Washington - When people find out I was a devout Mormon for most of my life, that I abstained from sex, drugs, coffee, cigarettes and booze for 30-plus years, they almost always ask me about regrets.
Aren't there moments I wish I could replay?
There's one. Worst mistake of my life, I say: I bought a timeshare.
I had to do it! I insist, laughing at myself. It was a pre-emptive strike. In my 20s, I feared that my would-be husband might - like the real-life husbands of many of my newlywed friends - decide that travel wasn't practical. There are so many more important things to spend money on, said one, who soon purchased a Ford F-150, a Jet Ski and - horror of all horrors - an ATV. Things the whole family can enjoy, he said.
Still, I needn't have worried. There was no one less interested in being my husband, hypothetical or otherwise, than the men I met at church. I was as scary to them as they were to me. Simply put, I'm not the kind of woman they were taught to admire. I was not nurturing enough. Not interested enough in motherhood. I rarely do anything quietly.
“The way you flirt is combative,” a friend recently announced.
“Yes,” I said. “It's a thing I like about myself.”
I also like the men who respond to it. None did, in that time and place. Still, I held out hope that I'd find someone who liked the ways I was different. I always assumed I'd marry; what I worried about was getting bamboozled. I wanted to see the world, and with a timeshare in my pocket, it'd be impractical not to travel.
Life's practicalities were already wearing me down: I should buy a place I wouldn't be sad to leave, I was told, because we'd live where my husband worked, whoever he turned out to be. I should take a job I wouldn't be sad to leave, because soon we'd have kids, and I'd stop working. Of course I'd want them one day. Everyone said so.
In the meantime, I set my sights on “destinations worldwide.” I skimmed the fine print and did not factor in the constant pressure for the upsell, the countless restrictions and limitations, the endless maintenance payments.
Timeshare properties didn't show me the world but, rather, convenient locations with RV parking near big-box stores and tourist attractions. Rooms with full kitchens, laundry facilities and views of swimming pools where Marco! Polo! began every morning promptly at 8. Hot tubs where men told stories about those jerks at customs in Fiji, who will just confiscate your cooler full of frozen steaks.
My first international timeshare trip took me to Aruba, to a large hotel near a cruise ship port by a crowded beach. From my room, I looked around the property teeming with people who looked and sounded just like me. I'd come so far from home only to find that nothing felt foreign. That was the first of hundreds of times I'd regret the thousands of dollars spent on this wrong-for-me way of seeing the world.
Which is how, 20 years later, no longer Mormon and never married, my timeshare has become a very specific and bizarre form of punishment. A monthly reminder that practicality is overrated. That my best decisions have been impulsive, sometimes dangerous. They have put me in debt at times and brought me to the most instructive, expansive places. Introduced me to the most inspiring, loving people.
It wasn't practical to quit a “real” job in favour of poetry and waitressing. To sell my house on a whim and move to the Caribbean; to go to Italy for two weeks on a credit card and a fervent hope that the book I hadn't yet sold would sell; to trade my grandmother's watch for two weeks in Paris; or to sail around the world with three months' notice. But I haven't spent one minute regretting those things.
At a recent party, a family friend talked about her daughter. Smart, ambitious, beautiful. Headed off to college. “What she really wants is to be a dentist,” the woman said. “But she's getting her hygienist's license. You know. Being realistic.”
I stayed quiet, to my credit. No one at that party wanted to hear me ask what's realistic about encouraging a girl to be satisfied with less than she's capable of; less than she wants and will work for. But I couldn't bear having it explained to me, again, the right way to be a woman. A wife. A mother. As if dentists can't also be those things.
I wish I could've seen it 20 years ago: that buying that timeshare was a misguided form of resistance; a safety net that got me tangled. I don't want to own something I bought because I was afraid. Which is why I just cashed in the last of this year's points. Disconnected my auto-withdrawal, blocked the timeshare's phone number and assigned its emails to junk.
I'm stronger, now, than the sales pitch; there's no need to give them anything more.
* Nicole Hardy is the author of the memoir Confessions Of A Latter-Day Virgin. She lives in Seattle, where she's working on a book about her year at sea.