was the kind of thing we just didn’t talk about) is what anyone other than herself thought of the idea. She didn’t know that for the hours that I sat outside waiting for the inevitable call to dinner at 6:00 I was already gone, voyaging across the globe. I was a ten year old boy who was going to see the places and do the things and eat the food and meet the people and, yes indeed, climb the mountains. I was ready to pack up and GO. Right that very moment, posthaste and with no dilly-dallying.