Last year, I was in my office in the financial district of NYC, and I felt as if I were alone on an island. I walked out to our office’s front lobby and then down the stairs peering out of a large window offering a clear view of the East River on a sunny day. Boats, ferries, and jet skis were out. “I wonder where they are going?” I thought aloud. And to myself I wondered, “Why aren’t I going anywhere?” I got back to my office and impulsively reached out to an owner of property in Martha’s Vineyard and booked two weeks away for the next summer.
Fast forward to this year as I write from my vacation rental. It’s my first time here on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s day 4 of a week we intend to stay here, and I’ve worked 3 days and gone to 2 beaches.
I’m a little embarrassed to confess that I considered it might be some rite of passage of some sort for me. To cut to the chase: It has not been.
I think I’m poor, and it’s because I come from self-identifying poor folk (my parents). Now, one parent had no problem being poor (my mom), and another carries some deep devastation about the circumstance (my dad), even though, by several accounts, my dad’s lot was better than my mom’s in that my dad’s family owned their land. Enough about them. I thought I was poor, not like they were (third world poor), but more in a “not quite ever going to have enough to be a ‘have’” sort of way. My parents own their home. I went to private school. I took piano and dance lessons. We went on vacations. They both have masters’ degrees, and so do I. We’re not quite poor. But whatever — we see ourselves as we do. So in some warped and admittedly absurd way, I thought coming out to Martha’s Vineyard for a week in the tradition of upper class African-Americans for years would somehow convert my salary into a more elite social status. How naïve! I know that that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
I’m just not of that ilk, and a week in Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t going to change that. And the honest truth is I don’t want to be of that ilk. As usual, I just want access. I want to seamlessly float through social classes the way I could hop from lunch table to lunch table in middle and high school. I want to feel like I belong no matter where I am or who I am with.
And so that question I asked myself while surveying the Brooklyn skyline across the East River through my office’s intentionally impressive reception space, “Why aren’t I going anywhere?” perhaps didn’t come from a question of vacation. It’s coming from another place. Why am I earning more than I ever have and still not feeling as if I’m earning enough? Why do I depend on my parents more now than I did 7 years ago? Why have I been referring to so many of my friends as “fancy” friends lately? Why do so many of my friends own homes and I don’t? Most importantly, how have I been living and thriving on this planet for 34 years and still trying to keep up with the imaginary Joneses when me and mine are fine? Why have I been so “class conscious” lately? If I keep digging, it’s not just class. I am literally losing joy by comparing myself to others, and I have to stop.
I refuse to leave this island feeling “less than.” That’s not the way to leave a vacation at all. When it’s all said and done, the story of this trip is that I had an idea that I acted on and saw through. Whether it’s vacation or vocation, the number of people in the world who can say they did or are doing that is on the decline. What I do want to spend my time considering and contemplating is my relationship to class, and how, if at all, I could be projecting my problems onto my daughter and spilling over to my husband — maybe even acting out against my parents of late. I don’t know. I have some soul searching to do. It’s a good thing I’m on vacation and can do it.
I am completely embarrassed by the contents of this post, but I publish anyway because …