I sullenly clomped up the stairs to the hotel apartment, dreading what awaited me behind the heavy front door. Glancing back at the resort grounds I felt a twinge of guilt as I realized how amazing it was to be here. Then my mood quickly fell back into surliness, resentful of the people I was forced to share it with.
It had been the best and worst vacation of my life, a rollercoaster of ten days, with each moment bringing a fresh surprise of either pure wonder or extreme embarrassment. Despite the beautiful and incredible country we were experiencing, my family was quickly beginning to wear on me. I’d always dreaded family vacations for the sheer reason that we were so volatile with one another. From laughing uproariously in the car on the way home from a tour of the jungle to screaming at each other by the pool over who splashed who in the eye, it was never predictable. And my brother was the catalyst.
Fiery, temperamental, and totally immature, he was the root of either crazy hilarity or intense family feuds. His latest feat was a piercing sunburn that he acquired from ignoring my mother’s pleas to apply some sun block despite the combination of broiling sun, his ghostly skin, and hours spent in the pool. Though his skin was the only one blistering, somehow we all felt its burn. His screams echoed through the hotel, calling my father every bad name his ten-year-old brain could think of as my dad attempted to apply aloe to his scarlet back.
I was so ashamed to be around them, worried that at any moment a flare-up could occur and we would be once again regarded as the typical American family: obnoxious, spoiled rotten, and way too loud. The people we were among had so little and we could so easily come off as the disgusting Americans, always unhappy no matter what we had. In fact, we were just fulfilling the stereotype by being ourselves. Thankfully at thirteen I could wander around by myself, playing soccer with locals and swimming in the pool. I sighed as I turned the knob, preparing myself for the volume of yet another screaming aloe-applying session.
It was surprisingly quiet. I settled on the couch with the television on, savoring the moments of calm and waiting for the rest of my family to get back. My brothers were the first to come in, bickering about something or another. They too plopped down next to me. Then came my parents. It took us a few minutes to realize we were missing somebody. “Where’s Olivia?” my father asked. My sister Olivia was five, the youngest of us four kids, and ultimately the one who was always left in the background as the rest of us fumed and screamed at each other.
“Thought she was with you,” my elder brother responded.
Then my heart sank as I remembered who was with her last. My family all turned their heads and looked at me. “Alyssa, where is she?” my father repeated. Everyone turned to me as I numbly opened my mouth. No sound came out. I had been playing with my sister by the pool, but somehow I had forgotten about her. We all bolted from the room, our hearts likely beating in a uniform panic. Heading towards the large pool area, I hurriedly scanned the perimeter, too afraid of what I might find in the water. I felt nauseous as possible scenarios flashed horribly through my head. I didn’t know what to do. How long had it been? How could I have lost track of her? I remember rolling my eyes at my mother as she walked away after a quarrel over getting my hair braided and then stalking off towards the room. That must have been when I left Olivia by the pool. My flip-flops slapped against the cement blocks as I ran through the resort, feeling more panicked and terrified with each minute that I didn’t see her pink wrap skirt in the crowds.
Finally, one of my parents called out from the hotel room that they had found her. My sister had somehow wandered up to a hotel employee and said that she didn’t know where her family was and he had somehow delivered her to our room. I was amazed and thankful that she could have the knowledge to do such a thing at her age. A twinge of embarrassment soon followed as I imagined the hotel employee shaking his head at the irresponsible, screwed-up American family yet again.
“Where the hell where you!” my father shouted, his face red and furrowed with rage.
“What is wrong with you!” my mother added. “Do you have any idea what could have happened? We are in a foreign country!”
I prepared a retort, ready to snap back with a biting reply to make them both shut up, but then I felt my face sear with fear and shame. I hung my head in silence as hot tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t know how I could have let this happen. How could I lose my little sister, who I had prayed for so fervently when we found out my mother was pregnant, who I had loved and cherished so diligently. I had unknowingly lumped her in with my frustration at the rest of my family, making her as much a target of my anger by forgetting her. My mind berated me with guilt.
As elated as I was that she was safe, I couldn’t shake the humiliation and remorse I felt for being the cause of a possible catastrophe. I had taken on the role of the family menace far worse than my brother ever had. Rather than being the cause for a few ruined moments on vacation, I was responsible for nearly triggering a serious disaster. And worse, I had almost let my teenage angst towards my family actually ruin my family.
If I really thought about it, my family was awesome. Here we were in Costa Rica when many families never travelled at all. Its true we were loud and obnoxious, but we were also silly and laughed together, something many families may not enjoy. We were dysfunctional, but what family wasn’t. And in truth, much of my misery was probably caused by my own stubbornness and hormones. I looked around at them all and then pulled Olivia towards me. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered.