Eric had an eyelash on his cheek, but I wasn’t sure if I should interrupt him mid-story. He was telling us about how he met his biological father or maybe it was something about his epileptic brother, I was too distracted by the eyelash and whether or not I should mention it to him or just let it be. It’s hard to take someone seriously when some part of themselves sheds and gets caught on an enlarged pore, forcing us all to pretend we don’t see it. Personally, I would want to know, but I didn’t want to be the first to humiliate him in front of the group, which is what they’d expect me to do instead of focusing on the positive, like how the beach was nearly empty and wasn’t it wonderful to all be here together, on this remote Greek island? That cool, mineral smell wafting in from the sea. Large breasted grandmothers sunbathing topless, languidly smoking something citrus and oaky. Big fat clouds crowning their heads. There seemed to be no distinction between their smoke and ours, the one marbling out from the side of Eric’s mouth from a burnt nub of a joint. It felt like everyone on the beach was high except for me.
I didn’t mention the eyelash, instead I yawned and said, “Don’t you think we should go back now?” It wasn’t an unreasonable suggestion, the beach was beginning to clear out. A chubby teenage boy was already working his way around the empty cabanas, locking up the lounge chairs. No one said anything as they packed their bags and shook the sand off their towels but I could tell they were quietly building their case against me. I imagined them comparing notes at the end of the trip to confirm just how not fun I was. My sister Emma would be spearheading the investigation, she’s witnessed my negative attitude blossom over the years into something more rigid and pathological. But what does she know? She practices tarot and thinks most problems can be solved by consulting the moon.
It was true; I was incapable of fun, especially at times when the conditions were most ripe for fun to be had. Festive shirts, topless bathing, Banana OG kush — it all tore a chasm between my mood and the general joie de vivre of everyone around me. It’s something I read on Emma’s t-shirt: joie de vivre, I wouldn’t have just used it in casual conversation like that but I’m doing my best to get along. The truth was, I missed my routine. I missed making coffee and checking my email and writing down lists. Crossing out a task was the only thing that could reliably calm my nerves. Some women need to have children to imbue their lives with meaning, not me, all I need is a pen and some unfinished tasks. The thought of the many tasks that had accumulated since I left gave me a sick exhilaration; something to look forward to. Every time I remembered one (get oil changed, use Target coupon before expiry date, organise closet by seasonality) I got a little jolt, some proof that my life had meaning.
Halfway home, the group wandered in and out of the shops lined along the waterfront. Something about living on island time made everyone think that linen caftans were a good idea. My husband, John, emerged from a dressing room looking like a background actor in a nativity scene. All I could say was, “You look comfortable.” Everyone agreed to purchase a robe to commemorate the trip and to support the local artisan community. I couldn’t tell if we looked more like naive American tourists or members of an amateur cult. While John paid for a pair of wheat-coloured caftans with tags that read MADE IN BANGLADESH, I calculated how many pounds of truffles 80 euros could buy. “C’mon, it’s funny,” he said, pressing his lips against my forehead with a pressure that meant please play along, and so I did. The only thing worse than carrying around my opaque, 42-year-old sadness was letting him down. Being a drag by myself was one thing, but once I found the love of my life, I no longer had the space to indulge in it with the gusto I once did. With John’s encouragement, I sampled a variety of healing modalities from talk therapy, meditation, yoga, and breathwork. Nothing stuck for long, I could never manage to breathe out all of my repressed ancestral trauma that, according to a body healer, was lodged somewhere behind my uterus.
The journey from the waterfront to the villa we rented was about a mile uphill. By the time we climbed up the cobblestone steps to the front door, I was out of breath. I excused myself to the downstairs bedroom while the others headed up to the terrace to catch the tail-end of the sunset as it slipped back into the hills. I suddenly felt dizzy and opened the window to get some air and eavesdrop on their conversation. The low rumble of group chatter nearly lulled me to sleep until I heard a buzzing and noticed a housefly throwing itself against the windowpane and tumbling drunkenly down onto the ledge, then trying once more, hoping for a different outcome. I admired its perseverance. In a way, I understood it. I’d spent my whole life heaving my body against that glass, resting periodically before I found the strength to try again; the whole world happening on the other side. Finally, I opened the window to let it out, but it just lay there on the ledge. I took off my sandal and whispered: You’re free now and crushed it dead.
I returned upstairs to find the group entranced by the day’s main event: The giant sun expanding and disappearing for the night, leaving its predictably spectacular streaks of cotton candy pink and orange in the sky. Jonathan passed around a joint and I pretended to yawn to avoid it as Eric waxed on about the dangers of artificial intelligence. “It’s our biggest existential threat,” he said, explaining that human biological evolution is too slow to compete with robots who will supersede us by developing their own algorithms. The group took turns regurgitating arguments they’d picked up from different podcasts while I took a giant swig of my wine cooler and felt a tingling feeling on my forearms. The cool, sugary liquid settled in my stomach like warm bathwater and I felt my shoulders relax into the rattan patio furniture. I laughed to myself: A drunken housefly.
As the evening waned, Eric flexed his intellectual athleticism across a variety of topics from feminism to cyber security to Sapiens — his latest vacation read on the brief history of humankind. Jerrod countered from his reformed Evangelical perspective, managing to somehow always return back to his conflicted childhood sexual awakening with a gym sock he called Lilah. Emma cackled and began to roll another joint in a surgical manner that always secretly impressed me. Soon, we all said goodnight and Jonathan and I went back to our room. He began stroking my arm, but I wasn’t in the mood.
“Have a hit of this,” he offered, holding up the damp, spaghetti-thin joint.
“No thanks,” I said. In my mind, everything would have to be just right. I would have to be well-rested, hydrated, my eyebrows plucked. I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it. Anyone can smoke now, it’s right there at the checkout, next to the gum. Sometimes it is the gum. My mom chews it all the time and I can tell because she smiles more easily and can garden for hours. I suppose I worried that if I really relaxed, I would have to lie down and rest forever, but if I just kept moving, I’d never have to stop, not long enough to ask what all the moving was for anyway. I was trying to outrun myself. Strangely, this seemed like the easier option.
The next morning, I woke up alone and assumed that Jonathan went upstairs to make coffee or meditate. I wandered up half-asleep, and caught the group whispering as they packed their things.
“Where are you guys going?” I asked. John looked down at his flip-flops.
“I left you a note,” he said, “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“We’re headed to the beach,” said Emma, balancing a plate of cookies against her hip.
“Emma picked up some edibles this morning. We know it’s not your thing,” said Jerrod.
“I don’t mind, I’ll just read a book or something! I’ll be ready in a minute. Go on, I’ll catch up,” I said. I could almost hear their thoughts: What a buzzkill.
I shuffled down the narrow alleys trailing the group, trying my best to be laid back and non-judgmental, but I couldn’t help scoffing silently at the latest crop of tourists who had just arrived by ferry. My few days on the island had turned me into something of a local, I overcompensated for my sense of superiority by waving to people at random.
By the time we reached the beach I could tell the mood had changed. The group had gathered in shallow water and tossed around a ball. Each time one of them threw it, the others would erupt in full-bellied laughter for no apparent reason. When Emma threw the ball to no one in particular, and it bounced off the side of Jerrod’s head, their laughter turned to heaves; big body spasms of laughter that made the still water ripple in joyful waves. I got up and yelled out to Jonathan, hoping he’d notice me and ask me to join in, but he was in his own world, a sensory carnival I could not access on account of my being a total drag.
On my third “Jonathan!” I gave up. Then I gave in. I unwrapped the plate of cookies and stuffed two into my mouth. I was tired of being a drag. I, too, wanted to laugh until I peed.
I sat and waited. After a few minutes, I felt a heat rising in my chest but couldn’t tell if it was actual heat or a sign of something mystical percolating inside of me. I had so little to go on. After a half hour, I got bored and worried it wasn’t working. I tried Googling how long does it take–? but typing suddenly felt impossible so I put my phone down and looked up, the gigantic palms appeared to be waving at me, hello, old friend! I waved back, giggling hysterically.
I suddenly noticed how the air itself was breathing, as if we were taking turns breathing into and out of each other, and this, too, made me laugh uncontrollably. I noticed Eric, now totally transfixed by the lush meadow of hair follicles on his forearms, undulating to the tune of the song coming from our speaker. Emma and Jerrod sat waist-deep in the water, looking forward. They weren’t speaking, yet they seemed to be communicating through the ripples like some kind of Morse code. Jonathan was in the distance, walking deliberately towards nowhere in particular. It seemed impossible to catch up to him. I could not look directly at him, he was like the sun. I felt an inhuman love well up in me. It was too big and unbearable. I had to look away.
I felt compelled to wander away from the group, trusting that should I need them, they would materialise in front of me, in the form of a crow or a heavy rock. I couldn’t believe how resistant I had been, how afraid. Afraid of what, exactly? There was no longer a me to monitor my mood; in place of me was pure being, a witness to reality. What a relief. The reducing valve of my mind had opened and I became porous. Everything dissolved into a banquet of vivid colours and patterns that danced across the trees. A little boy with big emerald eyes ran towards the receding tide then skittered away as it rushed in. I wanted to join him until I heard his mother call out, a skinny woman with fake breasts held up by a complex tapestry of loose crochet thread. I felt a deep sadness in my gut for her mutilated form, sliced and carved into a mirage of some old man’s fever dream.
I kept walking, past the port-o-potties and further into the forest and landed on a particularly exquisite display of mulch to rest. I could feel my sadness writhing out of me, up my throat and into my hands as a giant gob of spit. I stared at the gob and released it onto the dried leaves and sticks as I would no longer be needing it from now on. Without my sadness, I felt light. I must have stayed there for hours because when I got up, the sun was just about to set. I brushed the sticks off and wandered back when I was stopped by an elderly couple who asked if I could take their photo. I couldn’t seem to do it — whenever I tried, I just kept photographing the sun, which was more magnificent than their grey, marbled faces. I tried three times until they started getting angry at me, showing me how to point the camera in their direction. I told them I was sorry, then showed them a photo of the sun, trying to prove my point.
Once I returned back to the beach, I noticed Jonathan running towards me with big, glassy eyes. Once he got closer I could see, he had been crying.
“I thought you were lost!” he said, breathlessly, “I was looking all over for you!”
“I’m sorry!” I said grinning, “I ate two cookies.”
“Are you okay? I was worried!” he said, “We all were!” I imagined the slow, uncoordinated search party. How they’d tire themselves out doing laps around their towels, making shapes in the sand with the sticks and stopping periodically to observe a ladybug or the fault lines of their own palms. The thought of it made me howl. I let out a long, soundless laugh and gripped my stomach in an ecstatic cramp, as if it took me my whole life, but I finally got the joke. My butt unclenched and let out a tiny squeal. At that moment, Jonathan lost it; he shrieked with a laugh so muscular, a startled baby cried in the distance. Neither of us could speak, we just stood there, snot-nosed and laughing, making strange inhuman sounds with our throats. I knew that when I stopped, I would tell him everything. That I wasn’t afraid. That I’m glad he waited for me. I was glad, so glad. I was having the time of my life.