Last week I took a trip to Puerto Rico. Where I live, it’s winter – bitter, gray, snowy – and it has been for awhile. So Geoff and I tossed our swimsuits in a bag, bought some sunscreen, grabbed the kids, and headed for the airport. A few hours later, we squinted in the late afternoon tropical sun and shed our sweatshirts.
We spent our time on the beach, swimming and building sandcastles. Geoff opened a coconut for us and poured the water into our mouths. We hiked in the rainforest and we explored cobblestone streets and centuries-old castles. I took a lot of pictures, and of course, I posted some on Facebook. I shared my sunny moments, my too-cute kids, my lucky life with my winter friends. I did it not so much to show off as to bring my half-frozen friends with me, even if just for that one second that they scanned my photo in their Facebook feeds. Because, let’s face it, winter is long and hard and everyone needs an escape.
On our last evening, we stopped at a beachside park before dinner, to let the kids play and watch the surfers. As I sat on a stone bench, my phone tucked away in the rental car, I watched the people at the park. There was a young mom chasing a toddler younger than Nate, one hand on her phone at all times. There was a young woman in professional-looking skirt and blouse, perfect hair, clearly just off of work, typing madly on her iPhone. She never looked up at my kids who were playing on the grass around her. An older man sat on a bench a little ways down from us, eyes locked on his phone, and never even glanced at the surfers just yards away and directly in front of him.
Everyone else in the park was elsewhere. I’d love to believe that they, like me, might have been posting photos to help thaw their winter friends. I’d love to believe that all the people in the park were sharing their version of paradise. But I fear that they were trying to escape themselves. That reality is just as ugly even when you sit just yards from the beach, beauty staring you in the face.
I’m back at home now, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to escape from the polar vortex outside. Ice is forming inside my windows. Our vacation feels distant, dreamlike. It’s tempting to read my email, text a friend, flip through my Twitter loop, anything to avoid looking at the snow piles outside and wondering how long it will be until I see grass again. Reality is hard to take and escapes, even real ones, are only temporary.
Still, if you’re reading this from paradise, text me a photo.