I've never really been the vacationing type.
I have a number of handy excuses for this personality flaw. My work schedule generally precludes me from making elaborate travel plans. I don't see the need to travel to some distant beach to sit in the sun and read bad books when I can do that on my couch at home, blessedly free of body-image problems. And the hundreds, even thousands, of dollars required for taking any worthwhile trip could always be spent on other things: books, video games, clothes, kitchen gadgets.
You know, the important stuff.
As a result, my vacations have tended toward the practical, generally the result of tacking a couple extra days on a business trip to Miami or some such. More recently, I've found that I can easily justify vacation-like trips in the context of playing tennis tournaments, which just feels healthier and more productive than touring gay bars and larding up at overpriced restaurants. The added advantage is that my partner, Cavin, plays as well, so we've mixed in trips to New York City, Rehoboth Beach and Louisville in the spirit of competition.
That was our original plan for the 2004 Fourth of July holiday: a cross-country trip to play the Seattle Evergreen tournament. A late-occurring back injury I sustained put the kibosh on those plans, but with airline tickets and discounted hotel bookings already in hand, Cavin and I decided to make it our first shared, non-tennis-oriented vacation.
And I lived every moment leading up to it in mortal terror that the trip would be the end of our still-young relationship. I'd heard the stories: Vacations are the beginning of the end for even the happiest of couples, as the stressors of air travel, sight-seeing itineraries and petty argumentation conspire to crush true love under the millstone of relaxation.
It should come as no surprise that things started off badly, and went downhill. We forgot our pricey digital camera, so were forced to buy a couple of crap-ass Kodak disposables to document our joy. Transcontinental coach flights are guaranteed to exacerbate tennis injuries, and my resulting back pain led me to new heights of self-medication with powerful painkillers and muscle relaxants. Cavin picked up a cold on the way out that stayed for the whole week.
I'm a long-time Seattle lover, and had hoped to share my pleasant memories of the city with Cavin. He, naturally, was pretty much an instant Seattle hater, bemoaning the weather, the sights and the food in equal measure.
A day trip to Vancouver sounded like an opportunity for vacation salvage. Instead, we couldn't find the sights we planned to see, my back left me spasming and angry in the passenger seat of the car, and a large chunk of the trip was spent dealing with U.S. Customs. (Just you try re-entering the United States these days with a naturalized-citizen, non-Caucasian, homosexual boyfriend who left his passport at home.)
Then, over dinner at a French restaurant on Capitol Hill, Cavin shook his head in frustration and said, ''We're such different people.''
My terror was justified. We were obviously just one short step away from, ''It's not you, it's me.''
Then, near the end of the week-long sadistic sojourn, we decided on one more day trip: Mt. Rainier. Trying like hell to pull together a cheerful mood on my part, I popped all but one of my remaining pain pills. (I had to have something left for the flight back.) We scaled the mountain in our rented Buick sedan, the most nerve-wracking drive I've ever undertaken -- it's as if they've completely adopted the Star Wars design aesthetic of ''the higher you go, the fewer the railings.'' But it was genuinely one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
We stopped to admire crystal lakes nestled in the forests below, stood on the banks of old, flood-ravaged rivers, and packed summer snowballs outside the resort hotel closest to the peak. We played at tossing each other off of the mile-high lookout points, and we were actually joking, which was an improvement given that Cavin would likely have tossed my ass off the Space Needle the day before if he were able to snatch and lift me. But when we were up there in the mountain's thin air, things started to feel right again -- we could be different people but still be in love. That was when I knew the vacation had been survived.
So, Mt. Rainier is the mountain that saved my marriage. Or, more precisely, the mountain that saved my mutually-exclusive, significant relationship with a person of the same sex, at least until I get around to registering at Williams-Sonoma, court rulings be damned. The grainy Kodak pictures are my little reminder that even when things feel like they're spinning out of control and will never feel good again, things can happen that open your eyes to what's right in front of you.