By Elise Seyfried
It’s a glorious, sunny morning on my son Evan’s lanai (porch) in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am simultaneously balancing a laptop and a mug of Kona coffee, gazing out at the magnificent ocean view, and pinching myself (picture that if you will). I cannot believe I am here. The whole time Evan’s been stationed in the Navy at Pearl Harbor, I figured there was no way I’d ever be able to visit him. Then my daughter Rosie picked up stakes and moved to Seattle in February, so there were two kids I could no longer see.
Suddenly, miraculously, everything changed. I found myself booking an itinerary that would take me to both Evan and Rose in the same trip. I was going to Oahu with an overnight layover, both ways, in Seattle! A win-win situation.
The manic preparations began. I packed enough for a seven-month stay, which was great except that I was only staying seven days. So I unpacked two-thirds of it and was ready to go. True to form, I left oodles of instructions for everyone while I was gone. Would anyone at church remember to set out crayons, as well as paper, for the Easter breakfast craft table? Better make a note of that! Would Julie remember to feed her fish, as she has without prompting for the last year and a half? Better remind her five or six times! The madness continued as we pulled out of the driveway en route to Philadelphia International Airport, me still calling out directives (Trash pickup Friday! Unplug the iron after use!) until the family chorused, en masse, “Will you please shut up?” (That darned family! See, they miss me already!)
So began the longest solo trek I have ever made. No travel companion at the airport, in the sky, in the hotel room. No one to share the exasperation of rain delays and a missed connection. No one to toast when the flight attendant passed out the complimentary mai tais over the Pacific. I read a book and couldn’t concentrate. I longed to sleep and couldn’t doze off. Try as I might, I couldn’t shut off the boring, droning voice inside my head. Who had invited ME along, anyway? What a drag! After 54 years of busy-ness and more or less constant company, I came face to face with a cold, hard fact: I’d rather be with somebody, ANYbody, than be alone.
After a brief but great visit with Rosie, I proceeded to Hawaii. The first hours were wonderfully full of treats and distractions: Evan greeted me with a beautiful orchid lei; we took an evening stroll at Waikiki and had a long catch-up talk over dinner. With relief I plunged back into the world of other people. But Evan is on duty today, and I am once again on my own. This will be the pattern for most of the days I am here. Amazingly, a visit from his mommy did not much impress the US Navy. If I drive him to Pearl Harbor, I can have the car and explore the island during the hours he’s at work.
So where should I go? To Kailua Beach? Hike Diamond Head? Find a local farmers’ market? Do I even know what I want? Have I ever before shut off my auto-pilot, paused in my dance of actions and reactions with others to find out? It’s so scary; I’d much rather join a horde of camera-wielding Japanese tourists on a bus to anywhere than set off to somewhere with only Elise. Elise, who dogs my footsteps like an annoying identical twin, she who talks too much and reflects too little. Elise who, left to her own devices, doesn’t have the first clue what to do. It seems that what I’d really love is a vacation from me — and I can’t have one.
So here I sit on the lanai, a stranger (to myself) in Paradise. It won’t be easy to change the habits of a lifetime, but I realize I just can’t afford to waste these few golden days. I take another sip of coffee and a deep breath and make a choice. I will head on out, somewhere, alone. Since I can’t shed myself like a snakeskin, I will use this time to get acquainted with the inhabitant of my body and to make my peace with her. Soon I’ll be home again, with the million sounds of my jam-packed life to drown out my own voice once more. Until that happens, though, I pray I can listen to that unique voice without automatic dislike. Find a way to actually relish being solitary.
May this be the week I finally learn to tolerate, and perhaps even enjoy being with, the person I am. And who knows? I just may leave Honolulu with a brand new friend. Me.