My inbox is full of travel offers luring me to far off places with sandy beaches, umbrella drinks, spa services and the promise of renewal. My daughter Emily and I had agreed in June when it seemed like the coronavirus was on the wane that we would take a long “girls’ weekend” together, just the two of us, after the year we had endured. We would pamper ourselves, and regroup. We would find a sandy beach, and an umbrella drink, and a massage, preferably in a chic, out of the way resort.
Since the previous summer there had been three family deaths — none from COVID, thank goodness, but all devastating nonetheless. Our group texts had lit up seven times with news of an emergency room visit, each one culminating in a lengthy hospitalization, again, none from COVID, but all exacerbated by it. My other daughter had lost a twin in utero and given birth prematurely to his brother. Luckily, his NICU stay had been short, but throughout her difficult pregnancy and postpartum period none of us could be of assistance, again, thanks to COVID. Both Emily and her husband had navigated virtual teaching, while also awaiting his delayed tenure decision. Again, thanks to COVID. All of our extended family had been quarantine compliant, and by this time we had missed so many holidays, birthdays and assorted life events that we wondered if we would ever all be together again.
So, Emily and I decided on early October — someplace in the Caribbean, someplace quiet, luxe, a splurge. And then came Delta. All plans were off. In a sense we dodged a bullet.
I binge watched The White Lotus series this weekend. On the one hand, Emily and I are a far cry from Olivia and Nicole Mossbacher, the supercilious mother and daughter vacationers in this dramedy about a Hawaiian island resort staffed by frustrated, mistreated and sometimes betrayed staffers. As the New York Times put it, “Mike White’s one-percenters satire for HBO is a sun-soaked tale of money, death and customer service.” Rich people pretending to be woke, marriages frayed by a loss of trust but stitched together out of convenience if not outright cynicism, exploitation of the native inhabitants, the worst excesses of self-delusion and self-destruction, they are all there.
Why watch then? Because the ensemble cast is brilliant, the scenery is gorgeous, the writing is pinpoint accurate about the foibles of the well-to-do, the neurotic narcissists who run our world or wish to, and their damaged, overentitled progeny. There is a cruelty to their pleasure seeking, their need to dominate, the sense in which there is never enough luxury, never enough distinction, never enough understanding on the part of the staff that these guests are there to reinforce their own need to feel special, enlightened, unquestioned.
They were indeed, like the lotus eaters of Greek mythology — a race of people so addicted to eating the fruits and flowers of the lotus plant that they lolled in apathy, desiring only their next fix, drawing even the unwitting into their hedonism.
Is this what Emily and I wanted, if on a B or C list property rather than the elegant tropical paradise that is The White Lotus? For all of our difficulties over the last year, for all of the heartache, the loss, the strain, we are still the lucky ones. We are not unemployed, homeless, about to be evicted, facing daunting unpaid medical bills, doing without heat, or air conditioning or even electricity either from a natural disaster or the whims of a utility company judging us in arrears.
At its root, our desire to get away was a need to, just for a few days, be taken care of, be liberated from our caregiving responsibilities. She, the mother of a pandemic toddler, I the wife — now widow — of an endstage cancer patient, WE WERE JUST EXHAUSTED.
And now, three months later, a bit refreshed, we have agreed that when it is safe to do so we will spend a weekend day together doing what we please — perhaps a museum and a lunch and a mani/pedi, or a massage and a movie. It will be enough to be together without responsibilities for just a few hours, enjoying each other’s company, nurturing ourselves and each other, helping the city that we love get back on its feet rather than traveling to a far off isle, where dark forces of exploitation may await beneath the palm fronds, with overindulgence served on platters at poolside. It will be enough.