The Getaway

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't relax on vacation, until a magic transformation happened

I was in retail, stressed out of my mind. Even at the end of each day, I just could not seem to relax. Frankly I was driving my husband crazy so he surprised me one day with tickets to Jamaica.

So we went, and it was beautiful: warm sunny days, blue water, blue drinks, yada yada. Problem is, everywhere we look—EVERYWHERE—someone was trying to sell us something: necklaces made out of conch shells, pipes, paintings, baskets, some guy even tried to sell me a song he wrote. Said he'd written a song about a beautiful American woman (Me! Yeah, right!) and that he'd sing it if I gave him a dollar. Finally, I gave him two dollars to leave, hold the song. I know, I'm an ass, but I refused to buy a thing.

Even so, we'd be lying on the beach and people would come up to us with more and more crap. "Nobody's got my stuff, mon. Best price! More tings!" I wanted to shriek! I felt like I was still working, the crushing pressure of retail still hovering all around me.

My husband said, "Hey, there's this rafting trip tomorrow—no white water, no stress, our own guide. People say it's fabulous."

I said, "We're in."

The next morning, we walked down to the river. It was only about 20 feet wide but it looked deep and muddy. It wasn't white water but it wasn't especially going anywhere either. I suck it up and we get on this tiny raft with Jean-Luc. He's like, "Hey, mon, welcome to my raft, mon." I thought, OK, it's a two-hour trip, what could happen?

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A few minutes later he tells us that: Yes, there are piranha in the river, so best not dangle your feet in there. Soon we noticed some natives on either side of the river. I thought they were just hanging out but then I realized THEY WERE FOLLOWING US, running alongside us, waving. I thought, did we leave something back at the dock? A camera or something? Wow, that's so nice of them, to help us out. I checked my bag and everything was still there.

Then we saw that they were launching mini-rafts out into the water toward us.

"What are those?" I asked Jean Luc.

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"Oh, those are souvenirs of this trip," he said. "If you take one, you'll have to pay for it, mon."

I felt the rage gather in the back of my throat. "Can you believe this?" I hissed to my husband. "I just can't get away from this crap!"

Just then Jean-Luc reached behind him and opened a burlap bag. He poured out a pile of hollowed-out gourds onto the raft.

"You're probably wondering what I do in my spare time, mon. I make these beautiful gourds, mon—only five dollars."

I thought my head would explode.

"I hollow them all out, see? You can use them for pencils, mon, or makeup or jewelry or anyting you can think of, mon. It's crazy."

We sat staring at the gourds, the shouts of the salespeople on shore filling our ears.

I pulled my husband aside. "Honey, you have to get me off this raft, I'm going to kill Jean-Luc."

"Not a good idea, hon, our rental is a mile down the river."

"This is extortion, this is bribery!" I shriek-whispered.

He took my hand. "Look, we can't get away from this guy. We're on a raft surrounded by flesh-eating fish."

My face was red and boiling hot under the relentless Jamaican sun.

"Honey," my husband pleaded, "let's just buy a couple of gourds and forget about it. I'm going to buy you one, and you know what? I want you to take yours and just pour all your stress and anger in there and put it away, OK? It's ten dollars for a little peace. Don't make such a big thing—"

"'Big thing'! This is blackmail! It's the principle of the thing! I'm on vacation—"

"We'll take two," my husband said, whipping out a ten-spot.

"OK, thanks, mon. I think you'll like them. Everyone does, mon."

The funny thing is, once we bought the gourds, some kind of magic transformation happened. My husband's words, as corny as they were, had lodged in my consciousness and I felt better. I stopped fighting it all—stopped expecting things to be how I wanted them to be and accepted them for what they were, said the hell with it and began having a good time.

Now the gourd sits on my desk at work. And Jean-Luc was right: It's a pretty roomy little item. I keep my pencils, pens and scissors in there, right along side my anger and frustration.

Tags: memoirs