Family vacations in the Yoon household ceased shortly before I started high school. Now, I’m about to enter my last year of college, and my parents and I haven’t crossed state lines together since. My father was never one to warm to the idea of travel. I think emigrating from Korea was about as much as he could handle. Whenever I brought up a destination to my mother, she just smiled and said, “maybe,” in that frustratingly flippant way of hers.
I learned not to miss our annual vacations, not that they were anything extravagant: they were road trips to New York City, to visit my grandmother. Those trips consisted of the same fare every year: eating out at Korean restaurants, my father and uncles’ cigarette smoke billowing in the wind and boldly jaywalking across busy intersections in Midtown to my parent’s dismay.
Those stopped suddenly, and I distinctly remember feeling the shock of a routine that had broken. I didn’t question my parent’s decision, and they didn’t offer an explanation. I missed the car exhaust, smoke and energy. I settled, instead, into our quiet life in the suburbs. I tried not to think about the city, road trips across endless cornfields and my grandmother’s mismatched apartment.
A month ago, I found myself in the backseat of a sedan with a leggy labradoodle panting in my face. I was about to embark on a family road trip for the first time in years, but the circumstances were a bit different this time around. My parents weren’t around; the dog was not my own. I was headed for South Haven, Michigan, with my friend Sara and her family. As I buckled my seatbelt in grim apprehension, I felt the familiar anxiety I tend to experience when setting off on a voyage in which I haven’t planned extensively. I had never been on a trip with a friend’s family, and it made me feel like an exchange student with little knowledge of English.
“You need to learn to relax.”
Sara says this matter-of-factly as she reclines on a wicker couch in the open-air, screened porch that belongs to her family’s lake house. Her tawny skin glows in the afternoon light; my red, inflamed thighs sting as I try to remain still on a recliner across the room. My book rests untouched on a nearby side table. My hand remains on my phone, which I have picked up and set down for the umpteenth time.
It’s a bright Sunday afternoon, and our last day in sleepy South Haven. With mere hours to go until we pack the car up and return to Illinois, I find myself torn between fitful dozing and mindless checking of social media sites. I’m restless, and have been since the night before. I look out the window at the dirt road; it’s empty and still.
It makes me feel unsettled.
For two days, we swam in the lake, picked blueberries, met family friends (an event that incited an almost primal fear of human interaction on my part), went antiquing and drank gin and tonics during a thunderstorm. I had never been more out of my element. This quaint, Old Americana vacation had me at a loss for words. I think the phrase I uttered the most was related to how idyllic our environment was. Michigan was a beast that I had never grappled with before—a tame, domesticated one that had me feeling the most clear-headed in a long time. The trip quelled anxiety I didn’t know I instinctively held on to.
It was a surprisingly welcome feeling.