Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear A Tale, A Tale Of A Fateful Trip

Last Saturday, as most of the shore area was making preparations for Hurricane Hermine, I was at a friend's mother's funeral Mass. She lived a good long life, and the church was filled with a mix of family and friends. Afterwards, everyone mingled on the front steps, because after all, it's always at weddings and funerals that you get to catch up with the people you seldom see.There, I saw a couple I haven't talked to in over a decade. We met on a cruise ship in 2001, run by our mutual friend.  The cruise would be Wingman's and my first (and last) cruise together because of, what else-a hurricane.

2001 was not a great year. Wingman was directed by his company to either start rehab or seek substance abuse therapy to keep his job. He chose the later, and after going to two women therapists who he despised but took our health insurance, settled on a man with very little tolerance for bullshit.

Part of the treatment called for couples sessions, which, in plain language, sucked. They would start with a lot of questions for us by the therapist which would then bring accusations, followed by yelling, followed by tears. The therapist got frustrated at our lack of progress. After a few of those, he suggested a session on my own. What resulted in that was him handing me the names of a few good divorce lawyers as well as the 800 number for Al-Anon. He told me that he didn't feel he could help either Wingman or us, so I should be prepared.

Instead of using his list, I booked us on a cruise. Our friends loved to vacation that way and ran trips to all kinds of places.  That year was the Western Caribbean in November. I got my mother and Wingman's to agree to stay with the boys and prepared for a week for us/him to regroup. I booked tours of Mayan ruins in Cozumel and horseback riding in Costa Maya. I packed gowns for fancy dinners and bathing suits for sunny days.

What I didn't prepare for was Hurricane Michelle.

Yes, on the day before we were to take off, our cruise was switched to the Eastern Caribbean because Michelle was due to hit Cuba and go right through our path, which meant no horseback riding, no ruins. But no time to worry-we were still going, as there were no refunds either. Michelle not only hit Cuba, but spun and followed us for the next five days.

The winds were blowing about 40 mph when the ship left port. We were the LAST ship to get out before the Hurricane. A steel band played on the main deck as we went through an evacuation drill with locations of life jackets and lifeboats. As the wind whipped us around, we joked of the Titanic, and whether drowning in the icy water was better or worse than the choppy seas.

Yeah, cruises. Great idea.

The other thing I didn't prepare for on the trip was the impact of 9/11. Besides our luggage being thoroughly inspected before boarding, 9/11 delayed the the World Series that year. Our first night out was the seventh and final game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Wingman's cherished New York Yankees. He returned to our room after checking out the ship. "I'm not going to dinner with you. I'm watching the World Series in the bar. They have satellite and it's on." Period. The End.

So I went to dinner. The cruise we were on had us seated every evening with the same family of four. They sent word that all of them were seasick and wouldn't be coming down for dinner, so there I sat in a room filled with hundreds of people, at a table of six.....ALONE.

I don't know who was more upset-my waiter or the table of people next to me. I arranged my chair so I could talk to them and as luck would have it, they were also part of our cruise group. Later that evening, everyone went to a ballroom and one of the men started playing the piano. He played a bunch of things including some wonderful original songs. One in particular about the old Asbury Park carousel was especially beautiful. He was a popular local musician, and he and his wife knew some of the same people we knew. Six degrees type stuff. By the time Wingman found us, I had already made plans with them to go on at least one side trip, as well as seeing some shows at night.

With the high winds and 25 foot waves, there were no shows at night.  The ship was rocking back and forth, left and right.  The dancers couldn't walk straight, much less dance. Knife throwers certainly couldn't perform.  Even the water in the pool on the main deck had to be emptied because it was sloshing like the ecto creature in Ghostbusters 2.
And when we finally got to Puerto Rico, we boarded a bus in the rain for our only side trip to the Rain Forrest where the main road was washed out.

The rest of the cruise was Wingman making me swear NEVER to book another cruise again.

Meanwhile, back home, we started having each other over for dinners.  They enjoyed cooking as much as we did, and it was at their home that I first tasted homemade risotto. We included friends from my radio station job, and everything was great for a while with our new little circle.

I'm not even sure when we stopped seeing them.  A few last minute cancellations on our part when Wingman was not up to it, a few on their part when the husband had a last minute gig.  Maybe it was when our radio friends moved to NYC to be closer to their jobs.

We would wave if we saw each other driving by, but for a decade, we never went out with them. I'm not even sure if they knew Wingman died, or if they were there.  And with Sandy destroying both of our homes four years ago, it wasn't the time to rekindle that friendship.  Until last Saturday, where we talked on and on about years gone by. We were the last three to leave the parking lot, and as I drove away, I felt GOOD for the first time in a while.

I was walking the dog Saturday night, and their lights were on.  His car was gone-probably playing, and if not for my monster dog, I would have knocked.  I then walked by another neighbor's house, and noticed a lot of cars for a Labor Day party.  As I passed, the father of one of my son's friends walked down the driveway to get sweatshirts from his truck, and we said hello.  He asked if I was coming in, and I replied that no, I wasn't invited, adding a little ruefully that I am off that group's radar. As another couple passed me with their covered dish and embarrassed expressions, I realized that it's time to finally rightsize my friends to the ones that fit my last painted pony status. Listening to this song, the same one sung 15 years ago has new meaning for the now single me:

And when we DO get together, I can promise you this:  It WILL be on dry land.

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