My family is, to say the least, eccentric; my mother, a high energy, post-traumatic stress disorder patient, my father, a know-it-all, grammatically incorrect hockey fan, my younger brother, the definition of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and me, the sassy instigator, are a rowdy bunch. Putting us all in the enclosed death trap that is our family car could only result in state mandated professional therapy. Because of our inability to function as a family unit, my parents decided family trips would only consist of required reunions, weddings, and the occasional funeral.
That ban on any unnecessary bonding time lasted approximately five years, until my godfather, who lived 500 miles away, was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. He battled the crippling, and ultimately terminal, disease for two years. We kept in contact only through long emails and emotional phone calls until my vacation hating parents made the objective decision to drop their vendetta against the family trips. A gathering of my family and that of my godfathers was arranged for the coming up July in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was excited to see my godfather, but dreading the five hour drive with my exasperating family.
The time came to head east to Gatlinburg, and I loaded up my headphones and other devices that would limit the social interactions between me and my car mates. My brother did the same by building a fort of blankets segregating him from the rest of the Page family. We started off one hour late; ergo my father was already irritated before we left the driveway. Mom was trying to hold us all together by popping in a stand-up comedy act into the radio. Luckily, that worked to ease Dad’s nerves, and we all enjoyed the humor. The remainder of the trip to our hotel was fairly uneventful.
Pulling into Gatlinburg was like arriving at Tourist Trap, USA. Both sides of the highway were coated in putt-putt golf centers, thrill rides, and dinner theaters. To my surprise, we were not stopping at any of the numerous hotels that featured dancing dogs or rodeos during dinner, but instead, we drove farther into the expansive and beautiful Smokey Mountains. My godfather, Dean, is an outgoing, nature loving person, and I was glad we were out in his element.
Our hotel looked as if it was carved into the mountain it was situated on. I loved it as soon as I saw it. Our room smelled like fresh pine needles and cinnamon. My brother related it to Christmas in July; it was a perfect comparison. I burst into Dean’s room, but halted when I saw his bald head and his bare face in the place of what once housed a thick deep brown mass of hair. The muscles that used to bulge from his arms hung limply from the bones, and the skin that once told of his many outside adventures told a more somber story in its new pasty shade. The sight caused tears to well up in my eyes, but as I had been told to do, I choked them down and smiled.
That first day, my family all sat down for dinner, and never once did anyone raise their voice, or even send a patronizing look across the table. We laughed and shared stories we had been saving for such an occasion. It was peaceful and fulfilling.
For the excitement we desired for Dean to experience, we went whitewater rafting, indoor skydiving, horseback riding, and bungee jumping. It was quite the thrilling vacation; there was barely time to stop and think about the whirlwind of emotions the trip was saturated in. Every time Dean smiled or laughed, I couldn’t help but think it was the last time I would see him so happy and carefree. Although he ran around and acted as if he had never heard the words, ‘You have cancer’, I could not help but see the disease in him. Every sigh or tired look worried me, but the thought only had seconds to fester until my attention was drawn into another death defying activity.
The week felt as if it was over before it began. Sunday rolled around and we were all packed. Hugs and kisses were exchanged along with many hopeful exchanges of words such as “See you next year” and “I’ll be at your graduation in May.” We loaded up the car and, hesitantly, started for home as a reunited family.
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