Stuff That Happened on Vacation

I am wandering around Von’s Books in West Lafayette, twisting my body to fit in between the giant, overstuffed bookcases. I’ve picked up and put back the same book three times, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a post-apocalyptic novel about the world after a flu epidemic wipes out most of humanity. Finally it gets added to the pile under my arm.

It occurs to me that my idea of wealth is being able to buy as many books as I want.

Greyhouse Coffee has turned off its music system again so I can hear everything the ladies next to me are saying. It’s the same conversation every time I visit, just with different women.

“Yes, and then this thing happened, and I felt like, you know? And then she said…”

“Hmm. Mmmhm. Hmm…”

The Hmm lady never gets more than one line in.

I come prepared with headphones and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which I’ve just bought at Von’s. I requested it at the library but I’m 57th in line, so I can either buy it now or read it in about three and a half years.

It’s a good thing I bought it because I realize I’m going to need to read it twice. Somebody once said the best writers just tell you what you already know but didn’t have the words for. Coates writes about why I’m so angry – about my disillusionment with the American Dream.

I think about writing him a letter, but it strikes me as incredibly ironic to proclaim myself – a well educated, well traveled, well read white person currently on vacation – disillusioned with the American Dream.

Brian and I have come downtown on our wedding anniversary with the intention of walking into whatever bar or restaurant catches our fancy, ordering a little, and moving on to try the next one – sort of like a pub crawl. The first place we end up is The Tilted Kilt. It doesn’t occur to me that maybe I should be offended that we’re at the Irish version of Hooters for our anniversary until halfway through our (excellent) nachos. But I’m not, mostly because I don’t find these girls’ bodies offensive.

“What do you think of all this, you know, from a feminist standpoint?” Brian asks me.

“I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “Part of what they’re selling is these women’s bodies.”

Men sometimes make the mistake of thinking my baristas are selling their bodies alongside our coffee because these men can’t comprehend a female body that isn’t commodified. There’s always an implied transaction to them, which makes me see red.

“But they entered into the transaction willingly here,” I continued, “and I support their decision to do what they want with their bodies, including sell them, and to wear what they want.

But then there’s the problem that they only celebrate a few body types. What happens if one of these girls gets pregnant or gains weight?” I wonder.

Brian, who spent some time in college studying law, tells me they must have something like that covered in their contract. I think he must be right because I don’t see a single woman with an extra ten pounds or a baby bump.

I wake up one morning in the middle of vacation without an alarm and with the realization that my dreams were good for the first time in months. I’ve stayed off Twitter completely and mostly avoided Facebook, so I have no idea what’s going on in the greater world.

In my dreams that night I moved to the country and rode horses instead of listening to people of color tell me what to do if they die in police custody.

Brian and I have perfected the “lazy day” this vacation. One such day he suggests we go to our favorite sub shop. That won’t be possible, I inform him, since that involves putting on clothes.

We order Chinese take out and I wonder for a second if I’ll fit in my work clothes when I go back.

I’m standing in front of my favorite painting in the Art Institute of Chicago, Greyed Rainbow by Jackson Pollock. Brian and I have been walking around the museum for two hours and our feet hurt, but we still go back two flights of stairs and four galleries so we can see it a second time before we leave.

I stand as close to the giant canvas as I can so the paint splatters and ridges take up my whole field of vision, not caring that I’m blocking the view of the people behind me.

No reprinting of Pollock’s work has ever impressed me. But standing in front of his actual paintings makes me feel the same thing every time, joy, because I’m sure this is what the inside of my soul looks like and, now that I can see it, I think it’s beautiful.

That night we drive home with the sunset and Chicago skyline behind us. Beyond the old factories and the lake the biggest full moon I’ve ever seen is rising, painted pastel pink by the earth’s atmosphere.

“We’re so lucky,” I tell Brian.


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