What’s Paradise for me could well be purgatory for someone else.
Driving down a one lane road, my son passed the ramshackle plantation buildings on the outskirts of Hanapepe Town.
Fixer uppers! Nothing I liked better than a cheap property where a little sweat equity would make a difference.
Scraping the paint would take a year, but the wooden shacks had made it through the hurricane in ’92. I saw myself standing with a can of glazing putty, my nail apron buckled around my hips. Despite the minor problem of telling my husband I’d bought an abandoned building in Kaua’i, I had to reckon with my age. I wasn’t thirty anymore or even forty. But, hey, I wouldn’t have to do the work all at once. I could take afternoons off and snorkel. When I needed a break, I could stroll across the concrete bridge to the art galleries and curio shops. If I felt too wiped out and had to take off an entire day, I could write in a coffee shop and finish my novel. Eventually, I could turn it into a writers’ retreat.
“What a paradise!” I said.
“I don’t think it’s a paradise,” a little voice chimed from the back seat.
Alisa, my granddaughter, sounded certain of her opinion.
My son looked in the rear view mirror. “Why don’t you think it’s paradise?”
“For one thing, the buildings look rundown.”
“Alisa!” her mother said.
“That’s just what I think,” she said.
“I love this place,” her mother said. “The trees and mountains are beautiful. When your dad retires, we want to move here.”
“I love the beach,” her older sister Erika said.
“I don’t like the beach,” Alisa said.
“That’s because you won’t go in the water,” Erika said.
“The water’s cold and the wind blows all the time.”
“Wasn’t there one beach you liked?” my son said.
“I guess Poipu was okay,” Alisa said. “The sand was warm. On all the other beaches, it was wet.”
Poipu hadn’t been perfect either. Digging for shells, Alisa had unearthed a cigarette butt.
A day later, it struck me that one person’s paradise is another’s purgatory. As her parents and I imagined ourselves into alternate lives in Kaua’i, she imagined herself back where she felt most at home: in snowy New England, going to school, going to her dance classes, and hanging out with her friends.
As a writer I love the idea that we all drag emotional baggage with us, sometimes even to the point where we make ourselves miserable. It’s funny how some folks, even those with great physical or psychological challenges, can manage to find joy in the ordinary moments of life, even when they’re not on vacation.