There are some places in the world that hold your memories as if they were people. A few of mine: the Wiccan shop that used to be in a basement storefront on West 81st Street, where a woman with long red hair and her HIV-positive best friend sold me candles and helped me figure out how to survive being a teenager. A terrible dive bar in the Valley called The Green Frog, where I learned to play darts and that I should never drink Jack Daniels. The entire town of Ogunquit, Maine, where I hunted for hermit crabs on the rocks at five, ate Strawberry Shortcake and lobster rolls on rickety wooden patios at fifteen, and then walked down a flower-lined aisle buzzing with mosquitoes (one of which was busy investigating my right eyelid) towards my husband at twenty-seven.
And the Cayman Islands; maybe there most of all.
It’s the places where we vacation when we’re kids that always get us through the heart, isn’t it? I wish I had some wise thoughts that might explain why, but the best I can come up with is that our vacations let us be our purest selves at whatever age we’re at, while still giving us permission to dip our toes into what came before and what’s still to come. We get to hold on to our childhoods by playing in the sand just a little bit longer, and also get to have our first kisses just a little bit too soon. We get to play miniature golf with our parents, and hug them back when they hug us even though we think we’re supposed to be too old for hugs – because really, who’s watching?
Walking around here, on the island where my parents took me on school vacation nearly every year since I was a little kid, the memories feel like they’re crouching behind every corner, flooding in on smells and bird calls and signs posted by the side of the road. I sit down under a manchineel tree on Seven Mile Beach and remember watching my father go off on his open water diving test, so angry – despondent, even – that I wasn’t allowed to go too, because I was only ten. I wiggle my mask onto my face, take a giant stride into the ocean, and remember the nineteen-year-old dive instructor, Ben, who I decided that I was completely in love with (terrible idea, honestly; please don’t ever fall in love with a nineteen-year-old dive instructor if you can help it), and how one night he and his friends and I walked out to to the very end of a long, low dock. There was a hurricane brewing somewhere way off the coast, and the sea was so high that it lapped over the wood while we sat there cross-legged, drinking our Caybrews. In the pitch black, it felt like we were floating.
Mostly, though, my memories here are of my parents – because the cast of supporting characters (a cool mom-of-two who we salsa dance with every night; a gap-toothed waiter who tells us stories about everywhere he’s been; a sweet older couple sitting next to us at dinner) changes from year to year, but really: it’s always just been the three of us.
I was anxious about the idea of going away on a vacation with my parents. Because of the usual internal monologue (“Oh, I really shouldn’t be going on a trip without my kids/whatever will Kendrick do without me/guilt guilt guilt terrible parent so selfish etc etc”), but also because I was anxious about writing about this trip, and when you write about your life every day it’s pretty hard to skip over a little thing like being out of the country for a week. I rarely skip mentioning anything, but I considered skipping mentioning this. Posting old photos to Instagram, that kind of thing.
Truth? I didn’t want to have to justify my choice to anyone. I didn’t want any online strangers who couldn’t possibly understand why I was here (for good reason, because I haven’t been especially forthcoming about it) – to yell at me for sitting on a beach with a rum runner next to my mom and dad. Call me lazy, spoiled, a bad parent. Obnoxious comments rarely get to me anymore, but when I’m already conflicted about something they virtually always hit home – and deciding to go on a vacation alone with my parents seemed like a kind of weird thing to do. It felt weird to me, anyway. And now my parents are on a plane flying back to New York City, and I’m sitting alone in a hotel room because my flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning, and I’m crying because I hadn’t realized until now just how much I’d been missing them.
When I close my eyes and try to conjure up my parents on the TV screen in my head, it’s usually the same handful of images. Side-by-side on our motorcycles up by Bear Mountain, sitting on a porch somewhere in Maine with dogeared thrillers in our hands, a late-night stop for French fries at a gas station in Texas. In the Caymans, there’s my dad gesturing towards the unreachable zipper in between his shoulder blades (“Jordan, get my wetsuit off”), clapping me on the shoulder like an old buddy while he says to someone or another, “This is my daughter. We dive together.” There’s my mom, in the shade of another machineel tree, reading one book, and then another, and then another. She gets hot and wades semi-reluctantly into the water, and then sort of dog-paddles around with her head lifted above the surface so she doesn’t have to blow-dry her hair again later. Dad and I laugh about it, and she rolls her eyes and pretends to be annoyed, but she laughs, too.
I think I thought that these were all the memories I’d end up with. Or at least that any new ones from now on would be of my mom and dad being grandparents; the kids taking center stage while my parents grow into their new roles and I grow into mine.
I was wrong. I have more memories now; brand-new ones that are just for us. And when I close my eyes, now I see these, too.