I tried really hard not to go there.
Where? A luxury hotel on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, our family’s destination of choice for roughly twenty of the past twenty-seven Christmases. “Twenty-seven’s” not just a number I plucked out of the air. My daughter, Anna, is advancing towards twenty-eight, and we started going there when she was six months old.
Why did we go there so often?
It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable because it’s familiar. And it’s relaxing, and it’s easy. Mostly because it’s comfortable and familiar.
A magnificent setting. A fifteen-minute walk to a multiplex. The food is good. The bathrooms in the rooms have separate sinks. (Trust me. This can extend a marriage.)
And yet, I did not want to go there.
I explained one of the more troubling reasons in “Bad Date.”
I met a guy at this hotel several visits ago who, when we got home, invited me to a hockey game. I had very little fun that night, even though, among the activities that took place was an actual hockey game, which I love. So you can imagine how little I enjoyed the rest of what happened.
The guy was oppressively controlling. I’m a grown person, at least chronologically. That night, I felt like I was an eight year-old, being bossed around by an overbearing uncle whose decision-making rights stemmed exclusively from the fact that he was the one who had paid for the tickets. Plus, he was bigger than me. This guy was bigger too. Though I, almost certainly, was older.
Though the experience had been uncomfortable, being kind, or wimpy – your pick – I’d assured the guy we would “do it again.” The years passed. I never called him. And he never knew why.
Rather than face an embarrassing run-in, I directed our family vacations to alternate destinations, under the guise of “We need a change.” Three years ago, we Christmased in New York City, two years ago, it was a different Hawaiian island – Maui – and on the Christmas before the most recent one, we vacationed on the “Big Island”, called Hawaii, which is admittedly confusing, because the island group in its entirety is also called Hawaii. I guess it’s hard coming up with individual names for things when your alphabet only has twelve letters in it. (A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P and W.)
Anyway, this year, I gave in. I guess I had run out of “better” ideas. Plus, deep down, I really like the place.
I was concerned that I’d run into the guy (at which point, in an effort to assuage the hurt feelings, I’d agree to go to another hockey game with him.)
Momentarily released from guilt and recrimination, however, I pondered the realistic likelihood of a repeat encounter. It had been four years now. People move on. They try other places. We did. Why wouldn’t they? (The guy and his wife.)
Snap out of it, Earlo! Enjoy the trip. Relax. Think tropical thoughts. Mele kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) and haouli makahiki hou. (Happy New Year.)
Okay, I decide.
Christmas morning. A car shuttles us to the airport. The check-in is easy. We wait by the gate. Our Flight Number is called. We line up to board.
I’m gettin’ excited. I’m goin’ to Hawaii.
I step into the plane, and turn to head down to our seats.
The guy’s sitting in the front row.
We haven’t even left town yet. And it’s already happened.
His wife flashes a glistening “I know you!” smile. (She’s apparently in the dark.) My right hand’s holding “Carry-on.” The guy shakes my left hand as I pass.
Anna, observing from a distance – convulsed in laughter – later describes the man’s demeanor as “stoic.” Though no words had been exchanged, a smoldering grievance was unquestionably on the books.
We spotted him at Baggage Claim. We glimpsed him checking in, and also at the breakfast buffet. He seemed to be everywhere. A looming presence. Thankfully, however, there was no interaction.
The week passes. No explosions. No clearing the air. No cathartic heart-to-heart. (I had repeatedly rehearsed my prepared lines in my head: “Nothing personal. It was just a bad fit.” Fortunately, I was not called on to perform.)
It was over. I would never see him again, and that would be that.
We get on the plane to go home.
He’s in the front row again.
Or so I was told later. He was seated to my left, and my left eye is my second best one, when it comes to vision.
I passed by without acknowledgement. It was not a statement of any kind. I simply didn’t see him.
But now I bet the guy hates me even more.
Our vacation was a minimally eventful success. Snippets of the experience: