By Helen E. H. Madden
A vacation is the true test of any romantic relationship. Especially a marriage. Husband and wife have to be of a like mind to survive a trip into the unknown. Where will they stay? What will they eat? How much will they spend on souvenirs? These questions simply must be answered before buying two tickets to paradise.
I have been on several vacations with the Hubster, both before and after the birth of our children. And I can say with great certainty that no matter where we go, no matter what goal **I** might have in mind for our holiday adventures, my darling love always attempts to achieve the same thing.
It started with our honeymoon. We were headed for Orlando, for a week in the happiest place on earth, Disney World . But to get there, we had to fly. I am not a big fan of flying. I don't understand how airplanes manage to stay up in the sky, and having my rocket scientist husband explain the mechanics of it to me in mind-numbing detail does nothing to soothe my nerves during take off. When our flight to Orlando hit some bad turbulence, I clung to my armrest with a death grip. When the plane suddenly dropped and the young women sitting sitting behind us screamed, I just about had a heart attack. The plane leveled out, thankfully, just in time for my darling husband to nudge me, incline his head toward the toilet, and say, "So, do you wanna?" His inquiry nearly resulted in me having a fatal apoplexy on the spot.
Failing to do me in that way, the Hubster then proceeded to try walking me to death. He deliberately, with intent to kill, created an itinerary designed to allow us to cover the maximum amount of theme park in just four days. Day five was saved for Universal Studios (all of it!), while day six was apparently reserved for transporting my legless corpse back home for my funeral. Before that week, I had never hurt so badly in all my life. Understand, I was in pretty good shape back in those days. But the Hubster was a cyborg from the 25th century, with legs of admantium forged in the fires of Mount Doom (yes, I know I'm mixing my movie metaphors, but bear with me). He could endure any amount of walking. He could, and did, literally walk me into the ground that week. I had no idea someone could kill a person just by walking them to death, but Hubster came awful close to managing it. Somehow, I survived, but he went on to repeat that tactic again and again, at various exotic locales all around the world.
In Puerto Rico, on our next major vacation, Hubster opted for a more subtle approach. Rather than kill me himself, he decided to let his mother do it for him... by letting her drive. For three days, I was shoved into the back seat of a tiny, two-door, purple Toyota Tercel, watching in horror as my mother-in-law played chicken with every other car on the highway. It was like being trapped in Road Warrior, only the part of Mel Gibson was played a sixty-something Hispanic woman with Coke-bottle glasses and an accent thick enough to smear peanut butter on. My only defense to this pernicious, evil plan, was to screech at the top of my lungs any time Hubster suggested we get in the car and go somewhere. Finally, desire not to go deaf early in life took over and at my insistence, he took command of the car.
By the time we made it to Australia and New Zealand a few years later, the Hubster was back to his "Walk 'em to death" tactics. We started in Sydney, walked all through the Blue Mountains, took a harrowing midnight tour of the red light district in King's Cross (Hubster swore it was a shortcut back to our B&B), tramped all over Port Douglas, swam through the Great Barrier Reef, and dredged the depths of the Yara Valley in search of good wine. Over in New Zealand it was more of the same, though he did let me soak my twice-their-normal-size feet in the hot springs at Rotarua.
Scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, September 1999
(As an aside, apparently some little known director started filming a low budget film while we were in New Zealand, but we never saw any of that, probably because I was blind with exhaustion and Hubster was too intent on killing me to keep a look-out for movie sets.)
Italy came a few years after that, and in addition to walking me everywhere, Hubster threw in the added torment of climbing steps. If an edifice had steps, we climbed it. The Duomo in Florence, numerous churches in Rome, the slopes of Anna Capri, the ruins of Pompeii and the Herculaneum (don't ever try to see both in the same day), the rabbit's warren of roads and back alleys in Sorrento, the stairwells of San Marco and the Doge's Palace. Everywhere we turned, there were more steps to conquer. It was so bad that to this day, I still get the shakes when someone asks about our lovely little jaunt to fair Italia.
But the absolute summit of all this torture, the day I finally realized my husband was actually trying to kill me, came during a week-long trip to Montreal. Hubster had a conference there, so I had a few days on my own to casually stroll around the area, soaking up the culture, relaxing in cafes, browsing through the shops - all things I can't do when Herr Hubster is cracking his whip, itinerary in hand. I was having a great time. Then the conference ended, and Hubster decided we would pay a visit to Saint Joseph's Oratory.
Insert ominous music here...
Our trip to this holy site started with the 99 steps leading up to the Oratory itself. It is tradition for pilgrims to take each step, one at a time, on their knees, saying a Hail Mary before moving on to the next step. When my husband mentioned this tradition, I shot him a look that said, "Don't even suggest it, Buster! I'm wearing two hat pins and I ain't afraid to use 'em!" We opted to climb the steps the normal way, and I was winded when we got to the top. But that was okay, because Hubster assured me we would have a nice break inside the church.
During an hour-long Mass.
Which was conducted entirely in French.
As his English-speaking Buddhist wife, you just know I loved that. As soon as we escaped the service, we headed outside to see the garden which featured seventeen statues depicting the stations of the Cross. This was an immensely beautiful garden, with the towering stone statues depicting Christ's progression toward his crucifixion. Even though I'm Buddhist, I felt a great deal of sympathy looking at those statues. I really did. Because it seemed like I was also progressing toward my own crucification as we spiraled endlessly upward around the Oratory. It took forever to get through the garden to the top, where Hubster assured me there was a drink stand waiting for us. A drink stand that turned out to be completely mobbed by other poor souls who'd made the same insane trek we were making in the full heat of summer.
I was already dying by that point. We had literally climbed to the highest point in Montreal by then. Hubster suggested we ease my agony by going back into the church and tour the inside. It was interesting. We saw the relic of Saint Joseph, his heart encased in a silver reliquary. We saw lots of votive candles and offerings laid out by people seeking blessings. We found the back entrance to the chapel...
Where we found ourselves trapped in another Catholic Mass and had to sit through the thing all over again.
At least this time it was in English.
By the time we got out of our second Mass of the morning, I was done. There was a little soda shop at the bottom of the mountain, across the street from those 99 steps we'd climbed coming in. I was determined to go there. I dragged my husband back down the stairs and was about to cart him into the soda shop to buy me a drink when he dug in his heels and cried, "Wait!!"
"What for? I'm tired and I'm thirsty and I want a drink!"
"Let's save our money for the Mont Royal park. They sell the world's best ice cream at a stand in the park! It's not that far. Just on the other side of the cemetery."
You'd think the word cemetery would have tipped me off to what was going on at that point. But no, even then I had still not figured out my husband's nefarious plan to kill me by walking me to death. So I reluctantly agreed to join him on a quest for the world's best ice cream, the course to which was through the Mont Royal Cemetery and then into the Mont Royal park. A little path connected the two sites, which sat on opposite sides of the mountain. We'd go through one and come out in the other and get our ice cream. Easy peasey.
Except that there was no fucking path.
Hubster dragged me all the way up through the cemetery to the top of the mountain. We passed through terraces and slopes filled with marble head stones, obelisks, urns and mausoleums. I gawked at cherubs and angels of death, not quite understanding why I felt like they were all staring at me, the woman completely oblivious to her certain doom. When we reached the top, we found a 12-foot-high chain link fence. And no path.
"I don't get it," Hubster said, scratching his head and checking his guide book. "Fodor's says it's right here."
"Can we go back to the soda shop now?" I politely asked. "I'm dying of thirst here!"
"No, let's go back down and come up one of the other paths. The way through has got to be up here somewhere..."
So we went back down the mountain... and then we went back up the mountain... and then when we didn't find the path again, we went back down the mountain... and came back up... and went back down...
At one point, mid-way between the top and bottom of that bloody cemetery, we ran into a jogger, who spoke a little English.
"Is there a path around here somewhere that leads to the park on the other side of the mountain?" Hubster asked.
After much hemming and hawing in French and English, the jogger indicated there might be a path up that way, but she wasn't exactly sure. This was all the justification my husband needed to drag me yet again back up to the top of that mountain.
Where we found a hole in the chain link fence. It was just big enough for a person to carefully step through, if they could climb up the two-foot slope of red clay mud leading up to it.
I was dressed in my best white poplin shirt and green linen skirt, since I'd known we'd be going to Mass that morning. I wore these little black flats that matched the outfit perfectly. I eyed that slippery slope of clay and said, "No way, Jose. No way in hell."
"Oh, come on! We're almost there. Then we can get some ice cream, Helen. Best ice cream in the world!" Hubster sang.
Fool that I was, I relented and managed to scrabble my way up the slope without falling flat on my ass. We found a narrow path in the woods beyond and followed that, Hubster remarking that it must be one of the park's many walking paths that he'd read about in Fodor's. Then the woods got deeper and darker, and the path branched off.
There was no sign indicating which way to go, but that didn't stop my husband.
"We'll try left," he said, striding off into the unknown.
Then the path branched again, and again there was no sign.
"Hmmm. Maybe this time we should go right?" the love of my life said.
"You know what? You go right, you jerk. I'm going back to the cemetery and then I'm headed for the soda shop. I don't give a damn about the world's best ice cream anymore. You're about to get us completely and totally lost out here in the woods, and I'm not having any part of that! See ya later, pal!"
And I turned and walked right back out of those woods. Hubster had to run to catch up with me. We were almost at the hole in the chain link fence when he said, "But we could have had an adventure!"
"I've had enough adventure today to last me a lifetime! I'm hungry! I'm thirty! I'm--"
I stepped through the hole in the fence, my little black flats making contact with the slick red clay of the muddy slope. Down I went, ass over tea kettle, white poplin shirt, green linen skirt and all.
"Ah... ah... ah..." I stuttered.
"Honey? Are you okay!"
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAH! I hate this fucking vacation!!!!!"
My backside was completely covered in dark red mud. It looked like I had managed to hemorrhage out the ass. I sputtered and shrieked for a few more minutes then stomped down the mountain to the soda shop. I said absolutely nothing else to my husband. I was too furious. I was ready to kill him. I was going to bury my love in the cemetery of Mont Royal.
In the soda shop, Hubster waited on me hand and foot. Perhaps he realized he'd finally hit my limit. Perhaps not. After a couple of drinks, he stood up and said, "You know, if we follow that sidewalk over there, we should be able to walk around the mountain and find our way into the park from there..."
The walk through the park (yes, I actually went, plotting Hubster's death every step of the way), was a quiet, almost pleasant stroll. If my ass hadn't been covered in red mud, if my legs hadn't been numb from all the hiking up and down the mountain, if I hadn't been so murderously incensed, I think I would have enjoyed it. At the ice cream stand, Hubster went to fetch two cones of the world's very best ice cream while I stewed under a large tree.
"I'm done," I said flatly, taking my cone from him. "We go back to the hotel now."
Hubster checked his watch. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea..."
Forty-five minutes later, I limped into our hotel room. I stripped off my ruined clothes and climbed into the tub. I came out a while later completely exhausted, too tired even to yell at my husband. As I collapsed on the bed, the man of my dreams came over to me and kissed me gently on the cheek.
"Better get dressed quick," he said. "We've got reservations for La Caprice de Nicholas in half an hour. It's about a three block walk from here. Then we're hitting the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see the Picasso Erotique exhibit. I hear the display is huge! It may take us hours to walk through it all."
They could hear my screams all the way back in Virginia.