The summer I was 13, aunt Sara got married. The wedding was a big affair gathering far-flung members of two large families for a riotous celebration. My American aunt was marrying a Scottish man and they lived in the Cayman Islands, so guests hailed from around the Commonwealth and beyond. I spent the week before the wedding thrown together with the other awkward teens – Rachel, from England, and Mark, a very cute boy who I think was half American half British and who attended a boarding school… somewhere.
Rachel was a year older than me and approximately a million times cooler. She was clearly only talking to me because she had no choice. I’m pretty sure she smoked – something I would never even have considered – and she slouched around my grandmother’s backyard in an oversized t-shirt with giant letters that said “RELAX”. When my grandmother noticed the shirt, she smiled approvingly, “Why, isn’t that a nice thing for a shirt to say?” As soon as she had turned her back, Rachel rolled her eyes at me and said, “Yah – good thing she doesn’t know what it really is.”
I, of course, also did not know what it “really” was, and it took some well-placed questions and the occasional faked bits of knowledge (of course I liked “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” I nodded, though I had never heard of them) to learn that “relax” had something to do with sex and music and was most decidedly not a general, all-purpose sort of sentiment. I didn’t fully understand the reference for years.
This story pretty much sums up my relationship with “relax” – it sounds nice in theory, though it may mean something I don’t quite understand, and while I hope I can fake my way through, it often takes me a while to figure out. “Relax” is my one little word for this year, although I have to admit that I actually forgot what it was until a couple of weeks ago. Sigh.
In fact, I keep forgetting that I decided to focus on relaxing this year. Take, for example, last night, after the whole family tested positive for covid. As I fell asleep, I found myself planning everything I could get done in the five days of quarantine. In my head, the list went on and on: re-plan my classes to account for a four-day absence, finish a letter of recommendation, finish marking essays and start marking a project, complete report cards, finish my current book, read to Mr. 13, watch a movie, knit, do the laundry…
Today I mostly played word games and read a little. If I’m lucky, tomorrow I will do a little something else. We are lucky – none of us are seriously ill (keep your fingers crossed!) – and I am determined not to take that for granted. “Relax,” I tell myself, “the work can wait.”
I wonder what Rachel did with that t-shirt? Last I heard she had two children was running a pub; I’m sure the t-shirt is long gone. Still, I’m betting that right about now, both of us could use an oversize t-shirt that reminds us to relax. And we wouldn’t even roll our eyes when someone commented on what a nice idea it is.