On Vacation Friends
Shopping malls sometimes have play areas for kids, like a less-exciting but just as dirty McDonald’s PlayPlace. My mom never let us play on those. I recall her once having an experience where she encountered poop in a public ball pit when one of my brothers was young. I could be making this up, but something significant happened and I don’t really remember.
One year for my grandpa’s birthday, my extended family went on a cruise that stopped in Florida and the Bahamas. I was in fifth grade and it was the first time I had kind of been out of the country, as the Bahamas half-counts.
My brother and I — the youngest was still in diapers — pleaded with my mom to take us to the kids’ club. I was much more fascinated by the architecture of it all than I was making friends or meeting cute boys to kiss in the corners behind giant, plastic water slides that resembled palm trees. My mom didn’t want to sign us up for the program. This is a family vacation, she’d insist. We claimed we wanted to play and begged and whined when we were denied the right to, but in reality, I don’t think we minded.
For the first thirteen years of my life, maybe even more, I made up the most fantastical love stories in my mind just by looking at ‘the boy over there.’ He was a million boys, he was always there, and I was always looking. He was even in the ball pit at the kids’ club! But I never, ever said a word. It’s likely that I am who I am today because I’m trying to live out the laundry list of my middle school dreams with boys who are now broader and have more armpit hair.
Now that I know how to talk to strangers about things like summer camp and college and who-do-you-know la di da, I’ve developed a theory for my childhood weakness and it is called the Vacation Friends Problem. Similarly to how there are two types of girls — those who are openly insane and those who hide their insanity — there are two types of people: those who make vacation friends, and those who don’t.
Having the ability to make vacation friends is one of the most determining characteristics of a person. You either have the chutzpah as a young, overweight fourth grader in a tie-dye tankini to walk over to that skinny blonde girl who’s not so afraid of the ocean and say “hi,” or you don’t. And instead, you just sit in the sand and dig holes to try and find hermit crabs because you’re too lazy to make a sand castle and you better relate to introverted creatures, anyway.
I’ve spoken to people about it before. “I always make friends on vacation.” “My sister makes vacation friends, but I never did when I was little.” “People think my brother and I are dating because we only ever speak to each other in public places.” (If you couldn’t tell, the last anecdote was mine.)
Eventually you just get so old that everywhere you go, you know everybody someway or somehow and it doesn’t matter if you can make vacation friends or not. I’m always jealous of the people who made vacations friends because I never really could. And I’m still waiting to see if my Vacation Friends Problem is going to haunt me in different ways for the rest of my life. I’m sure I will. Like one day when I don’t get the job promotion I want, I’m going to be like, “Fuck, I should have been the kind of child who made vacation friends.”