Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hell, High Water, and Home

I know this isn’t technically a great picture.  It’s a little blurry and shows the backs of two of my kids, and you can’t even see Annalee.  

To me, though, it’s a sort of Norman Rockwell painting.  Yes, I stand by that, my out-of-focus mirror selfie being a masterpiece for what it conveys.  See how the doors are still opening?  See the number 13 on the floor indicator?  See, most importantly, that piece of Lilly’s wide smile?  I would call this “Home At Last.”

If Smell-o-vision existed, you would be getting a heady aroma of slightly soured grape juice mixed with a cereal bar and a piece of chocolate muffin, plus this weird cream cheese thing I’d bought at the supermarket the night before.  I was wearing this blend all over but with a particularly heavy concentration of it in my lap.  It was… intoxicating… in a knock-you-over, shivery kind of way.   

Our spring break trip to Fukuoka was almost perfect. (parts 1, 2, and 3 in case you missed them) A couple toddler tantrums, a few moments of “What are we eating?”, a definite feeling of exhaustion by our last day aside, we had a great time.  On the bus to the ferry terminal early the morning of our departure, I felt pangs of regret about all I hadn’t gotten to see.  I wished our trip could have been longer.  But at least it was Friday, and we could look forward to a weekend with Matt.

Check-in and boarding went smoothly, and before we knew it, we were pulling out of the harbor.  I passed out the food I’d purchased the night before to the kids and hooked up to the boat’s WiFi so that I could text Matt that we were safely on our way.  

The seats on the ferry come equipped with seat belts.  On the way over, I thought it was a little strange because the movement really wasn’t that significant, comparable to that of a train.  Today, though, I was grateful for them.  The waves were much rougher, forming sharp, tall peaks and valleys that we crashed over, being slammed side to side as if we were in a wild amusement park ride.  I texted Matt, “Waves are really rough, kinda scary.”

After a few minutes, a ferry attendant (let's just call her a ferry fairy) came around with plastic bags that contained sick bags.  I was a little puzzled because I’d noticed The Bags tucked into the seat pockets on the way over, just like on a plane.  Why was she passing out more?

The woman spoke to me in Japanese, but thanks to my expertise in Charades and interpretive dance, I indicated we would be fine with The Bags we already had.  She said something that apparently meant, “Well, I’ll leave one for you just in case” and dropped it in my lap with a smile.

I heard a baby further up from us coughing then crying, then saw two ferry fairies stumble-race to help.  They had lots of The Bags, and had also produced lots of wipes.  As the baby wailed, they cleaned and scrubbed with smiles on their faces that rivaled Snow White and Cinderella.  I was amazed… and also starting to feel queasy myself.  

A few minutes later, Annalee said she needed to go potty.  I inwardly groaned because a) bathrooms on trains, planes, and boats are always just a little gross, and b) it was going to be no joke getting there.  We were in the last row of the cabin, and the bathroom was at the front.  Now, I’ve traveled quite a bit and experienced some strong turbulence on planes. (By the way, is it just me, or does the worst flight turbulence only hit when you’re in the bathroom, usually mid-business?) This was worse.  

In fact, this was more like The Perfect Storm, minus any water actually being in the cabin (though it was pouring down the outside of the windows).  Walking in a straight line was absolutely impossible; we stumbled from side to side, gripping the handles on the backs of the seats.  We somehow made it there in one piece, but Annalee decided she didn’t need to go after all, so we staggered back down the aisle into our seats.  I was just getting re-situated when it happened: my darling toddler turned into a fountain of purple, somewhat chunky fluid.  There was no warning, so I didn’t even have time to whip out The Bag, but I grabbed for it now as there was seemingly no end to this fountain.  A few drops went in, but most of it pooled on my lap.  Had I really given her this much fluid already?  What was I thinking?!

On that note, what was I thinking when I’d purchased a bottled “smoothie” for my own breakfast?!  I don’t love smoothies even when I’m on terra firma, and have never felt particularly good after having one for breakfast.  My stomach likes solid things like oatmeal or peanut butter toast for breakfast, and now I could feel the smoothie sloshing around.  I felt worse and worse.

But just then the ferry fairies reappeared just then and started wiping me, Annalee, the seat, and the aisle down.  I smiled gratefully — even as I gritted my teeth to keep my disgruntled smoothie down.  These women were saints.  How much were they paid? I wondered.  They should really ask for a raise.  Skyler and Lilly were also doing what they could to help, but since I was worried that if they started up, I wouldn’t have a prayer of holding onto my breakfast, I told them to just sit tight and kept asking Wyatt if he felt okay.  

Thankfully, since she was overtired anyway, Annalee soon fell asleep.  Wyatt was a complete champ; not only did he not throw up, he also somehow managed to amuse himself for two-and-a-half hours just by looking out the window at waves.  Skyler and Lilly were sitting in front of me.  I kept asking them if they were okay (and also handed them some of the bags the ferry fairies had given me), and they kept it together even if they were at least as miserable as I was.

One of my big takeaways from college has to do with the Zoroastrians.  They believe in seven levels of heaven and hell.  I can’t remember the hallmarks of highest heaven, but the seventh hell is a place of never-ending vomit.  The cabin of the ferry was at least at level five — maybe not everyone was continuously upchucking, but a lot of people were and the rest of us were almost in tears trying not to.

At one point, the ferry fairies came with Febreeze and sprayed me down with it.  You know you smell bad when people are actually spraying you with room freshener.  Finally, I heard Wyatt say, “There’s Korea!  We’re almost home!”  I was so happy, I wanted to just hug everyone.  We had made it.  

It’s funny how those three hours affected us.  I loved our time in Japan and don’t regret it, but I have zero desire to go anywhere on the water.  There’s a sight-seeing boat that leaves from very close to our apartment building, and every time we watch it heading out, we say, “Those poor, poor people.”  And then we shudder a little.

But to me, it was also a good reminder, which is why I'm sharing this story and picture.  When we look at other people’s lives, it’s easy to only see beauty and perfection and feel like we’re coming up short.  Some people deliberately hide the ugly or “curate” (that word everyone loves these days), but I don't want to do that.  I’ll show you the cherry blossoms and breath-taking views and pieces of a stunning culture, but I’ll also show you the picture where I’m covered in someone else’s partially-digested breakfast.  I want to remember (and remind) that for all the goodness in life, there’s mess and struggles we can’t see and don’t talk about.  

The flip side of that is that it’s sometimes I hone in on the negative and forget all the good that happened.  But our time in Japan was fantastic, and no way will I let three miserable hours change that.  

And most of all, this picture reminds me that travel is amazing, eye-opening, and invaluable, but really truly?  There’s no place like home.


  1. A boat with seat belts! That really should have been a tip off.

  2. A boat with seatbelts! That should have been a tip off.


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