Whale Watching Woe

“Toy Whale”, by Marina Shemesh

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? 

22 thoughts on “Whale Watching Woe

  1. “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.” >> This is exactly like me so I know just what you mean. Oh, Lisa, I’m so sorry you got so seasick. I have to tell you, I’m the exact same way. I have never been on a boat, large or small, that hasn’t made me ill (only once to your extent). I recently started using wrist bands that are supposed to make a huge difference and I survived an entire three hour lobster boat ride with nary a complaint — I hope you can find some relief too someday. Nonetheless, it does make for a humorous retelling.

    • We tried the wrist bands — in fact, I was so sure that would be the solution that we didn’t take any anti-nausea meds before we got on the boat. Ah, well. At least, it makes a funny story. 🙂

  2. Oh, I’m with Julia, so sorry, but so amused, which makes me feel even worse. Love that you came away mentally composing story.

    I have pretty a pretty strong constitution when it comes to motion sickness. I’ve never been nauseated on board, but on a cruise once, at a stop in Amalfi, Italy, walking the narrow twisting, up and downhill lanes, crowded with tourists, I felt that awful spatial disorientation. My wife had to leave me sitting in a cafe.

    Hmm, sitting in a seaside cafe vs. fighting tourist traffic to shop? Yeah, even that one wasn’t so bad. 😉 Great post, Lisa!

    • I wish I had a stronger stomach for that sort of thing, though I have to agree that I would rather sit with coffee at a cafe than go shopping. And don’t feel bad about being amused — if I had to endure it, I’m glad it ended up as a funny tale. Otherwise, ug, there’d be no point!

  3. Oh, I don’t mean to be amused at your misfortune but your account made me smile – you have to be the only author that can turn the hurling of vomit into an interesting story. I love that this will become the stuff of family legend. I am very glad you chose NOT to throw yourself to the mercy of the sea.

    I have a fairly high tolerance for pain but hit me with nausea/vomiting and I turn into a blithering, weeping, whining, “please-make-it-stop” baby. So, while amused, I was also completely sympathetic to your plight. I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

  4. Oh sweetheart, I really feel for you. I know all too well the burning sensation your muscles go through when you hurl that many times and you find yourself praying for it to be the last time. So glad you lived to tell the tale. xoxox

  5. Well, I can see that you did not lose your sense of humor to the relentless ocean. 😀

    I’m sorry that your whale watching trip did not go as happily as expected. We went on one, too, in Maine and we had a blast. Except for my 4yo daughter, who did have an unsettled tummy and who threw up once (and then promptly fell asleep in my lap). She still talks about the boat ride she got sick in. Me, I was ridiculously excited by the sight of a grayish back breaking the waves or a distant spout.

    • That was the worst, in some ways — I didn’t get to enjoy the whales at all. And there seemed to be a lot of them. I think my husband got some videos — I’m not sure I’m ready to watch them yet. 🙂

  6. I’m sorry you suffered so when you only wanted to watch whales, but my goodness, you told it beautifully.

    You couldn’t have known this would make me feel better about being a writer (who probably isn’t as strange as she thinks.) I felt a little like a fool last week when I decided to write about the bugs that have been scaring me (really scaring me) this summer and then post it on Sparks In Shadow. I told myself it might make me feel better, but I knew it was because my mind wandered in that writerly way and turned it into a story I had to tell.

    • I think that’s the grace of writing, being able to take our fears and sorrows and make them into stories. And bugs can be so freaky!!

  7. For the record, I’m glad you didn’t sacrifice yourself to the waters, too… I would miss your stories!

  8. I had a similar experience once deep-sea fishing with my dad when I was about eight. Sort of like labor, it was the unrelenting nature of the nausea that was the worst of it. Was it a grey day, by chance? I remember hearing that grey days — where you can’t see the horizon line — make for particularly bad bouts of sea sickness. A good story, at least! 🙂

    • It was a beautiful, clear day. I found the horizon, but it wasn’t helping. And there was no epidural!!
      Thanks 🙂

  9. Only you, my love, can transform such a bad experience into a captivating story and lesson! I’m sorry you did not get to enjoy the whales, but I am glad that you got a good story out of it! I booked us on another whale watch the next time we are in Boothbay Harbor!! Ha ha!

Comments are closed.