Unsteady Uproot – “A Random Memory” (Friday, August 23rd)

A random memory.

I was reading a new (favorite) book Where’d you go, Bernadette? and the most random memory from my childhood came to mind, so I thought I would share it. There is a scene in the book where the characters are on a ship on their way to Antartica. They begin their journey through Drake’s Passage (which holds some of the roughest waters in the world) and one of the characters describes her experience with seasickness and the challenge of getting around the ship in incredibly rough waters. It’s sometime said that seasickness is not just nausea – it’s nausea plus losing the will to live. Haha.

So here’s my childhood experience with rough seas, lost sea men, and seasickness.

I couldn’t even tell you what year this happened because I have no memory of exactly when it occurred and I have no picture proof. Back then we didn’t all carry fancy cameras in our pockets, ya know? I do know, though, that it occurred sometime between the ages of 10 and 13 because we were living in Europe at the time. My dad traveled each month for work in a different country and we had the privilege of tagging along for many of the trips. Somehow each of these trips happened the week of my menstrual cycle – THAT I remember clear as day because there is nothing worse than being a kid traveling around Europe all sick and bloody!

It was our habit to take an overnight ferry from the coast of Sweden where we lived at the time to the coast of Germany. We arrived around 6pm with hundreds of other cars to the largest ships I had ever seen. We lived on the coast so one of my earliest memories of that move was watching these ships go up up up as they unloaded their cargo and down down down as they were reloaded and heavy in the water. As a child I had such a hard time imagining that something so large and heavy could #1 Stay upright and #2 Move freely in the ocean.

I remember looking up at those ginormous ferries with wide eyes and asking my engineer father just how this magic worked. The ship towered above us and there were dozens of row of cars that seemed a mile long. The ship would lower a deck for the cars and the cars would pull forward until that deck was full. Then they would snap a barrier closed on that level and hoist it way way up into the ship with all the passengers inside their cars.

Then once the ship crew gave us the ok we’d tuck our little overnight bags into our armpits, jump out of our little blue van, and tromp up the stairs to the check-in desk. Although my wealthy friends regularly went on cruises for spring break and Christmas break and the like – we never did. I’m imagining it’s not the cheapest vacation option when you have 5 kids, haha. There were playgrounds and shops and live music and restaurants. You saw people in business clothes and families like us with little kids in tow.

The rooms had a Swedish space-saving flare to them. Each room had four beds and the beds folded into the walls. In the bathroom you could shower, pee, and brush your teeth all at the same time which is super cool for any 10 year old. We’d settle into our little room and then go grab some random meal at one of the restaurants. Back in the day I remember hating Swedish food, which is funny because the food is one of my favorite things each time that I go back for a visit. We ate, hung out, slept, and got off the boat in Germany the next morning around 9am.

This was our typical pattern each month: arrive at the docks in the evening, hangout and sleep on the boat, and then drive off the next morning.

Everything about these trips was an adventure for my young self, but one night something was different. Memory is an interesting thing so who knows if any of the things I remember is accurate, but that night I remember playing in one of the play areas and I began to feel odd. Not exactly sick, but also not exactly well. Woozy, shaky, and a little less coordinated. My Swedish wasn’t that great at the time and I knew no German at all so I hadn’t payed any attention the the announcements.

Before long, none of us kids in the play area could stand very well and we fumbled our way back to our parents. We must have appeared intoxicated, but I don’t remember being scared. I remember thinking it was hilarious! You see, I was one of those kids who would incessantly spin around and then lay on the floor because I craved that out-of-control feeling in my body. My behavior most likely convinced my parents that I was destined to grow up to be a drug user. Nothing of the sort has happened so far!

We soon found out after questioning various other passengers that we had entered a terrible storm and they were suggesting that for all of the passengers’ safety that we move around as little as possible. Like I said, this ship was huge and Google tells me that the ships on that particular route hold about 1,300 passengers plus cars and still even at that size the waves were pitching the ship from side to side.

Thank the heavens I was young and didn’t get motion sick from anything because I remember how difficult it was to walk back to our rooms. We kinda stumbled along and went from railing the railing. We avoided big open spaces in the ship and said lot’s of “I’m sorrys” when we accidentally plowed into people. I remember giggling nonstop because I had never experienced such a sensation.

My sister and I laughed and stumbled all the way back to our rooms and then huddled around the tiny cabin’s window to watch the waves. It was then that the storm wasn’t so funny. The rain was coming down in sheets and everything was gray and now we could see how high and how low the ship was going with every rolling wave. Up and down. Up and down. We rolled. We finally got tired of trying to stay upright and resigned ourselves to the fact that lying down was the path of least resistance. They had fancy little straps that held all the blankets in place when you folded up the beds and I considered whether it would be wise to strap myself in. If you were on the top bunk this was especially worrisome because if you laid on your side then each wave either rolled you towards the wall or towards the EDGE. I remember lying on my back putting the strap around my hips and holding onto the edge of the bed – one hand on either side.

There we tiny radios built into the walls. They played music and all that jazz but they also notified us of how close we were to the next port. Late that night the radio came on in English and the captain informed us that we had joined a team of other ships in a search for fishing boat that had gotten into trouble in the swell. From then on, even with all the tossing to and fro my sister and I were glued to that little window. There were search lights blasting from the ship’s top deck so you could clearly see the waves as well as the other ships that joined in the search. Our ship circled and circled for hours and we tried not to vomit in our beds for hours, haha.

I’m 99% sure my imagination + the excitement caused this vision in the night, but somehow I convinced myself that I did indeed see a fishing boat in the waves and that it was overturned. They never found any evidence of life that night. And I’m not sure how many lives were lost during that accident.

The next morning we arrived in the German port late, but ultimately it was as if nothing had ever happened. And now that stormy night is a strange memory.

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