To my father’s credit, in Miami he was mostly Dr. Jekyll and he did a good job of keeping Mr. Hyde in check. However, on the morning we were to leave Miami he snapped at me after becoming frustrated by the mess I’d made in the hotel room, my lack of organization when it came to packing and my hand flapping. My disorganization and stereotyped movements have long been a source of conflict between the two of us.

That afternoon as we pulled in to a drug store parking lot on our way to the airport I dozed in the backseat. I heard my father speaking to Gabrielle in the front seat. He said he was afraid I was sleeping because I was upset by him yelling at me that morning and he felt guilty about it. Then he declared that he would have to be careful about what he said to me because people with my disability were prone to suicide. I had really just been sleeping in the backseat because I was tired but it was nice to hear that acknowledgement from my father. I later got out of the car to pace and flap in the empty side of the parking lot. My father had seen me doing it but rather than lecture me about how it was abnormal and I needed to stop doing it, he just said “Looks like you got some good exercise!’

Earlier in the vacation I’d overheard another conversation between my father and Gabrielle as I was drifting off to sleep.  My father was telling Gabrielle how his first wife had told him that the vacations she took with him were among her most treasured memories. My friend Delilah had sent me an article reporting that when asked about favorite childhood memories, 49% of adults name family vacation memories.  When we were in Disney World, in honor of throwback Thursday on Facebook I had posted a picture of a previous family vacation to Disney World that had included my stepbrother. At the time he was a 12-year-old with spiky hair. One day when we’d been having a family meal at a restaurant surrounded by Disney characters, Alice from Alice in Wonderland pointed to Brandon’s hair and said “Is that a porcupine?” Brandon has since passed away and that remains one of my most cherished memories of him.

The last vacation I went on with my father was to Europe. At the time I was a member of a message board and I posted on that message board about my vacation while I was on it. In the comments section of a blog I found that a member of that message board had written “That imbecile Kira is on a European vacation and is spending the whole time on the internet. Most members of that forum could only dream of going on such a vacation but Kira’s using up all the bandwidth in Romania. Maybe someone should plunk her down at McDonalds so she can know what it’s like to earn something for once in her life. What a spoiled, ungrateful brat!”

I’m sure that person thinks the hotel I stayed at in Miami has more bandwidth than the entire country of Romania but I did use the internet on my Florida vacation and if they don’t like it they can kiss my spoiled, ungrateful ass. The last time I went on vacation I was posting about it on the internet to an audience full of jerks who judged me for it. This time I posted about my vacation to an audience full of friends who appreciated it. Now instead of just reading nasty comments about how I spend my vacation on other peoples’ blogs I’m writing about it on my own blog.

Even though I know the person who made that comment about me on the blog is an asshole and a moron, it still hurt my feelings. I’m used to being shamed for being unemployed but it still upsets me every time.  It’s made me wary of social interactions and inclined to avoid them whenever possible. When I agreed to get together with Jack in Miami I knew there was a good chance he would ask me if I had a job but since I’d already gotten together with friends twice on this vacation, I figured I might as well push myself even further out of my social comfort zone.

I found out that Jack is also currently unemployed. I opened up to him about how judged I feel by others for not having a job.  He pointed out that many people who judge others for not having jobs and who have jobs themselves also have plenty of things they themselves could be judged for. Maybe the kind of people who insult me and call me names for being unemployed belong next to those people I saw marching on the streets of Miami with their signs announcing that atheists and homosexuals are going to hell.

On our journey back to the Orlando airport we passed through Brevard county. It was a real blast from the past for me. For two years I had attended a program for young adults on the autism spectrum in Melbourne, Florida.  My memories of my time in that program are very bittersweet and passing through Brevard county again was a bittersweet experience. I thought back over the good times and the bad times I’d had in Melbourne, the times I’d laughed, the times I’d cried, the fun I’d had and the trauma I’d suffered. I thought of all the interesting people I’d met, the times they’d been kind to me and the times they’d been cruel to me. I thought of the ways in which the program had helped me and the ways in which it had harmed me.

When I decided to attend that program one of its main selling points for me was that it was in Florida. I was enchanted by that land of sunshine, hurricanes, beaches, swamps, alligators, manatees, theme parks, tourists and retirees. When I attended that program in Melbourne I got to experience what central Florida had to offer. When I went to a university in Tallahassee, I got to experience northern Florida. When my mother and stepfather purchased a vacation house in the Fort Meyers area I experienced southwest Florida. With this vacation I had experienced the southernmost parts of Florida.

Florida is a rather controversial and polarizing state. Some love it, others hate it.  Some consider it to be paradise, others consider it hell on earth. Some people can’t wait to move to Florida, others can’t wait to escape. Some consider it to be the best state in the U.S., others consider it to be the worst. Some people just can’t get enough of Florida, others would love nothing more than to saw its’ panhandle off of the continental U.S. and watch the entire state float away.

What everyone can agree on is that Florida is a unique state, a state like no other, a state you have to see to believe. It is a state filled with wonder, weirdness, horror and hilarity. The same could be said about me as a person as well as a few of my family members and several of my life experiences, many of which took place in Florida. Maybe that explains why I love Florida so much, why I have such an appreciation for it, why I keep coming back for more.

That article my friend Delilah shared with me about the impact of family vacations on kids’ happiness said that family vacations have the potential to enhance kids’ brain development by providing new environments that are rich in cognitive, physical, social and sensory interactions. These experiences activate key brain fertilizers that improve executive functioning such as stress regulation, good planning and the ability to learn as well as physical and mental health. Memories of family vacations can also serve as ‘happiness anchors’ during dark times.  While I’m no longer a child, I’d like to think I’m still growing as a person and that I will reap some of those same benefits from this family vacation. At the very least it will be a cherished memory of mine.

At one point when I was texting Delilah about my experiences on this Florida vacation she told me it would make for an interesting blog post. It ended up making for 10 interesting blog posts. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about my Florida vacation as much as I enjoyed going on it.

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