Not even a quick dip in the private pool could cure my sudden malaise.
While sitting at our private table on our private island, sipping cold drinks under our private umbrella, our toes in the warm private sand that no one else’s toes are allowed to touch, I had a terrible thought. This is not paradise I find myself in. It’s hell.
OK, stick with me here. I’m going to go off on a navel-gazing existential rant—which makes no sense given the fact that I:
1. just slept 10 hours in the softest bed in Australia;
2. had a complimentary breakfast buffet of warm croissants, bacon, and fresh-squeezed orange juice;
3. am being shamelessly sucked-up-to by an entire resort staff;
4. snorkeled in water so warm and clear I could see the expression on the face of a butterfly fish (it looked kind of stoned, like this);
5. saw dozens more exotic creatures, including a jellyfish the size of a yoga ball, on a glass-bottomed boat tour;
6. am being showered with nonstop love from my adoring wife and precious daughter.
Anyone else would be content with life at this point. Chillin’ like Bob Dylan on penicillin. Relaxin’ like Andrew Jackson the Anglo-Saxon. Whatever the phrase is. Instead, from my little shangri-la, rather than sifting the sand through my toes and watching the waves roll along the shore, I focus on:
1. the uncomfortable SPF-4,000 sunblock Sarah forced me to slather on that’s giving me a rash;
2. the ache in my stomach from too much bacon;
3. the sinking feeling on page 54 that I’m not interested in this 700-page paperback after all;
4. the fact that I should have worked out this morning but didn’t feel like it;
5. the goddamn sun, which can’t decide whether to come out or stay behind a cloud;
6. the irrational fear that I will lose my room key in the sand;
7. how much we’re paying for all this, and feeling guilty that I’m not enjoying every second of it.
“Jeez, it’s like traveling with Andy Rooney,” said Sarah. “You gotta loosen up.” She, of course, is relaxed and happy and curious to explore the island. I just want to go back to bed.
What is wrong with me? This is the most beautiful place on earth, and even here I can’t take a deep breath, let go of the neuroses, and enjoy it. It’s a painful realization, the idea that no matter how gorgeous your surroundings, your brain is still going to be the way it always was. I glance down at Hannah in her little blue wetsuit, digging in the sand with plastic shovels, shoving half the beach in her mouth and laughing hysterically, and I feel overwhelming relief that she inherited Sarah’s disposition.
I freely admit that I’m a monumental grump; that much we have established. And a spoiled twit to boot. Freud would say that the inner conflict is perfectly normal: That so many of my id’s drives—say, complimentary Champagne and pot de crèmes, ingested poolside—are being satisfied on this island, that the moral sanctions laid down by the super-ego have been transgressed.
Sigmund: I’m calling bullshit.
I believe that I suffer from a malady common among vacationing Americans, a disease that no one talks about: acute can’tslowdownitis. Can’tslowdownitis, which I suspect I inherited genetically, is a vague existential malaise that comes from working too hard and thinking too much and leads to a profound mental inability to hit the brakes. Think about it: Say you’re driving on a freeway, and there’s no traffic at all, so you’re doing 90 miles an hour. You get used to 90. It becomes “normal.” Then, suddenly, you see a sign that says “Speed Limit 15” and expected to slam on the brakes and slow down to 15 miles an hour. It’s utterly ridiculous, and your brain will most likely not be able to process such a change. At least not right away.
That’s what I’m going through right now. It takes some people longer than others to relax on a vacation. For Sarah, it’s about a day. Hannah, 15 minutes. Me: 18 days and counting.