When I was very young, my father’s family (and by that I mean my immediate family, my grandparents, my aunt’s family and my father’s uncles’ families — a good chunk of my paternal side) would spend a few weeks in Montenegro, in the house where my grandfather and his brothers grew up. The house was built on a hill, and the lower level no longer belonged to our family. The other two levels and the guest house were divided among my grandfather and his two brothers.
Our level, at its fullest, would house me, my grandparents, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my three cousins and my siblings. It also happened to be the level with the stench of mothballs and no air conditioning. The guest house was for the older great-uncle, who had the smallest family. It was quiet there. The top level housed the younger great-uncle, his wife, his two daughters and their boyfriends.
That was the level my cousins and I wanted to be on. There was air conditioning and a flat-screen television.
During those summers, the younger great-uncle would rent a yacht, and after breakfast we’d head down to the docks. My cousins, siblings and I would bring our inflatable tubes and then squirm as our parents tried to lather us with sunscreen. When we got to the boat, we’d instantly set our towels out on the bow, which was the most fun place to be when the boat got to full speed. We have a picture, six of us on the front of this big yacht.
When we parted ways for the summer, we always made promises and ideas on what to do next time. Next time, we’d try to water ski. Next time, we’d go down to the beach by ourselves. Next time, we’d try jumping off the top of the boat.
It’s funny, in retrospect. I realize just how lucky I was as a kid to even have these getaways, because there was no way my family could’ve afforded them. I had no idea what a big deal that was. I thought that all little kids went to Europe for the summer and played on speedboats. During the school year, I’d think to myself, “Next time, this is what I’m going to do.”
Until, of course, there was no next time. There will never be a next time.
We stopped going to that house when I was 10. We still went to Europe to visit my cousins, but we haven’t seen the younger great-uncle’s family in a decade. He has since passed away. When I was 17, I spent two weeks with my cousins in Zagreb, Croatia, and once again, we made grand plans about next time. Next time, we’ll take a day trip. Next time, we’re going to go to this club. But there was no next time. Not the same way, at least. The next time I saw them was for only three days.
I used to cling onto these “next times.” I’d do my best to plan them out, to try to keep the world exactly as it had been. I did not want change. I wanted another chance to sit at the bow of the yacht, another night out with my cousins. It was never enough.
I look back on those months now, not sad that I won’t have a next time, but just thankful I even got those few times. It’s a bittersweet part of growing up. You realize things change more quickly and drastically than you could ever expect. You realize there’s no use in holding onto things that are meant for the past. Instead, you should let them go and just appreciate the fact you had a chance to hold them in the first place.
Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior who isn’t quite ready to not have a next time on UF’s campus. Her column appears on Thursdays.