Monday, November 26, 2007

The Wall and the Ocean

This is my entry for Saturday, November 24th. Copied and pasted, at the airport. The connection is uncertain, and we need to head for security. More later, from home.

I braid the top part of my hair. I washed it only yesterday, and this will surely ruin it. But that’s alright, we will be snorkeling later, and I always need to wash it after it’s been in the ocean. I don’t actually think about snorkeling right now. This is a reconstruction, I don’t yet know this is what I will be writing about, and I put it in after. I have a choice of telling you or not, since this is my reconstruction. I decide to tell.
       I braid the hair so the helmet can fit better, easier, more precisely. Precisely and precipice, are these two words related? I think they are. But not then—this too is a reconstruction.

The brochure they put in our room last night said tonight there will be a formal dinner. Coat and tie for gentlemen, cocktail dresses for the ladies. I didn’t bring a cocktail dress. I don’t know that I own one I still fit into. I brought my aunt’s to the first cruise we took, but I have since returned it. As is, I know that the hair will be enough trouble, getting it washed along with everything else we will have to do this afternoon to make it to our dinner time without missing out on the off-ship part of the program will be tight. So they should just lay off with the dress. What are they going to do, I think, not let me into the dinner? I take weird, illicit pleasure in smarting for this fight. Even as I know it will never happen. I could show up in a t-shirt and shorts, and they would probably still let me in, with a disapproving look undoubtedly. Nevertheless I keep imagining how easy it would be to shock their lights out. I don’t have one that fits anymore, I would say. You see, my metabolism has really gone to shit ever since my baby son died. I don’t want to spend the money on a new one. The dress, not the son.
       It really does bother me. They could’ve said “formal attire preferred” or somesuch, something that provides for some freedom, even if the freedom is of a restricted variety. This is our vacation after all, and it is good to have choices. This cocktail dress thing, it’s like a uniform, like there will be some celebrity judge or other at the entrance to the dining room deciding your fate. This is a fetching number. Please, come in, and may I recommend the duck? You, on the other hand. What are you thinking showing up in pants? I do not care that they are petite, and thus fit, or new, or even fancy. I do not see a cocktail dress, but I do know for a fact there is a buffet on the upper deck. Enjoy.
        Relishing this imaginary opportunity to bring them down to size is childish, even ludicrous, unworthy of the story I would tell them. But still, here it is.

I already have my shoes on. Surprisingly, the first pair she offered me fit. They are funny shoes. There is an opening in the material on the top, right where the laces start their ridiculously long march up the foot. There are so many holes, rows of holes for the laces to thread through, absurdly many, many more than on regular sneakers. Maybe figure skates have that many, but it’s been years since I laced up my own and many months since I laced hers. I don’t remember.
       The helmet goes on, and is adjusted, then this black contraption over my middle, then it is clicked in place, twice, and I wait. My head is feeling a lot more substantial with the helmet on. My field of vision is only a little restricted, I will need to be able to see straight, right, left, as far as an arm’s reach. The rest is not as important. I wait. There is a girl of 14, maybe 15 in front of me. Her brother is taking pictures and egging her on. When she lets go and gives up, he makes fun, relentlessly. It’s my turn now.
       Use mostly your legs the man says. Most people overuse their arms, and then they get tired too fast. OK. At first it’s easy. The first several steps are close enough together that I take them in seconds. Then it gets harder. The holds get funky, hard to grab with your hand. And if the grip is uneasy, it’s hard to push off the next step, it’s uncertain. But I grab the next one. Then another one. Hey, I am doing pretty well. Oh, wait. Now what? I need to put my foot where my hand is, and there is no good place to put the hand. Well, there is, if I was about a foot taller, but I don’t have the reach. I try the red stone to the left, even though the yellow ones I have been using are supposed to be all I need, but even the red one is no use. JD is taking pictures. I am sure they will not be kind, they will, instead, show just how much extra weight there is on me. I don’t feel bad about it, or not too bad in any case. The body has its purpose now, the hope for it, trying to mess with it, to ask it to also loose the weight seems greedy. These are reduced circumstances, and one makes do.
       I look around some more, but I can feel my fingers slipping their hold. I let go and grab the rope, just like he told me before. I can’t reach I say, bring me down. He lowers me, gently enough, no need to repel. I made it about two thirds of the way up the climbing wall. Pretty good. Tomorrow, I think, tomorrow I will try the other yellow track, the ones kids are climbing. I should be able to reach there.
       I am surprised to find my arms are jittery, and my hands. It didn’t feel like they were doing too much work up there, but I guess that was deceiving. I had to hold on, tight, so there was tension, and this is that tension, released. I return the shoes, with my still trembling hands. The woman who gave me the shoes said kids have to be six to try this. She is five, and so I did not write her into the form for who else my consent covers. I know she wants to try, badly. I don’t see them checking anything, no computer, no magic link to the central brain that knows all there is to know about us.

On our first cruise, with another company, there was a strict rule about the age cut-offs for the camp. Five, and you are stuck with three year olds. Six, and you are with the big kids. There was no way to jump the group. None. For this cruise, then, JD tried to age her a bit, add on about six months. But he had to give the passport numbers, the real ones. They checked the DOB there, and when we showed, she was listed as five. We told her she might have to go to camp with little kids, and she said ok. But then we showed up for the sign-up, and they said it was ok, she could jump to the older kids group, and as long as she did well there, she could stay. That is where she is right now, at camp, in the bigger kids group.

We pick her up for lunch. She is excited about all of it. The morning at camp, desert with lunch, snorkeling that is next on the agenda, and the pirate parade with camp tonight. We tell her about the wall, about how we will try to sneak her in tomorrow, but it may not work. We talk about the rules. Some are bad rules, they make no sense. And then it’s ok to break them. But kids can’t decide by themselves which rules are bad. If you don’t like a rule and you think it can be broken, come talk to the parents, and we will decide together. It can’t be that you just want to do something that the rule doesn’t permit you to do. You have to explain why this rule is not making sense. No cheating.
       We are off. Off the ship, to wait on the pier for everyone else, who is apparently not as paranoid about the tour leaving without them. Lucky I brought my book. Not lucky, predictable. I bought it at the airport and carry it with me everywhere to read every chance I get. Which I don’t have that many, as it turns out. Or maybe I am just not a very fast reader. I can read faster, but then I skip things. I am reading this one carefully, savoring, hanging on every word. I even go back to check something once.
       The first part of snorkeling goes well, very well. She finally figures out how to work it all, and is excited to see all the fish. She tells me so with the snorkel still in her mouth, so it comes out muffled, but I still get it. She gets cold, and needs to go up for a rest. When I go to get her again, we forget her inflatable west, and that messes us up, she tries to breathe with her nose, gets scarred, wants out. JD takes her on the boat. There is only ten minutes left, so they stay, and I get the camera and go chase the fish.
       I love the colors of the tropical fish. Corals too, their shapes, their colors. As I chase an angel fish, paparazzi style, I catch another one in my lens, a light purple one. Wow, but it’s pretty. And then it occurs to me that things under water are not actually the color we perceive them to be. This here is the original case of who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes? There is a conversion table, and you should be able to figure it out from physics. But I don’t remember the table and I don’t remember enough optics to figure it out. Will have to ask JD to see if he does.
       Back on the boat, I dry myself off, pack up, peel an orange. And then I see them, out on the deck, playing the Old Country version of pat-a-cake. I sneak onto the opposite side of the deck and shoot some pictures. I have no place in that moment. It is sweet, and it is for the two of them. I know, too, the futility of trying to capture it on film, or in zeroes and ones, as the case may be. But I try anyway. This is my family, happy. I need as much of that as I can get these days. So even an image, a reflection, a shadow will have to do. Something to hold on to, for later.

Deducing the title of the book I have been reading is left as an exercise to the reader. Any takers?


Anonymous said...

Could your book be Harry Potter? I haven't read any of them, but your description of hanging on every word sounds like it must be a book that has had lots of hype.

niobe said...

I was thinking that you must be writing in the style of the book and/or that the title of the post is an homage to the book. But, other than that, no guesses at all.

slouching mom said...

I'm clueless. But quite intrigued.

Lori said...

Your final lines about your family were so beautiful, and poignant. I still catch myself staring at my children and thinking, "there they are... the three I get to keep..." and when I am feeling particularly melancholy I might even add, "...for now."

Beruriah said...

Well, I guessed, but only after some additional help, so I won't post the answer.

Think popular and contemporary, but not too contemporary.