The Buffer in the Backseat - Tiffany R. Azzarito

Next time I think it’s a good idea to go on a trip with BOTH my parents and ONLY both my parents, remind me that it’s not. I’m an adult in her thirties with a career and a cat. You’d think the days of vacationing with my parents would be over… apparently not.

When my mom called to invite me to join them on a short stint in Rhode Island, I said yes almost immediately. It was a yes fueled by the desire to get in the ocean and out of my house. Upstate, NY doesn’t have much in the way of surfing opportunities, and I was really itching to get in some wipeouts (I’m a novice) before the summer’s end. I also had a deep desire to be somewhere— ​anywhere​— else.

Quarantining in my house for the previous four months hadn’t been wholly awful, but it perhaps would have been a little easier if I were alone with just my cat instead of trapped with the person I had come to call my “non-boyfriend.”

The relationship had been full of love but marred by incompatibilities both petty and substantial. More than once I vented to friends about his slovenliness, which agitated my obsessive need for cleanliness. But it was the day I relayed the story of him pointing to a piece of paper towel on the floor and stating, “That’s just there to cover some cat puke,” that my friends decided I needed to break up with him (it would take me another year to come to that conclusion myself). By the time the pandemic rolled around and locked us in, we were basically just living together for the cats. July third would have been our eleventh anniversary. ​Would have​. Past tense. So I really needed to get the fuck out of the house.

I didn’t realize that a car ride isolated with my parents would so closely resemble my junior and senior years of high school, after my brother had gone off to college and I was left alone as The Buffer. At least I had Bailey with me this time (AKA: Bailey Boo, The Bestest Bailey Boo, and My Sweetest Bailey Boo Puppy). I had a companion to share the backseat with. Her expressive eyes reflected my own anxieties when her humans bickered, but I’d pet her and speak softly and the act of calming her calmed me.

Once we arrived, I had one goal: spend as much time on my own in the ocean as possible. My dad would laugh as I’d lather on my Sun Bum and layer with my UV protection-infused rash guard, but I’m only too aware of how easily my white-ass skin burns.

“Won’t you be fine with just the rashguard?” my dad asked. No, Dad. Your Italian tanning genes did not get passed down to me.

“She’s being careful, Mike,” My mom said in a tone that made her annoyance plain. Every chance she had, she was clearly indicating that ​we​ were the team— that my dad the third wheel interrupting ​our vacation.

I couldn’t wait to get in the waves and leave everything else ashore.

I was nervous at first— I’d only ever attempted surfing with an instructor by my side and amid a group of other beginners (first in Morocco with a rather handsome instructor, then in Portugal with a less handsome instructor). And it had been a year since I’d done even that. This time, I was simply renting a board from one of the tents in the public parking lot and making my way into the waves solo. I picked up my big, foam, beginner’s board and waded into the water with only a vague memory of what I was supposed to do with it.

But once I was in— once I felt the undercurrents pulling and pushing against my legs and tasted the hint of salt water on my lips— everything else fell away. I forgot about my parents’ continual arguments both big and small, the mess of a situation waiting for me at home, and the uncertainties surrounding the state of affairs in the country. When I got myself situated on the board in the pocket of a wave, it was like riding a bike— albeit, one you never quite mastered without training wheels.

Unfortunately, my parents never actually left me to it. I’d had it in my head that I’d make my way to the beach every day and they’d go off and do their own thing. Turns out the only thing my parents have in common besides an affinity for yard work is their love for my brother and me… and their dog. So they stationed themselves with Bailey on the stone wall separating the beach from the sidewalk and watched me. The. Entire. Time. When I brought the board back to the tent that first day to discover that they’d never left, I felt compelled to cut my surfing sessions short every day after.

I’d get out of the water, change into dry clothes, and hop in the back of the car with Bailey, lamenting the loss of ​escape​. The trip was supposed to free me, even if only for a few days, from the torment that is a relationship steeped in love and defeat. My parents would have a tense discussion about where to go to pick up food or what activities we could safely do together during this era of social distancing before returning to the tiny cabin we’d rented (because apparently they couldn’t work that out on their own while I was in the water), and I’d pet Bailey.

Eventually decisions would be made and the conversation would shift to center around the waves I’d caught and the tumbles I took. Bailey would curl up and rest her head on my thigh; she’d look up at me with those big brown eyes and I realized that she is now the one left alone with my parents in that old house— that when we returned to New York, I’d go to my home and she’d be left with them in theirs, wagging her tail and doing tricks in hopes of distracting them from themselves.

Tiffany R. Azzarito is a lot of things, but mostly: a teacher, a reader, a writer, and an adventurer. She plays guitar poorly, was once a decent soccer player, and her scratch off map of the world gives her major wanderlust. She lives above her means and with her cats. Tiffany's essays about the messiness of life can be found on messays.com.

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