During my sophomore year in high school, my mom, brother and I shared a small two bedroom apartment while my dad, working in Anchorage, visited for perhaps a week at a time. In the same way the three of us watched nothing but Arrested Development during the month we lived together in Maplewood last spring, during that year in Everett we watched What About Bob? over and over again.
In the movie, Bob, a “nearly paralyzed, multi-phobic personality,” develops an obsession for his therapist’s family. About to leave for a two-week family vacation in New Hampshire, the therapist, Dr. Marvin, prescribes Bob “take a vacation from his problems,” while Dr. Marvin is gone. Instead, Bob follows him and his family to their vacation home. To Marvin’s horror, his family falls in love with the man he views as crazy. Their normalcy diminishes Bob’s fear, his innocence diminishes their inhibitions, and in the end the only crazy person is Marvin, drooling and catatonic while Bob marries his sister.
I’m not sure why we made Bob, played by Bill Murray, our mascot during our dad’s absence. Even now, although we haven’t watched the movie in years, my brother and I can still recite entire scenes from memory. If we had a family bracelet, rubbery and brightly colored, it would read, What Would Bob Do? One bad morning on our drive up the ALCAN highway to Anchorage, two years prior to that cramped apartment in Everett, nauseous with hunger and no restaurants in sight, I recited one of Bob’s chants to my nearly-carsick stomach, “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful. I feel good, I feel great…” When I graduated from high school, I used a line from the movie as my senior quote in the yearbook. “It feels right because you’re here, and it feels right because you’re leaving.”
Flash forward to the past two years. Every six months or so during the time I lived on the East Coast and my family on the West, my parents would buy me a ticket home. I’d close my work laptop and return to Salem, to be depressed by the town and restored by my brother and parents’ company.
Across the country from friends and lovers and work, once more making tea and toast late at night in the quiet kitchen, once more drinking cocktails on the porch, once more smelling the old-lady fragrance the house had never lost from its previous owners, once more petting the cat for an hour at a time, I felt my nerve endings restore themselves. I always returned with a renewed appetite for bars, beer, and boyfriends. I always returned feeling grounded.
It was, as Bob would say, a vacation from my problems.
Unfortunately, right now, I can’t do that. I can’t go home in order to gain perspective on, or even temporary respite from, my current situation. Though it’s a lovely situation, my internal alarm clock went off last week, announcing that it was time to go home and pet my parents’ cat. Unfortunately, immigration and customs officials disagree.
In a situation like this, you have to ask yourself, what would Bob do?