New parents try to go on vacation - what could go wrong? Pt. 2
A fictional story not at all based on real life. Part two of two.
IMPORTANT: If you haven’t yet read Part One of this two part story, please do so now! This won’t make much sense without reading that first!
Note from the author
Below is Part Two of a story of a man - Hank - and his wife Helen, their baby son, and their dog Milt.
It is a story of conflict, family, and - in Hank’s opinion, though Helen would disagree - a wrongful accusation of somebody being a sex offender.
This story is most definitely NOT based on my life or the recent family vacation we took to Malibu. Not at all.
The Third Argument
Hours pass. Helen takes the baby and nestles him in her bosom so that he may sleep. This is, by the way, the first time I've felt like I could accurately and appropriately use the word bosom. (the word also means an intimate or confidential, example: a bosom friend.)
And I am still sitting in the sand, direct sun oozing into my skin, all according to plan. I have been chugging water to stay hydrated and now the chicken has come to roost: I need to pee.
I do find it weird to write pee in an essay of this scope, this heft, this gravitas, but there really is no better word. I am not about to say 'urinate' (too formal) or 'piss' (too vulgar), and so pee is all that's left. Plus that's what I would say if I was telling you this story in person, something I can no longer do because I'm in jail. As a sex offender. Just kidding. Or am I?
My instinct is to find a place to pee nearby. Even though I know there are porta-potties somewhere in the far distance, I do not want to go to them. They are far too far and I have followed the rules for far too long. I need to make a stand.
I look behind our tent at the seawall separating the beach from the parking lot. It's a few feet high and has a few sparse bushes and plants, a couple slight indentations that I could theoretically hide behind and pee.
Lauren (note to editor: change this to Helen so people know this story isn’t about me and Lauren) is, at this point, nowhere to be seen.
I take a look at the surroundings. There is a family that's parked their belongings far too close to us given how much space there is on the beach that day. They are a mystery unto themselves: there is a man, he is 50 or so, and there are two children under the age of eight. And then there are two women - one is about 50 to 60 years old, and the other is anywhere from 20 to 30, which begs the question: who is the mother of these two children? Is it the younger woman whose tan can best be described as "very yellow"? Which makes the older woman the grandmother? Or is the older woman the mother of three kids, the oldest of which an angsty college student who wants to layer her fake tan with a real tan from the beach.
Besides this conundrum of a family over whom I spend far too much time debating for the whole day, there is really no one else around. Helen would want me to say here - there were a few other people around, like the family who had just arrived with the cute black puppy who was terrified of the water, but they weren't really around around, if that makes sense.
Regardless, I assess the situation and determine, as an adult male who is often the only person standing between my baby and death, that the coast is clear. I tell our dog Milty to stay put, which I know he will because he's scared of everything including and especially the sun, and I begin my journey toward the sandy seawall.
My head on a swivel, I watch to see how my approach affects the beach. Does anyone stir? Gawk? Whisper to their loved ones that the shirtless man over there is looking like he's about to pee right there on the beach? Nay.
I also confirm that there is no one up on the parking lot coming down to the beach. The coast is, and I cannot stress this enough, clear, which is also what my pee would be in mere seconds if it weren’t for Helen, who I now see walking toward me from the water.
She is approaching at a rapid clip with our baby nestled, asleep, in her aforementioned bosom.
Because the baby is sleeping, the heated conversation we are about to have takes place entirely through the mouthing of words and hand signals.
First Helen mouths the words "what are you doing?"
To which I mouth back "peeing".
She moves toward me and whispers, "what?"
And I mouth, more slowly and dramatically, "peeing".
This doesn't help because she mouths "what?" again.
Having no choice, I decide to mime what I'm trying to say by holding up my index finger and making an arcing motion with it down into the ground as if to say - this is how I will be peeing if you would just stop asking me and drawing attention to what was going to be a fairly covert mission.
Her eyes bulge ever so slightly, the sort of change only your partner of 10+ years would ever notice, and then she makes the single hand motion that takes me over the edge.
She looks up at me and raises an index finger of her own. A second of pause that feels like an eternity, and then she makes the "come hither" motion at me, the bend of the finger toward her that makes her look like a grade school teacher ready to punish me for, once again - the third time actually, not following instructions on the playground (the first and second times are chronicled in Part One of this story).
I cannot say what it was about this motion exactly, but I become inflamed with rage. Enraged, even.
I storm toward her and she says, still in a whisper so the baby who is our light and joy and still resting in her bosom does not wake, "what are you doing?"
And I reply, whisper screaming: "I was going to pee over there."
To which she, no longer my wife but a two headed hydra made up of equal parts my mother and my first grade teacher Mrs. Trykowsky who had a special area of the chalkboard with my name permanently on it listing how many times I had to stay inside during recess, says "really? here? out in the open?"
And there it is. All of my plans, my careful analysis of the situation, all turned to dust. To sand.
"Why can't you just go to the porta potties right over there" she whispers, pointing with the same finger she used for the 'come hither' motion a few seconds prior.
I have once again been thwarted in my plans to be a free man who does not need to follow the rules at every turn. But I do not capitulate. I do not say sorry, I do not in fact say anything at all.
I storm off like a small child, age three or so, temper tantrum in full swing.
I hear Helen say my name, but I do not turn back.
She says one more thing at me which I can’t hear because of the waves and also because she’s whisper screaming it in my direction. All I hear, distinctly, is the word "sex".
I walk right past the scene of the 'crime' - the seawall - and right past a family that was heading down the steps onto the beach (I had not noticed them earlier though upon a quick inspection I am sure that they would not have minded seeing a man, turned away from them, peeing into the sand).
I huff and puff my way toward the porta potties, livid about what has just happened. My agency, my freedom! I’ve been robbed of both.
We came to this country to pee where we wanted. And now look at us.
I have been emasculated in front of the ocean and my son (who I believe is still sleeping at this point but I cannot be sure because I will not, under any circumstance, turn back toward Helen, seething as I am), not to mention the family nearby and the new puppy and many more people who, yes though they were on the beach, seriously would never have noticed me peeing and even if they did notice why would they care?
So what am I supposed to do, go to the porta potty like a good boy because Helen my mother told me to? No sir.
I storm through the parking lot which infuriates me all the more because NO ONE CAN PARK THERE. IT IS EMPTY.
This vacation is a haunted hellscape, I realize, each joy hiding within it a dark secret that will ruin your day.
Fuck it. I walk toward some bushes at the far side of the parking lot closest to the steep hill up to the PCH. My body has taken over now, mind is blank, desire for freedom the only objective.
And then I pee. Into the bushes. Not into the portapotty like a boy but into the bushes, like a man.
It feels good for a moment, probably because I really needed to pee, but it does not last. Though I have rebelled, I am not happy.
And so I keep walking, further from our tent, past the portapotties to the edge of the beach where I walk back onto the beach itself.
In the wet sand I see the young woman who may be a 30 year old mom with two young children or a 20 year old with two younger siblings from earlier.
She is caught between two worlds, just as I am. And here we both are, at the edge of the beach, the world pushing us one way - me toward the life of family and rules and she toward a fight for her independence, either because of her two kids or because she is now finally out of the house and going to college.
We make eye contact and smile at one another, knowingly. Life is cruel, we say with our whole beings, but what can we do?
I kick up the sand like you would in a cartoon, but she has turned away.
I walk back toward our tent, barely holding onto any vestiges of self esteem left in my bones.
The waves crash, we live, we die.
Approaching our beach tent, I see Helen, our baby and our dog.
Helen and I stare at each other. A game of chicken - who will speak first?
A few seconds more during which I believe that we both apologize to the other with our eyes, even if we don't really know what for. Embarrassed smiles, hers and mine.
"What were you saying as I walked away?," I ask.
"I was saying that I'm pretty sure - no I know for a fact, that peeing in public will get you put on the sex offender list," she replies.
I laugh. "That is definitely not true," I reply, not sure at all whether its true.
"Yes, Hank there are kids around and if you pull out your dong in front of kids and someone reports it, you're now a registered sex offender."
"No one would have reported me, babe," I say, exasperated.
"You don't know that! You were right there, in public, not hidden at all from anyone," she says.
"I was gonna do it at an angle where no one would see!" I say.
"There were people coming down from the stairs who would have seen you." she responds.
"They weren't going to report me!" I say back, and I realize there will be no end to this.
She gives a bottle of milk to the baby.
And that's when I play the ace up my sleeve: "Well. I didn't even pee in the portapotties. I peed in the bushes over there."
I wait to see how this bombshell shakes Helen to her core.
"I knew you wouldn't," she says.
Slowly, surely, we recalibrate, back as one team of two instead of two teams of one. At best, this is what long term love can be - a proclamation that says 'yes, everyone on this earth is batshit, but you seem like the least batshit, so let's stick together and laugh about how insane everyone else is."
But here, this fight, we had become each other's unintelligible craziness. I made no sense to her, nor she me.
"I need to break rules sometimes," I say, like a five year old.
"I know Hank, I just don't want you to become a sex offender," she explains. We’re looping again.
"I wouldn't - "
"What will our son do if he can't go within fifty feet of his dad?"
"Everyone pees on the beach! In the water, everyone is peeing does that mean I could report them all as sex offenders??"
She pauses a second, considering, then, "No because they don't have their dicks out for the world to see! If a guy stood in the shallow water holding himself then yes without a doubt that man would be a sex offender, yes."
Another moment. Our baby son watches all this, observing. He will experience a lifetime of these spats throughout his childhood. They will shape his idea of conflict, of relationship, of love. And this might just be his first. A fight about whether dad is a sex offender. I make a mental note to write this all down somewhere so that he may one day read it and share it with his therapist. It'll save him some money to be able to just give her a written record of what transpired.
I make another mental note to write down brief reports of all the dramatic moments in his life and, when he turns 18, provide them to him in a leather-bound book. "Within these pages is all the struggle of your little world. Give it to the best therapist you can find and, god willing, within a few years you will be free of whatever it is we have done to you."
This act, I realize, in and of itself would then be what he talked to his therapist about.
There is no winning, as parents, but alas.
I look at Helen and say, "The thing that really got me was the one finger 'come hither' motion. You seemed like my mom."
"I know," she says, "I'm sorry."
"It's ok," I say, though I don't think it was.
There is in this story, as all stories about white men, a subtext of privilege. Deep in the recesses of my Pavlovian mind I am aware that I would probably not get in trouble the same way that, say, a person of color would, or, even more importantly to this story - a woman would. This is wrong - every human being should have the same right to pee into a somewhat hidden but mostly visible sand dune on the beach in Malibu, and that is why I am running for president of the HOA association.
No, but that would be funny.
We sit in silence a minute, each marinating in our own shortcomings when Helen asks, "Are we doomed?"
We've joked about this before - 'when do you want to get divorced? We should put it on the calendar now.' etc., but this sounds real. There is genuine fear and it shakes me. I look up in her eyes and say after perhaps a second too long of thinking "no, of course we're not doomed."
A few days later
A few days later we are on a walk with the baby and the dog, back home away from Malibu and its portapotties. We discuss the events of those two days like athletes watching game tape after a particularly painful loss.
She tells me that she knew how high risk the move to bring up being a sex offender was - she knew both that it would piss me off in the moment and that it would make me laugh down the road. In both the comedic and marital spheres, this is a stroke of genius. To create a joke whose punchline will only land later on in the future and that this very punch line will transform the rage, the conflict from that day into something we can laugh about all while also giving her what she wanted in the moment, specifically for me not to pee on the beach but go to the portapotty instead.
I bring up the "are we doomed?" moment, how it really shook me.
She looks at me and says, "yea I mean, for a second there I really did think -'are we that incompatible that this is not going to end up working out?'"
"No," I respond, "not at all, like - whoa hey, look at those two sunflowers!"
I point to the two lone yellow orbs shining toward us within a hedge of green bushes in front of an apartment building.
She turns her head to see this beautiful metaphor and says "Hank, those are fake."
To which I look and see yes, obviously they are fake. How could there be two flower heads without any stems?
"I know," I say, lying.
We both laugh, and we walk, two waves not ready to crash back into the ocean just yet.
Both Are True is a collection of writings from a sensitive guy about fatherhood, making stuff, anxiety and everything in between. I publish at least one piece a week - subscribe to get it sent directly to your lil email box!