In the end, I didn’t die or feed myself to sharks. But that’s the best I can say about my first whale watch off the coast of Maine. The fact that I didn’t spontaneously combust was also something of a surprise. I’m fairly sure that everyone on board thought they were traveling with my ghost.
Who knew it was possible to turn a stomach inside out? I’ve had every sort of virus, flu, and motion sickness, but something about that boat on that ocean on that day was enough to kick nausea to a cosmic, mind-bent fourth dimension. I have never been so ill.
Sage wisdom usually says you’ll feel better once you vomit. I kicked sage wisdom in her sorry, lying derrier. I thought I’d be fine after I threw up over the back railing. The first time. Or the second time. After that, a portly, grey-bearded seaman sent me to the bow, away from the diesel fumes, with an assurance that my stomach would improve with the change of venue. It didn’t. I hurled over the side of the boat several times, then switched to the barf bag a crew member slipped into my shaking hands.
By that point, actually, all of me was shaking. After you vomit eight or nine times in a row, with no end in sight — despite prayers for a quick demise — your muscles get a little freaked out. Mine were in a fierce bout of tremors. My fingertips went numb, and my eyes slipped down to just below half mast. Passing out sounded like a really good option, even if it meant hitting my already concussed head. But I didn’t get that lucky.
Instead, I started talking to myself. The rest of my family was on the upper deck. After a certain point, I was pretty sure I couldn’t walk or make it up the stairs, pale as a haunt, twitching like a demon, hair dangling loose barrettes, bag of vomit clutched in my fist. All I could do was hope they were okay, and rely, like Scarlett O’Hara, on the kindness of strangers. My husband and the girls all got a little sick, one time each, and I have the deepest gratitude for the clutch of moms who helped my eldest daughter while my husband was tending to the youngest. What a party that must have been.
At forty-two, I am more or less composed and usually self-reliant. That all went overboard with the contents of my belly. Desperate after several hours, I took unlabeled medication from a total stranger who promised it would help. It got me back to harbor with my intestines still intact. Frankly, if that little pill had fried my circuits, turned me purple, or sent me to the isles of Kublai Khan, I doubt it could have made things worse.
I hear there were between 15 to 20 separate whale sightings that day, some only yards from the side of our boat. I’m sure it was a spectacular show. My husband got some videos. The girls were both suitably impressed. I’ll admit to seeing several large grey backs curving from the waves — and wondering if they would swallow me in mercy if I threw myself overboard. I couldn’t make it to the railing, so I never did find out. And I think these whales were vegetarians. Just my sort of luck.
On the shaky walk from the harbor to our rental house, I started writing in my head. Back in the still sunlight of the lawn, I stitched the story to the page, madly, in longhand, unwilling to lose a fragment. And that’s how I know that I’m a writer. If I’m going to have to throw up for three hours straight, it’s not a glass of wine or a massage that I want in the end. It’s the story, the events lined up in language.
In the end, I guess I’m glad I didn’t feed myself to sharks or whales or, bit by bit, to the water-skimming seabirds. It might have made for a more interesting ending, but I would have missed my chance to write the tale. Sea life has no fingers, and a whale song, though lovely, has no definite narration. The Ahn Family Whale Watch of 2012 will become the stuff of myth, at least in our small circle, where everyone but my husband has vowed never to set foot on deck again. If my husband wants to brave the waves, he’ll have to hold his hurl bag by himself. I’ll be home, retelling the legend of the day mom nearly served herself up to the roiling, insatiable belly of the sea.
How are your sea legs? What adventures have you survived so that you could write them down?