I spent the past week with my boyfriend and two friends at my parent’s summer home. Four gay men spending a relaxing week at a New England summer resort town. For much of that week, however, I had a surprising level of anxiety and stress. But last night coming home to my own apartment, with my boyfriend, I felt at ease. I began to think about the question of place and the role it plays in our lives.
My family’s summer home is a place I have spent at least a week, almost every summer, since 1971. Before that, from the time I learned to walk, we rented a cabin for a month in the same resort town. It was a place as a child I often felt lonely and an outsider. As a teenager, it was a place I often felt depressed. It was also a place I went with my wife and son for twenty-two years to spend time with my parents and siblings. And it is a place I have invested enormous time and energy this past year to upgrade and ready for rental this summer.
My partner and I slept in the nicest bedroom in the house. It is a stately bright room with a wonderful king-sized four-poster bed. On the last day of our trip, after my partner and I had packed our bags and put them by the front door, and after the house had been cleaned, I took my mother and sister, who were staying in the next house, on a tour to show them all the upgrades and improvements we had made in the house over the winter. Upon entering the master bedroom my mother reminded us of a fact that I had completely forgotten: this was the same bed my son was conceived twenty years ago.
I think my nervousness and anxiety this week was a combination of factors. Possibly the ghost of my wife and our visits to this place worked on my psyche, I do not know. The thought of my son’s conception, which had never occurred to me until my mother mentioned it, could be working subconsciously, but I do not think so.
One thing that definitely made for a level of anxiety was the feeling that I had to include, (and also somehow take care of), my elderly parents who were staying in the next house. The intermingling of my gay friends and partner with my parents and sister was a new and at times stressful experience. It included dropping dinner preparations and rushing to my father, who had taken a bad fall. I had to clean and bandage up his bloody and feces smeared body just minutes before my friends arrived from the airport. Not a very relaxing way to greet your guests upon their arrival.
My anxiety may also have been the calls I was making, in between everything else, to interview potential mediators for my divorce. Defiantly a high anxiety process. Lastly, playing host for the week and feeling that I needed to make sure meals, sightseeing, beach time, etc was planned for also created a level of anxiety. It all combined to make for a surprisingly stressful week.
Stress aside, we had some magnificent afternoons at the beach, swimming in the ocean, reading, and talking. I enjoyed showing my friends the sights of a vacation spot I knew well. We had four wonderful dinners of fish and fresh vegetables cooked out back on the gas grill and two exceptional dinners out. I enjoyed getting to know my friend and his boyfriend better. I loved spending a week with my partner and being able to share a bed with him for the week. In so many ways it was the vacation I wanted, abet a bit more stressful.
I am glad to be home. Since leaving my marriage three years ago and moving into my own apartment I have set up a home where I feel at ease. I remember when I was apartment hunting three and a half years ago, and taking a long time to pick a place, my therapist at the time chided me that I should just pick a place and move on. I disagreed. I wanted a new home that I could feel was my home and that I would be happy to start my new life. Place was very important to me then.
I think place does have a deep effect on us. While I had a lovely time with my friends vacationing, even with my anxiety, I am also glad to return home.