Roughly a year ago, we had this same conversation; the one where he tells me where he's going on his annual vacation, and asks me to come along.
Only, this year, he gave me instructions to go online and find out what would be required in order to go. Requirements in the vein of shots and clothing and pills that we'd need to bring to protect ourselves from the bugs, weather and water of South Africa.
Last year, when he talked about Belize, he just told me I couldn't wear heels. And even though the only "dangerous" part of that trip would be the danger of me without heels or makeup for ten whole days, I still wound up stranded with sun poisoning on the porch of our hotel room after gorging on the sun our first day there. I was only able to venture out for trips to a bar, a restaurant, some light shopping, and one day on a ridiculously beautiful island where I slathered myself in sunblock, powered through the horrible sun rash covering my body and snorkeled my way through the most beautiful water I'd ever seen. As far as adventure went, that was pretty much it. The rest of the time we sipped Panty Rippers and watched the water from our beach-front hammock. We read books and had long conversations, we smoked too many cigarettes and got tipsy from coconut rum and pineapple juice. For me, it was the perfect vacation. Relaxing, romantic, not demanding, and not at all scary like I'd imagined it would be.
"But, babe," Billy said last night over dinner, "I can't be stuck in a hotel room for ten days this year. I just can't."
I speared a roasted red potato and nodded, feeling a sense of dread sprinkled with anger take me over. "I know."
"So, listen," he moved around, trying to catch my eyes, as they had not left my plate since the conversation began - it's one of my trademarks for Angry. "Would you look at me?" I rolled my eyes, and then my head, and looked at him out of the corner of my eye, then relented and faced him completely. "I'm saying I want you to go, but I have to make sure you can handle it. Because you're going to get sick. I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to be hot, and there are going to be a lot of bugs, and you're going to have a fever, and you'll have chronic diarrhea. But I need to know that you can suck it up and still go on a safari for four days, or go cage diving. And as long as you can do that, then I can't wait for you to come with me."
Instead of offering anything, I just stared at him. I let silence and the ambient noise of the bar fill up the space where my words should've been. I let time click by while he stared at me, waiting for me to argue with him, to defend my abilities to hang in the wilds of South Africa, to make a case for myself even when I knew there was no merit to it, because that's what I do: I argue just to be contrary, just to win. Instead, I blinked, looked down at my plate, then back at him. "I think we both know the answer to that question."
He started to ask what that answer was, but I cut him off, "No. No, I can't handle it. Which you know. But you sound an awful lot like you're trying to convince me that I don't want to go, that I shouldn't try, so you can go by yourself. If you want to go alone, just tell me."
"Babe," he said, offering his hand on my thigh as comfort, or as proof of his sentiment. His voice was tender, his eyes soft. "That's not it at all. At all. I just want you to know, honestly, what it's going to be like. Because I can't be in a hotel room the whole time I'm there - there's a lot I want to do in South Africa. I skipped South Africa last year, remember? So that we could go to Belize instead, since it would be easier for you. But this year, I really want to go to South Africa. So as long as you're okay with all of that, I want you to come."
"Well, I can't. So..."
I took a deep breath. "So I'm not going. You'll have your trip all to yourself this year."
And I was crushed saying it out loud. But I can't. Physically, I simply cannot handle the heat. I'm terrified of the "intestinal parasites" of which he spoke. I don't want malaria, and I don't want to have diarrhea eight times a day. I just don't. That does not sound like a vacation to me. It sounds miserable. Would I love to see Africa? Of course. But do I want to feel that I'm on the cusp of death and then stick myself in a dusty Jeep and ride around in the jungle for four days? Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with the fear of fitting in in a foreign country or trepidation to travel. It has everything to do with knowing that my body just will not be able to handle it. The heat alone is too much for me, never mind disease-carrying bugs. My idea of a vacation is lazy afternoons spent doing nothing, fruity cocktails, soft white hotel sheets; bars and restaurants and dancing and laughing. Not sickness and work. And I think a part of me was considering going simply because it's his annual trip that he's never let anyone take with him before, the fact that he wanted me to be with him, and the fact that it would be embarrassing to admit to his family "Billy's not taking me with him this year." But I had to forget about all of that and just admit that I wouldn't enjoy it, and I shouldn't go.
But I was still angry. Or hurt, more appropriately. Because he kept saying I can't be stuck in a hotel room for ten days, because it made me feel like he'd hated our trip last year. Like he resented that I held him back or something. Like I'm his albatross. And I loved that trip. It was one of the best memories I've ever made. I fought tears while I chewed through my steak.
"Don't be mad," he said, abandoning his plate altogether to look at me.
"I'm not," I said, almost inaudibly, not looking up.
"But you can't even look at me."
He was right. Because if I looked at him, I'd cry. And I couldn't have that. So I kept my eyes on my dinner plate, pushing around potatoes and veggies and juices and steak, trying to give my eyes something to focus on.
But my rapid blinking and attempts to distract myself were no match for my tears. They were determined to roll down my face, and pooled in the corners of my eyes - the holding pen for my emotions. "Well, there's nothing left to talk about. I'm not going. I wouldn't want to keep you locked up in a hotel room for ten days." Sarcasm rolled out of me, my anger in its verbal form.
He inhaled like he finally understood why I was upset. "Babe," he said softly. "I know what you're thinking. But I had a great time in Belize. That's why we picked that place, remember? There wasn't much to do, it was relaxing. It was your first trip out of the country, and it was perfect the way it was; That's what that vacation was for. We just can't do that in South Africa. There's too much to do."
I nodded slowly, indicating that I understood what he was saying but that I still had no intention of looking at him. I felt bruised and left out, and I just didn't have anything to say. I accepted that my passport pages would just have to go without a stamp from Africa, but just thinking of him gone for two weeks made me hurt already, and I didn't want to compound it by letting him convince me it was the right decision.
"Baby," he continued softly, "what am I supposed to do? I really want to go to South Africa. I've wanted to for a long time. And am I supposed to give that up because you don't want to go?"
I didn't know. My feelings about it were - are - mixed. On one hand, I say no. He shouldn't have to give it up. If it means that much to him, it means that much to me. And I don't want to drag him down and make his trip miserable, because, honestly, I do not want to go. Nor do I want to make him miss out on something that important to him. I want him to do what he wants to do. I don't want to hold him back.
But on the other hand, if the situation were reversed, I'd give it up for him. Because I'd rather spend my time with him somewhere where he's comfortable than make new memories without him in them.