Is there room for relaxation?
My husband Jared and I traveled to a resort in Mexico last week in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary. I lounged by the pool one afternoon, my legs stretched long toward cresting Pacific waves—an admission of luxury that feels nearly shameful—as I sipped a mojito. Mint leaves floated in the beverage before succumbing to the liquid, soaking it up, and ascending through the straw.
As the herb-turned-pulp landed on my tongue, I told Jared I wanted to go back to the hotel room and write. “When I taste mint,” I explained, “I’m back in Hockley.”
Hockley, Texas, is the name of my hometown. “Town” might even be a bit of a generous descriptor for the acres of cattle-grazing that surrounded my childhood home. Perhaps a touch overstating of the white clapboard churches, the roads without lane lines on the pavement, the country store so decrepit that a piece of metal framing nearly sliced my mom’s face as she opened a freezer door for a half gallon of Blue Bell.
Jared and I made our way back to the rented space we called home for six nights: a sandy tiled suite with a balcony-for-two overlooking the ocean. I settled onto the white-linened bed, pushed my mojito’s straw aside, and put my lips to the rim of the cup. As I closed my eyes and took a sip, Hockley fell into my mind.
I saw the speckled fawn that my little sisters found nestled beneath yellow and white honeysuckle blossoms, the green rubber boots from Lands’ End we wore to avoid the ankle bites of copperheads, the stack of firewood that my dad kept well-supplied behind our small shed. I heard the crunch of dry summer grass beneath my feet. I felt the prickly leaves that used to brush my arms as I absentmindedly wandered too close to the corner hedge lining the pathway that led to our best friends’ house.
The path through the woods not only led to our friends’ home but to their garden that boasted soft pink roses, basil, and, of course, mint. Once, maybe more than once, we enjoyed a weekend breakfast in the garden. Our mothers stretched out patchwork quilts for us to sit on—or did they place a picnic table between beds of flowers and herbs?
My memory of the morning looks like a hazy collage in my mind—is that glimpse of a Victorian pattern the delicate corner of a blanket or the full square of a napkin? Did the five of us girls dress up in tea party dresses (and force the lone boy among us into something like newsboy-esque suspenders), or did we wear our pajamas? Did the rose bushes surrounding us hold the Beauty-and-the-Beast-type magic they seemed to, or did I simply have an imagination that could not be quieted, the same imagination that over twenty years later swept me away from sunbathing and into a writer’s trance?
I know for certain, or as certain as any childhood memory can be, that our mothers brought out plates of eggs, fruit, and bacon. I know they plucked herbs right then and there to sprinkle atop our feast. And I know that even back then, in my childhood mind, I understood that a garden breakfast evoked a strange celestial romanticism, a sort of fairy-tale-like etherealness that seemed, in the moment, as plain as the perfectly fluffy eggs we ate. I knew that the picnic didn’t just bring the celestial and ethereal to us only for a morning, but also hinted of an always-out-there layer to the world too often ignored.
Moments of luxury, tastes of the goodness of life, have always taunted me with shame and confusion. The opulence alone can do me in—who actually needs twenty-four-hour room service? How come I get to take a vacation and others don’t? Why does the taste of herbs bring me back to a mystical childhood memory, when the only frame of reference under-resourced preschoolers have for fresh herbs is the smell of oregano on pizza?
The burden of what to do with luxury—Avoid it entirely? Figure out some way to steward it? Just give in to it?—strains me plenty. But perhaps the greater pressure comes from the push I feel to bear witness to what I see, taste, and feel in moments of decadence, and to do so through writing. I can, quite easily, tell you stories of the hard things. But the stories of the good things, where do they fit? How do I write them in a way that doesn’t cancel out the wisdom found in the darkness? And why do I assume they would in the first place?
Mint on my tongue at age eight and at thirty, a childhood garden breakfast and an adulthood beach vacation—I’m not trying to make them the whole of what I write, much less the whole of who I am. Yet I still shy away from testifying to their beauty and corresponding truths because I fear that nods to happiness will make me unsafe for those who find themselves surrounded by sadness. I loathe the thought of forgetting the valleys while standing atop mountains, of sacrificing honesty on the altar of vague positivity.
But the mint and the garden and the ocean, the glimpses of scattered memory and the moments of luxury and rest and extraordinary, they have truth telling to do too. We’ll see, I suppose, if I can let them. They bear witness to a longing for home.