Tuesday, January 30, 2007


(I want to start out by saying, if any of my friends posted a blog like this I’d worry a little bit, so I want to reassure you that no one needs to worry about me. But things keep coming to mind, and writing them down has helped exorcise some demons for me.)

(I also wanted to warn you. This is long. And self-revelatory. And muddled.)

Last month I was joking about how I was probably going to hell for being somewhat irreverent (a pretty irreverent statement in and of itself). My friend replied that there was only one unforgivable sin.

Things that I’d had in my mind for years began to coalesce around those words.

I was somewhere between 8 and 12 years old when I first remember thinking about suicide. I remember sitting in front of the television, so it must have been something I saw on TV. I must have asked my mother about it, because I remember her telling me that suicide was the worst sin a person could commit because it was a murder that you couldn’t live to repent. That only God had the right to decide when to end any life, and it was our job to figure out how to survive what we were given.

The next time I remember thinking about it, I was somewhere between 14 and 16. I remember standing in my closet, looking for something, and the thought just flitted through my head, what would it be like? To hold a gun to my head and pull the trigger. I had no reason to think about it, it wasn’t something I was considering, but the image wouldn’t leave my mind, and I remember sitting down on my closet floor, shaking. Wondering if I had a problem. Wondering if I should see a psychiatrist. But the image faded, and I knew that I was happy, and healthy, loved my life and my family too much to do that to them and myself, and that my only mental problem was an over-active imagination. But it terrified me all the same. What I could be capable of under the right circumstances. Or the wrong ones.

My junior year in high school, in the spring, I got a phone call that one of my best friends was in the hospital. There had been an accident. Some incompatibility with her prescriptions. They’d had to pump her stomach. When they’d let me see her, I brought cards, flowers, chocolate, a teddy bear, I don’t know what all. I was just so grateful she was okay. She was pale and weak, and quiet. She wouldn’t talk about how she felt, she wouldn’t talk about what had happened, and things just seemed so off. But I didn’t realize what had really happened until much, much later. I’d long lost track of her (she’d spontaneously stopped speaking to me at the end of the school year, and I never knew why). A friend of mine told me that everyone had known. Even my boyfriend. And no one had ever told me. I felt terrible. I hadn’t known she was unhappy, scared, trapped. I loved her so much and would have done anything for her, and I never knew she needed anything. Thank God she made it. I’ve heard since that she’s married, has children, and is living a happy, healthy life.

Why didn’t she tell me? I would have done ANYTHING. Could I have done anything? I guess she would have told me if I could. Or is that just me evading the guilt? And why do I feel guilty? For not knowing. For not being there for her. I don’t know. Thank God she lived, for her own sake, and for the sake of the people she would have left behind.

Then there was the guy that year who did tell me. Sat down against the courtyard wall beside me one morning while I was waiting for the band hall to open.

“Hey, morning.”

“I wanted to tell you. I thought about killing myself last night. But I didn’t, because I knew you’d be mad.”

To be honest, I didn’t really like the guy. He terrified me. He was violent (one day I was the only reason he didn’t beat one of the guys harassing him to a bloody pulp). He was… difficult. Dark. Angry. But he had always had so much respect for me. And even if I didn’t like him and was afraid of him, I cared about him.

“I would be mad. I’m mad that you even… Don’t EVER think about that again.” I told him to get help, please, God, get help. And to never make me feel as terrible as I would feel to lose his friendship that way. That I knew things were hard for him. That he had trouble. But that high school only lasted so long, and that he was smart enough to go to college, and that he could start new there. That he was too… everything, I dunno, to do that to himself.

I don’t know if I said the right thing, did the best thing. But it worked. He got better after that. Seemed happier. He asked me out, and that didn’t go well for him, but we stayed friends. He moved away, and called me months later, and was doing well. Still credited me with some good influence. Was staying out of drugs… because it would make me mad. I don’t like being someone else’s conscience, someone else’s self-esteem. But I hope I helped. At least he gave me the chance.

The next time this entered my life, things didn’t end well. Since college I’ve thought about this, at least in passing, almost every day. Every time I look in the mirror, I see a scar that I’ve had since I was 10. I was playing with my friend and he accidentally hit me full on with a golf club. Only time I’ve ever had stitches. I still remember the horrified look on his face as we both saw the blood running over my hands, and said in unison, “My mother’s gunna KILL me.”

I remember playing with him again later, exploring around his grandmother’s condo complex, pretending to see monsters in every corner, and him saying, “I really see them, I’m not pretending. Are you just pretending?” And me answering no, with a faith and an imagination so strong that when I close my eyes now and play that conversation over in my head, I see the monster behind the oleander that I know could not have really been there. But I saw it then and I see it now.

And it was with this friend, at his grandmother’s condo, that I might have seen a ghost for the first time. We did both see that, a presence so tangible that I turned to ask it a question, thinking it was his grandmother, and finding myself gazing into air, then turning back to see his face white and eyes enormous with wonder and fear.

His family moved away, and I didn’t see him much after that, but my memories of him are filled with that magic. I didn’t have many playmates my own age growing up, but I remember him as he was then. I would give anything to call him up and talk about those times, now that I’ve lost so much of my past in dribs and drabs along the way.

But I can’t. In high school he got into drugs. He got busted, and put on probation. He had been smoking pot when he found out his probation officer was coming over to check on him.

He blew his own face off with a shot gun.

And he survived.

After months of agonizing surgery and recovery and surgery and recovery, he was back to whatever normal was possible for him. Should I have written? Should I have called? I wanted to, but his family, after the first shock, did their best to sweep it away, say it was an accident, hide it. To help him get on with life, to help him be normal. To hide their shame, maybe. And I wasn’t sure I knew that young man any more. I wasn’t sure he’d want to hear from me. And I was much younger then, too. I was much less sure of myself than I am now, and I guess as a result, I was less willing to give and to share. Less willing to believe anyone would want me to share. And things never did become “normal” again for my friend.

Within a year of the shooting, his mother found him hanging in his bedroom.

It was terrible for me, the finding out. I can’t imagine what the finding must have been like. I curled up into a ball and sobbed for the little boy who’d sent me to the hospital and shared so many daydreams with me. I can’t imagine how you mourn for your child. I felt guilty, horribly horribly guilty. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed a thing, but I could have told him how much I loved him, loved our memories, cherished them. How much I still believed in all he could be, in spite of the drug problem, and the desire to die. And I was thousands of miles and several years removed from him. How must the people who saw and loved him every day, every long and difficult day, how can I possibly imagine how they must have felt?

His grandmother was a lady of extraordinary faith. But how can your faith help you through such a loss, when your faith tells you that this treasured person who you loved as a part of yourself, this beautiful and radiant soul, is damned? Is unforgiven.

If you believe that repentance is the means to forgiveness, it logically makes sense that suicide is unforgivable. Murder is a mortal sin, suicide is self-murder, and you have no chance to repent during life if you kill yourself. Therefore, you have no chance of forgiveness. Quod erat demonstrandum.

I do not believe this.

At all.

I don’t know what leads a person to the decision to die. I have never, never really been anywhere close to that decision. And when the words, “There but for the grace of God go I” come to my mind, I know that it is the truth. It could have been me.

There was a time years ago that I wanted to die. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had lost everything that mattered. I woke up every morning, and cried because I was still breathing, and the grief was like an anvil laid on my chest as I lay in bed, nearly suffocating me in mind-blanking pain. I knew in my mind that things would get better, but my heart was too crippled and broken and bleeding to believe it.

I remember walking under the stars in a gorgeously clear night sky, and feeling oppressed instead of uplifted. I remember praying to God, as I shivered from the cold and from the weight of being. I told Him I couldn’t do it myself. I was too afraid. I had thought about whether or not I could. And it seemed easy enough until I thought about my parents, my friends. All the people who would grieve and want to know why. And I could never explain it to the people I would hurt. But I prayed to Him to please, please take me home. I was too weary to go on.

But He made me go on. And slowly, my heart came to believe what my head had always known. And my soul slowly opened up with the knowledge that not only would things get better, that I had the ability and the responsibility to make them better. And that I did indeed have the strength to do it. I could never have believed it, how strong I was, until I found I had to be.

Today, I can’t imagine (and don’t want to try) a series of events that could bring me back there. No matter how much I lose, or how much I get wrong, I’m so much stronger in my faith in myself, that I can no longer imagine coming to the end of that faith, in myself, and in God. He’s pulled me up out of so many things, that long-past depression included, that I just know, in my soul, that when things are bad, they *will* be better. And that it is in a large part up to me to work to make them so, in any way that I can. But I can still remember the pain. And I think that anyone who goes as deep as I did, and then goes deeper, that person of all people will find a way to God’s pity and love, not his wrath.

I think it’s we who have such trouble understanding and forgiving. To look in imagination into the mind and heart of the person who could end life like that, I know I can’t really understand. It seems dark and tangled and full of pain. A mind so full of the darkness I tasted for a bit, that the step into a greater, final darkness seems like the next step. I can’t understand. But even I can pity, not in a condescending way, but wishing I could share the burden, if that would lighten it. And I think even I could forgive. And if I can do these things, me, flawed and self-centered and arrogant as I can be…

How can God not? An all-loving and omnipotent and forgiving God. How could he not forgive the poor broken, lost, but still lovely being that will stand before him in pain and grief, and maybe anger? A Father God could forgive such a child. Would comfort such a child. Surely He would. Maybe He wouldn’t, though. But how can we here say what He would do? I know what I hope and believe He would do. Other people believe differently. But how can we possibly know? And if we can never know the mind of God, how can we call any sin unforgivable? It’s not that I don’t believe in evil and wrong. And I recognize them when I see anyone hurt another willfully and wantonly.

But how can I say I would never act, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, just as others have acted? And if something ever drives me to that extremity, I can only hope that God can forgive a lost and lonely child. There but for the grace of God…

It’s maybe a little ridiculously hyperbolic how much deep and struggling thought I’ve managed to come up with out of that one comment that was meant at least partly in jest. But thinking about the decision to die has made me think of something else that’s been troubling me. Something I’m much more in danger of. The lack of decision to live. You can decide to not die, if you don’t kill yourself. But that’s not the same as deciding to live.

And for a long time, I didn’t decide to die, but I didn’t decide to live. I just… was. I kept breathing because after one breath was over, another came. My heart kept beating, because that’s what hearts do. But it’s a soul-shuddering thought, to wake up one morning and realize you aren’t alive. To have life slam into and over and around you like a tremendous wave that crushes you because you weren’t riding it.

And there are other ways of not deciding to live. There’s my dad. His doctor told him, when he started having blood-pressure trouble and heart trouble, that if he didn’t stop smoking, there was no guarantee he’d see his youngest daughter graduate.

Well, he didn’t, and he didn’t.

I can’t say that it would have changed things. I know the doctor thought it would. And it makes me angry that Daddy, who always said he do anything for his girls, didn’t do this. Didn’t do this thing that might have meant he’d still be here with us. Or might not have. Really, in the end, it doesn’t matter so much, I guess, what the outcome was or might have been or wasn’t or might not have been.

What matters is he didn’t do it. Not even for us. When he knew how much it could mean. He didn’t decide to die. But he didn’t make that decision to do everything he could to live. But I guess he lived the way he wanted to. And he did decide in many ways to live as much as he could. He was so vibrantly alive. So uninhibitedly alive in a way that I was refusing to live. I can’t help being angry at him, still. But I can’t help admiring and loving him absolutely.

If he hadn’t died the way he did, I may never have decided to live. Living hurts. It’s terrifying. You give yourself away bit by bit with no guarantee that you’ll get anything in return, or that you won’t be giving and giving until there’s nothing of your self left. So far, though, I’ve found out that I do still always have more. And I do get a lot in return. I’d like to get more. But then, I’d also like to give more. Working on that.

But it seems like so many people are so afraid or apathetic or self-doubting that they don’t decide to live, even if they don’t decide to die.

Is that really any more forgivable? In theory, at least, I’d rather stand before my Father and know that I did something, rather than stand before him knowing I did nothing. I’m not saying I approve of suicide. I won’t judge any of the people I love that thought about it or did it. I know it will never be the right decision for me, but knowledge can shift and sift away and back. There but for the grace of God…

Still, I’d rather go to hell for something I did rather that all the things I didn’t do. Hell and Heaven aside, I’d rather suffer on earth for the things I do, rather than for the things I’m too afraid to do, and so don’t. And I can imagine what it might feel like to be so trapped and terrified that life doesn’t seem to hold any other options. I don’t think it’s something I can ever understand from the outside. And I intend to remain on the outside.

I also don’t know if there’s anything anyone else can do when you get to that point. I hope there is, because I hope if I’m ever there, someone does something. But in the end, we decide for ourselves what to do. Or not to do. And only we are responsible for the decisions we make about our lives. Even if it seems like the only choice, you’re still the one who has to make it.

That doesn’t stop me for hoping that I did something to help my friend who didn’t decide to die, because of me.

That doesn’t stop me from wondering if I could have done more for my friend who did decide to die, to help him decide to live instead. Maybe it’s like Dad’s smoking. The outcome might have been the same, but I would feel better knowing I did something. I didn't. I have to live with that now.

In the end, I don’t have any answers for any of this. I still don’t have answers, even after all the years since I first asked what suicide was. In fact, I have less answers, because then, when I was a child, it was cut and dried.

If I’ve contradicted myself, well, lots of things are less black and white for me now.

Lots of questions don’t have answers for me now.

I may look all my life and never find them.

But I know I’ll never find them…

If I don’t look.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Under glass
Sand sifting, pouring
Weighing me down, gushing,
Then trickling, then a single breath
And I'm tumbled over, then spilled out
Squeezed into a narrow space, reborn,
And buried again a hundred,
A thousand times.
No more.
I've smashed the glass
Shattered it against the floor
Emptied myself into your hands
But you can't hold me or my dreams,
I will become something new
Healed and filled again
By something better
This time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Adventures in Home Improvement

I installed a programmable thermostat. All by myself! With only one injury!

I really have no excuse for the injury. This was a pretty low impact job. But my old thermostat was painted onto the wall, so I was using an exacto knife to remove it, and slipped. Dude, never try to catch one of those when it’s about to go flying. Just let it go flying. I now have a small puncture wound on my finger. Oh well.

I took the old thermostat of the wall and found a metal plate around the hole. Fortunately the screws for the new one could be mounted beyond that, so I didn’t eat up any drill bits like I did on my curtains.

So, the instructions said I could use the dry wall anchors and screws provided. Hmm. Really. I went through everything about five times and couldn’t find any hardware. So I called customer service. Spent a few minutes on hold and continued to rummage, looking under the couch cushions and everything. A lady answered my call and I explained that I had purchased a thermostat, and the instructions said to use the screws provided but… “The screws will be in the battery compartment.”

I guess they get that question a lot. :-P

So I opened the compartment, and shuuurrre-nuf, there they were. Thanks!

After that the job was a breeze. I now have two more holes to caulk and paint when I move out of this place. But I also now have a programmable thermostat. Programmed even! I’m all set!

Cruise Journal: 12/16/2007


At 7am the captain came on the intercom. Half asleep, I felt the movement of the ship on the water, and knew we’d dock in time. If we were moving, we had to be underway in the ship channel. The captain announced we’d be docking at approximately 9am.

I got up and got ready slowly, packing up my toiletries as I finished with them. Then I put on my water proof jacket, tucked a book, my sunglasses, and a camera into my pockets, and went out into the fog. I wandered around taking pictures then headed towards the elevators to go up to the breakfast buffet.

Outside the elevators I ran into James (I met him Thursday afternoon, then again in the evening, talked until 1am, and ran into him outside the gym on Friday waiting to get my nails done). He took my hand to examine my nails, and got onto the elevator with me to go look for his sister at breakfast. My personal space felt slightly invaded, but it’s nice to make new friends. In the sports bar I grabbed a roll, a croissant, a muffin, some eggs and sausage and a carton of milk, and sat down at a table by the window. I pulled out the collection of Washington Irving stories and essays that I brought.

It’s funny how I’ve managed to read just the right passages at just the right times in my life. I was expecting Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The second essay is called "The Voyage" and it brought together a lot of the loose thoughts I'd had about this cruise.

In travelling by land there is a continuity of scene and a connected succession of persons and incidents, that carry on the story of life, and lessen the effect of absence and separation. We drag, it is true, "a lengthening chain" at each remove of our pilgrimage; but the chain is unbroken -- we can trace it back link by link; and we feel that the last still grapples us to home. But a wide sea voyage severs us at once. -- It makes us conscious of being cast loose from the secure anchorage of settled life and sent adrift upon a doubtful world. It interposes a gulph, not merely imaginary, but real, between us and our homes -- a gulph subject to tempest and fear and uncertainty, rendering distance palpable and return precarious.
I finished my breakfast, and went out on the deck again. There was land to the starboard and a cargo ship on our port side. I stood at the rail and watched the ship pass by as the mist-laden wind dampened my cheek and hair with cold water. Ran into James again, and since he said he hadn’t read for pleasure in a long time, I handed him the Irving and told him to read that passage. He agreed that it seemed applicable, and we talked for a bit longer. Then I said good bye and went down to look for Mom.

Since she wasn’t in the room, I went back up to the promenade deck and got a spot at the railing (it was getting pretty crowded with passengers and luggage). I was surprised to see that we were already floating just off the dock. I watched as they began to moor the ship.

A small orange rope was tied to the back hitch of an SUV, and the vehicle drove slowly forward, hauling in the gigantic yellow hawsers that the orange rope was just a towline for. A man on the dock dropped the double loop of the hawsers over a bulky post, and they began to tighten. I could hear the motored winch two decks below as it reeled in the slack. Then another orange rope whizzed past me, unfurling as it flew towards the dock. The man below caught the end and I turned to see the crew member who had thrown the loops a good sixty feet drop the slack into the water. The man on the dock began to walk it over, off the dock and thirty yards further down, where the SUV was now waiting for the rope to be tied on, so it could haul another hawser to another post. Way up the deck I could see the same thing happening at the front of the ship, and the ship moved slowly sideways as the ropes tightened.

Now I’m just waiting in my stateroom for them to call up people with orange luggage tags (that’s us). It’s good to be home.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/15/2007

Last Day at Sea, I Hope

Slept in! Got up, ate lunch in the sports bar by myself. Very good pasta. Yum. Chicken okay. But nice to have some more alone time. Then read a book for a while. Then took a beginning German lesson. Didn’t learn much. Then ran down, grabbed flip flops, then went for my mani/pedi. Very relaxing. Then jumped on line to e-mail Brooke what number mom’s mailbox is, so she can be sure to check the mail.

Now sitting and chilling over e-mail, cookies, and diet coke. I’m really ready to get home. But there’s fog in the port of Houston, so we might not be able to dock on schedule. Or at all, sounds like. I don’t know what their contingency plans are, but I really hope this doesn’t interfere with my ability to get to Dan and Rachel’s wedding.

Relaxing at the End

I’m all but packed. I’ll change into night clothes, toss these clothes into my luggage, tie on the last tag, leave my two big bags outside for the stewards to pick up, go to sleep, and debark tomorrow morning carrying two small bags. At least, I hope I debark tomorrow morning. If I have to miss the wedding because of this, I’m going to be highly displeased.

But for now, I have just a few computer things to wrap up, like transferring my photos and getting my sister’s camera ready to go back to her. And I’m sitting here on a cruise ship sipping a kir royale whilst computing, so I suppose I can’t complain.

We’ve been passing lights for several hours now. Other cruise ships, miscellaneous unidentifiable water craft, and oil platforms. Lots of these. It’s a lovely night, and I can feel home getting closer and closer. It’s been a fun trip, but I’m definitely ready to get back to U.S. soil, my own bed, and my friends. With any luck, I’ll be seeing a lot of folks at the wedding that I haven’t seen in months. With my usual luck, I could miss seeing them, and that would make me very sad.

But for now, I’m going to stay optimistic and raise my glass to a wonderful vacation well over. Cheers!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/14/2007

On Board Tourist

Today I explored the ship. Decks 4, 5, and 6 are really just corridors and cabins. Deck 6 has the Medical Center, which we checked out briefly back the other day to see if they could give us an Ace bandage. So the real exploring started on deck 7.

After breakfast, Mom, Bud, Pat, and the Coopers sat down to play cards, and I went to get my camera and notebook and pocket ship guide. I wandered through the reception area, then out onto the promenade deck (deck 7). I got up to the front, and headed up the stairs, took in a few decks, then my camera ran out of batteries. So I went into the ship to find the shops. Bought batteries and rum cake, stopped and said hi to Mom et al., then went back to my exploring. I completed my circuit around the promenade deck then began working my way up the fore decks. Deck 8 is just cabins again, so I explored the restaurants and everything on deck 9, the auditorium and casino and shops on deck 10, and the spa and observation lounge on deck 12. I couldn’t go any higher up in the fore, so I went back down, checked in on the card players again, and began on the aft decks.

After my travels, I went to a beginning Japanese lesson. Turns out my handwriting is abysmal in any language. If I ever find out I’m going to Japan, at least I’ll have a little guide to study for customary courtesy.

Now my head is hurting, so I might go lay down a bit before dinner. But I see others of my party now, so maybe I should go be social.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/13/2007

Things I Learned about Belize

Our guide for the bus ride and Mayan ruins was named Ken. He was amazing. He talked the whole time about history and culture and current events, Belizean government, celebrities, just about tons of stuff.

Belize’s major exports were indigo wood for dye and mahogany. There aren’t many mahogany trees left in Belize. Today their biggest exports are citrus concentrate and… rum or sugar cane. I can’t remember which, but the Traders rum apparently won in some major taste test recently.

There are several theories for the origin of the country name. A Scottish pirate named Wallace founded a settlement on the river, and Belize may be a bastardization of the name Wallace. The Mayan word belix (pronounced bellish) means land of murky or muddy water. The Mayan words bel itsa means land of enchanted water. Belize has also been known as British Honduras and the Mosquito Coast.

Belize has actually set up a trust fund for environmental preservation. It’s called PACT. It’s pretty cool, actually. I’ve linked it, so you should check it out.

Cashews have an interesting story. They are a seed that grows on the outside of a fruit. The fruit is edible and they make it into wine. The seed is, of course, edible. The pod that holds the seed, however, contains a powerful irritant. It will burn your skin if touched, and when they roast the fruits to harvest the cashews, they wrap wet towels around their mouths to avoid the smoke, which is as bad as tear gas. The oil they extract from the pod is used to make paint thinner. They have a legend that the devil made the cashew to prove he was as good at making things as God. And he meant to use it to poison God, but he was in such haste to finish that he forgot to put the seed in its poisoned pod in the fruit.

The Mayans painted their buildings red on the east side. The east is where the sun rises, and red symbolizes birth and rebirth. They painted the west sides, where the sun set each day, black, the color for death. Green was a color symbolizing life, and the center or heart of the buildings were painted in green.

Stingray barbs have were used for a specific sacrificial ritual. The priest performing the sacrifice used the barbs as anesthetic, then let blood from his foreskin. The giving of blood from the source of life had a strong spiritual significance. The blood would be burned, and as the smoke spiraled up, it was said to become the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.

The Mayans believed that the first race of people were made from clay. These people could not move, and could not speak, only jabber like animals. The second race was made from wood. They could move stiffly, like a robot, and speak. But they mistreated the animals and were destroyed by fire and flood. Now we’re in the third race. We’re made of corn.

The Kapok tree (I took a picture of one near the reservoir) connects the underworld, this world, and the heavens. The branches form a cross, called the foliated cross by Christian missionaries. Per an old custom, if the tree was covered in thorns, and you hung yourself from it, you’d go straight to heaven. I wonder if this made the crucifixion of Christ seem like a familiar tradition. Material from the trees is now used to make life jackets.

Children of the royal family underwent pretty serious cosmetic surgery throughout their lives. As babies boards were strapped to their heads in order to flatten the forehead. Red beads were fixed between their eyes so that their eyes would focus inward, weakening their muscles and making them cross-eyed. As adults, their teeth would be ground into fangs, and jade and hematite would be inlaid into the enamel. Porcupine quills would be inserted into the cheeks. Fangs and whiskers and flat forehead were all to make the royalty look like jaguars. Lucky folks.

The town names are fascinating. Here are a few with the stories behind them:

  • More Tomorrow – if there wasn’t enough today, there will be more tomorrow
  • Don’t Delay – if you do you’ll get caught in a flash flood
  • Young Gel Run – harks back to the days when European men would kidnap the Mayan women to take as wives, and according to our guide, there are no more young people living in the town, and they joke about changing the name to Old Gel Can’t Run

The first American television channel available in Belize was channel 9, out of Chicago. Incidentally, all the Belizeans are Cub fans.

So anyway, that’s what I learned today. But I didn’t feel so good on the ride back. Go figure, days and days on the boat with only a little motion sickness, then 2 hours in a bus and I feel like crap. The rocking of the tender boat at the pier was actually a welcome feeling. Now I’ve had a cookie and some ginger ale, and I feel a bit better. All in all, today was incredibly fun and educational!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/12/2007

Ashore in Cozumel

It was raining as we docked. It rained off and on all day. The shopping center at the end of the pier was expensive, but clean. We found a shop where I could buy a diet coke, some batteries, and an elastic bandage (think Ace bandage, only white and not Ace). See, I’ve hurt my foot. Not in any dramatic accident that will at least provide me with an exciting story. Just the old complaint returning at an unexpected time. I tooled all over Glacier National Park without having any trouble, but one day walking around Progresso and Mérida, and my right foot is done in. I’ve never had this plantar fasciitis as bad as it is right now. Not only is my foot sore right in front of my heel, my arch is swollen a little, and all the inside of my foot is tender when I touch it. Advil makes it better, and slowly it seems to be mending. I really hope it doesn’t give me too much trouble on the ONE excursion I’m taking tomorrow to some Mayan ruins in Belize.

At any rate, I tried to minimize the walking in Cozumel today. In spite of the clouds and rain, Mom and I grabbed a cab down to one of the Paradise Beach Club. Here’s how the beaches work here. They’re all government owned, so they’re all free. It’s the chairs, umbrellas, restrooms, and showers that cost money. But what you do is you go to a beach club like the San Francisco or the Paradise, get a drink, and plop down in a chair. For the price of a fairly expensive but not ridiculously priced drink, or two, you can use the showers, chaises lounges, whatever. And swim in the gorgeous water, if it’s not too cold for you. With the overcast sky and the drizzle, it was a bit to cold for me. I have to be pretty warm before I want to dip myself in chilly water.

We stayed only about an hour. Then we came back into town to the shopping center. Mom was certain there was a large liquor store in the shopping center, in spite of the fact that we walked the entire center, didn’t see any large liquor stores, and where she thought it must be was closed for renovations.

“It’s right there, it must be right there.”

“That’s closed, Mom. There was the little one I saw.”

“I don’t want to go to the little one. I want to go to that big one I went to before. It’s right there, that must be it.”

“That’s closed for renovations, Mom.”

“Well the taxi driver said there was a big one here.”

“No, he said there were four little ones.”

“No, the other taxi driver.”

“The store he was talking about is the supermarket we passed. I saw it when we went by. He said it was two blocks that way.”

“Well there’s a big one right near here. It’s right there, let’s go over there.”

“MOM, that’s CLOSED.”

Dios mio.

And she kept asking everyone who looked native where she could buy liquor. Do you know what it’s like to wander around a city with a woman who insists on sounding like a lush? Many of them didn’t understand the word, “liquor” either, apparently. Or alcohol, which doesn’t make sense. You’d think it would be close enough to “alcool.” Oh well. So I’d pipe up from behind her, “Tequila, vodka. Para comprar tequila y vodka.” I figure they can’t mistake “tequila” or “vodka.”

We met up with some of our group in Carlos and Charlie’s. Surprisingly enough, this is not my kind of place. Everyone my age and most of the people twice my age were pretty wasted, and there was a periodic conga line for free tequila, squirted directly into the mouth of passing patrons. The music was loud, the lights were flashing, and all I could think was, great, there are at least five huge cruise ships in that port, and every mindlessly drunk American in town is within 300 feet of me. Yay. Made it out of there eventually, and came back to the ship to sit and rest my foot. I’m typing this now from the 9th deck, where there’s a coffee bar, a library, the computer center, and a craft class making bandanas with beaded fringe. It’s terribly fun. If I’d brought my sister’s camera up instead of just her card, I could take a lovely photo of a parasailor with a red checkered canvas against the grey sky and grey water.

The water here is a gorgeous blue, right next to the ship. Just amazing. But with the clouds, as I look across the water right now, it’s a steely color. I suspect the shore I can see across the way is Playa del Carmen. It doesn’t look very tropical, but it does look very restful. Argh, I wish I had my camera. This parasailor is taunting me. This is what I hate about taking a camera at all. It makes me discontent to just see and absorb. I must capture digitally, and no one will ever really want to see it anyway, and I’ll never look at it again. So screw it. I’m just going to stop typing and start absorbing some more. One of the ladies beading across the table with me is from Bulverde, close to home. Small world.


The craft class has left, and now I seem to be sitting in a trivia game. I think I’ll answer the questions and see how I do.

1. blue whale – world’s largest mammal - right

2. whale shark – world’s largest shark - right

3. sperm whale – what kind of whale was moby dick - right

4. ants – giant insects in “Them” - right

5. African – larger elephant (African or Indian) – guessed… right

6. true – male penguins care for young while females hunt for food – guessed… right

7. moose – Canada’s national animal – guessed right, but changed it! The beaver!

8. desert storm – desert shield became this in 1991 - right

9. 31 – days in months with religious importance to Caesar – guessed… right

10. wine – four letter word for fermented grape juice - right (duh)

11. Amsterdam – first European city to have street lights – guessed… wrong. Paris

12. baseball – team sport contributing most words and phrases to everyday English – right

13. pyramid at giza – only ancient 7 wonder still standing - right

14. Toronto – capital of Canada – wrong. I knew that, though. Ottowa

15. pink – color of yak’s milk – wrong. blue! Huh!

16. 12 – people fed from ostrich egg according to joy of cooking – wrong. 24!

17. Minnie Pearl - $1.98 price tag hanging from straw hat - right

18. brown – what color was coca-cola originally – green! Ew!

19. Les Miserables – longest running broadway musical – phantom of the opera. Huh.

20. California, New Mexico – largest producers of carrots – CA and TX, I was half right!

Okay, I guessed on a lot of those, but I got 12 right. The couple behind me got 13. I’d have come in second. Hah!


I am really not a patient person. And I’m a language snob. These are not endearing qualities. I’m tired of hearing people mispronounce things. Repeatedly. And I hate to sound like a pedant and always be correcting them. And my impatience with the hard of hearing doesn’t bode well for when I start losing my own hearing. I’m going to be pretty darn grouchy about it, I imagine.

And my impatience with people who have to talk about all the things they disapprove of over and over and over. Look, I don’t want to sandwich dance in a club, EVER. My personal space envelope around strangers is humongous, and I lack so much dignity in other areas that I have to preserve what I can. But you know what, if another young woman likes it, hey, Cozumel’s Carlos and Charlie’s is as good a place as any for her to indulge, and do I really have to hear about it before dinner, and again during dinner. Yes, there was dirty dancing in the club. No, I don’t care for it. But it happens. People enjoy it. Different… er… strokes. I would have gotten up and left, if Mom had wanted. I was only waiting for her. I saw things that embarrassed me. I have not and will not recount them at the dinner table, or here. But Mom's offended sensibilities don't seem to be stopping her.

So instead of going to the show, I’ve decided to come back to the room, order a glass of wine, and just chill. I need it. I hate being so impatient, but I don’t do well with crowds, and this vacation would be a lot more relaxing if I could just be by myself a lot more. I’ve said it before, but I just don’t like seeing the world with the words “American Tourist” branded on my forehead.

I’ve got my glass of wine and ginger ale now. Don’t worry, the Riesling was the cheapest wine on the menu, and I’m not ruining it in the least. I’m going to type up some notes so I don’t have to do all this when I get back. Chilling starting now.


The water here seems different somehow. I don’t know why, but it’s lighter, softer. The boat moves through it and it slides and hisses like a light silk, frothing into a dazzling foam that fizzles out almost immediately. This is very different even from the blue water we had the first full day at sea, on the way to Progresso. It’s worlds away from the heavy, turbid ship channel water. I walk to the aft deck to watch our wake. I look up into the sky, and see the stars glimmering through the clouds. It’s lonely, and for the first time, here in the dark, I feel afraid of the cold, dark water below. I walk fast back to the door into the ship, to the light and warmth of a human world, apart from the awful, unfeeling beauty of the swirling blackness that surrounds and supports us. This is the definition of the sublime.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/11/2007

For Better or Worse

Today I realized, I am an American, for better or for worse. We went into Progresso and Mérida Mexico, in the Yucatan. I’m not really sure how I feel about anything. Some of the buildings were lovely, stucco over stone, painted in cheerful colors with white shutters and wrought-iron accents. But you look close and the paint is chipped, the wood rotting. The doors open into cool caverns of rooms no longer used or outfitted for anything like their original purposes. Now the walls are hung with cheap merchandize, tables are set up and loaded with more cheap merchandize, and people sit looking black against the shaded white walls, with a listless air. There’s activity and bustle out on the sidewalks, and many of the women wear straight white cotton dresses with brilliant embroidery. There are lovely parks and busy corners. And there is decay. All of these only add to my sense of dissociation and disorientation.

I’m one of a group of 10. My mom is about twice my age, and she’s the next youngest. Our group is white middle class conservative ex-military. They’re wonderful people. But they make me impatient. They know just little enough Spanish to mispronounce everything, send me off to ask the wrong questions, and make it difficult for me to understand the answers I get, because while I’m trying to ask in Spanish and understand the person I’m talking too, they’re asking in English with a few (mutilated) Spanish words, and talking louder than I’m willing to.

If I’d been by myself, I would have wandered through the markets smiling and shaking my head, meandered into bakeries and eaten one of everything, bought a necklace for way too much or way too little money, taken pictures of every little architectural detail that caught my eye, asked questions quietly and shyly, probably of the children and little old women. Instead I’m wandering along with people who are on one hand childishly proud of their ability to navigate a foreign country, and on the other wishing it were more like Disney World. Everyone is out to cheat us, so we must never pay what they ask. For all I know, this may be true. Americans are all rich, after all, and so why not make a little extra money off of their naïveté.

But the poverty I feel lurking just beyond the bright paint and impeccably clean parks tears at me. I *am* so wealthy compared to these people. They may very well live better lives than I do, for all that. But I know they lack comforts I take for granted. Free toilet paper in public restrooms, for one thing. And so, for a minute, let’s pretend they aren’t trying to cheat us. Just asking a certain price we’re well able to pay for a service they are well able to render. Like a taxi ride into town. How do we look, refusing to pay any more than a quarter what they ask? How do we look when we don’t know enough Spanish to understand what they asked in the first place, and so offer two pesos instead of the requested two dollars. And how do we look when we care so little for how we look?

I want to see these cities as something other than an American. I want to be someone they don’t expect extra profit from, and someone they don’t expect rudeness from. I want to eat their food and read their signs, attend their services, and slip quietly into shadows at the end of the day without having spent less money than I could have and more money than I should have. But for better or worse, I’m an American. With my Spanish and the improvements I would expect it to undergo after several days here, I might be able to pass for, if not a native, at least a Canadian. But my group is unmistakable American. So really getting to know the country will have to wait until some other time.

The Dinner Table

Maybe this fascinates only me, but let me tell you about the typical dinner table, and the typical cruise dinner. First, you sit down at a place setting that goes like this. From left to right: bread plate with small butter knife. Yes, everyone gets their own butter knife. It's fabulous. Salad Fork. Dinner Fork. Napkin. Dinner Knife. Um, salad knife? And above the knives, water goblet. If the wait person is standing near you, he/she will pick up your napkin and drape it over your lap. The wait person hands out the menus and puts out baskets of bread (slices, baguettes, and dinner rolls) and trays of butter packets (bowls with ice in them, with a vented cover that the butter rests on. They will bring you wine, or you can bring your own and they’ll pour it out. They fill your water goblet, and you open your menu.

The first section of the menu is appetizers. Next come soup and salad selections. On the facing page you have entrees, and below that, desserts (by far the most tantalizing part of the menu, as far as I’m concerned). From this list, you select as many as you want of whatever you want. I’m serious. Mom had two entrees from tonight’s menu (salmon and strip steak). I had two desserts (flan and chocolate soufflé with Irish cream sauce). The portions all tend to be reasonable. The appetizers and desserts are small enough that ordering two isn’t really that excessive. At least in the two standard restaurants (The Four Seasons and The Terrace). The Italian restaurant (The Trattoria) was somewhat more… abundant. And we ate there last night, which was lobster night, so the lobster lovers each had at least two tails. I had an absolutely smashing pork chop.

Basically, I’ve become addicted to butter on my rolls. They’ve got these little packets of Borden salted and whipped butter. God, it’s good stuff. I’ve also been making an absolute pig out of myself, and compensating by taking the stairs. I swear, they’re going to have to roll me off this ship. But the food is so GOOD! Everything about this whole cruise experience so far simply screams excess. I’d like to do this again some time, but I’m not sure my conscience will allow it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/10/2007


There are odd advantages for both tall and short people on this cruise ship. The life jackets are tucked on top of the closet, and I can only reach them if they’re near the edge. The thermostat is reachable, but definitely mounted higher than comfortable for me. The shower, though! How on earth a tall person would get clean, I don’t know. I stretched up to scrub the shampoo out of my hair, and hit the ceiling.

But I’m amazed at how dry the bathroom stays. I’ve managed to inadvertently soak the entire floor (and my change of clothes) in a hotel bathroom that was 5x6 feet with a tub to catch the water. Here the bathroom is 4x4 feet tops, and the shower is partitioned off from the rest by a curtain and a 1 inch lip along the floor. In spite of the boat’s motion, the rest of the bathroom floor stays dry. Amazing.

The sun is up, and the water outside our port holes is foaming white over a gorgeous deep blue. It’s going to be a beautiful day at sea. Time for the breakfast buffet.

My... Hair...

I needed a hair cut, and I have a wedding to go to when I get back, so...

Mom and I both made appointments, and I decided to get my hair colored too. So I went up the beauty salon this afternoon, and told the girl (Fae) what I wanted. She did things a little differently than I'm used to. Instead of trimming the hair between her fingers straight, she sort of snipped into it with the little scissors. I guess that gives it more texture.

She used a sort of little brush to mix up the color, then paint it on to my hair. I need one of those little brushes! She didn't get any on my ears, which I'm always doing when I do this myself. I love red hair dye. It always looks like you must be coloring your hair purple. When she rinsed it out, though, I was sort of taken aback. I've never gone that red! She dried and poofed my hair out, in a way I really didn't like, so I decided I'd have to go back to my room and douse my head and comb it out before I could be sure I liked it.

I went back to the cabin to do this, and while I was in the restroom, Mom came in and called to see if I was there. She asked, "So, how is it?" I responded, "... ... ... I look like a stop sign."

But it combed out okay, and I'm sure the color will calm down with a few shampoos. If not, I can always go back later in the cruise and get them to do something about it. But maybe I'll enjoy having a head the color of hybiscus. :-P


Dinner was much better tonight. Italian restaurant, breaded pork cutlet, brushetta with roast duck, cheese tortellini with alfredo, chocolate cake. Every one had two lobster tails, except me. Shame I don’t like lobster. :-)

It still took two hours, but with so much food, there was always something to eat or something on its way to be eaten. And the maitre d’ came over to chat with us for quite a while. His name tag showed his country of origin to be Hravatska. Which none of us had heard of. So he began to give us hints. Only, we thought he was just telling us about the place.

He finally said, okay, what is this, and pointed to one of the men’s necktie. “A tie.” And what is it in French? Of course I couldn’t remember. “Cravate.” And what does cravate sound like in English… So the table starts tossing out words. I say, well, it sounds like Hravatska. He nods, and says yes, what else. More words. And it clicks. Croatia.” And he points to me and says “Yes!” He told us about how when Croatian ambassadors visited the court of Napolean, they wore cravats around their neck which attracted attention, and the name was coined.

So dinner was excellent and I learned something new. I think we can call the evening a success!


As promised, here are links to my on-line photo albums. You'll have to have a free Snapfish account, sorry.

The Sea, The Sky - Random pictures of wind and water.

Progresso y Merida - First stop, a coastal town in the Yucatan, then a taxi trip inland.

Cozumel - Too touristy for me, and it was raining, but still lovely.

Belize - My favorite stop of the whole cruise. I could see myself retiring here. :-P

Norwegian Dream - Me being a tourist and crawling all over the ship.

Christmas On Board - Trees, garland, the decks were... decked out.

Chocolate Buffet - Nuf said.

Fog in the Ship Channel - Made coming home tricky. And eerie.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cruise Journal: 12/9/2007

As promised! It's a little rough. It's sort of just whatever I wrote, and not much editing. And not nearly as fun as my Glacier journal (you should go back and read that if you haven't, it was in July). Oh, and I'm not quite done with my web albums, but I promise I'll post picture links soon.


Definitely low on patience, and needing a vacation. Eager to be underway, out on the water. Happy to see Bud and Pat, meet their friends, see my mom, but ready to be alone. The room is warm. I’ve just gotten on the boat, with Moon River playing in the background. I’ve come to the cabin to put out bags down. It’s quiet here. Just a television playing safety drills. The people in the dramatizations are all much younger than most of the people I’ve seen here. I’m also a lot younger than most of the people I see.

Our cabin has portholes with rose colored curtains, about 20 feet above the water. It’s calming to be here by myself finally, but I need to go back up to the group, I guess.

Life Boat Drill

We are muster station H, life boat 12, and the emergency number to call is 21. I know all this because I just stood out on the deck in the cold and yelled it at the top of my lungs. The emergency signal is seven short blasts of the horn followed by one long blast. But the short blasts don’t seem very short. And if that horn starts blasting, I’m likely to just run to my muster station without counting. Brooke just called Mom for the last time. Bud and Pat have two big bottles of Crown, so Mom’s fixing a drink. I could buy the bottomless soda gun package for $40.25, but I refuse to believe I drink 6 sodas a day.

If I hear much more about how the Celebrity cruise my godparents went on is so much better than this, I might just scream. I can feel the vibration of the motors now in my seat. We must be about to leave.

Leaving Harbor

The sound of the wind rushing by is almost all I hear on the forward-most deck, up above the prow, as the banks slide by. I think I see the open ocean ahead, but we won't reach Galveston for three hours, so I could be wrong. The sun is setting off the starboard side, which is west, of course, so we’re headed south. Good. We’re going the right way, and I remember which is port and which is starboard. The smoke and the stacks of the refineries are behind us, drifting away. Off on the last bit of shore to my left, a gull cries, but it sounds muffled. Even the voices of people near me seem to fall into a dampening silence. The sounds are clear and sharp, but they don’t seam to spread or ring in the stillness.

A flatbed barge passing by has a flock of sea gulls circling over its wake. Dozens of them were perched on the deck as well, like ferry passengers huddled in their warm gray coats, puffed against the wind. I wonder if the gulls are flying in our wake, and on that thought I hurry to the aft deck.

If the front of the boat is windblown and peaceful, with only a few passengers standing against the rails, enthralled like me by the rush of the wind and the sliding shores, the aft is where I feel the real power of the ship. The engines are chugging and churning up billows and maelstroms of thick brown and green water. The gulls scream and swoop and swirl above, diving down into the foam after small fish, for yards and yards behind us. When one is lucky enough to catch something, he gulps it down immediately if he can. If he can’t, he flies up out of the fray, with the others clamoring after him. I watch one gull flying level with me holding what must be a small eel. He drops it as I watch, and one of the gulls chasing him catches it as it falls, and dodges off, pursued in his turn. Every so often a pelican glides sedately through and past this unruly mob, and I feel like he’s looking sideways at them in disdain as his wide wings carry him yards along with each swoop.

One of my fellow passengers walks by and asks if I’m getting inspired. I smile, but the spell is broken. Don’t people know better than break into the dreams of an artist at work? :-P

The side and aft decks are much warmer than the prow. The sun is setting in flames and I’d take a picture, but it would never come out with just those colors. I’ve lost my group, so it might be about time to go looking for them.

Dinner and a Movie

So, 7pm we started dinner in The Terraces. You order appetizers, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert, all at once. Every thing looks great on the menu. We sit and talk, appetizers and soup come. We sit and talk, soup comes for people who also had appetizers. We sit and talk, and talk, and get our water glasses filled, and talk. And realize the dinner is taking quite a long time.

Finally it comes. My strip steak is very flavorful, and very tough. Hmmm. The potato wedges were yummy. The chorizo on a skewer between a halved jalapeno was… atomic. Ow. One little bite and I felt like my head was exploding. Ow. Chew chew chew ow ow ow. Swallow ow. Lemon wedge helped. Water. Bread and butter. NOT touching one of those ever again.

The entrée is cleared away. The maitre d’ asks how everything was. Why do you always smile and say yes, even when it isn’t? In spite of the almost constant complaining through out the entire meal, no one has anything to say. So we sit and talk (complain) and wait for dessert. Which is the BEST part of the meal. I got the chocolate pecan cake. If it had been normal cake consistency, the slice would have been the size of my head. Instead, all that cake was compacted into about 5 cubic inches of extra-dense, extra-rich, extra-dark extra-FABULOUS chocolate cake. Wow.

Well, and dinner took 2 hours. I have to say, I actually would have enjoyed the relaxed pace, if it weren’t for the CONSTANT comparing of how this cruise isn’t as good as other cruises and how it was unbearable to be waiting so long for each course. Sigh. And if my steak hadn’t been so chewy. We’ll see how next time goes.

So then we went and watched a show. There was a little jazz combo. They were okay. They weren’t as good as the Rice jazz band. :-P The cruise director came out and tried to liven up the audience. But we were all pretty tired. There was a singer who played piano. She wasn’t really all that good. Hmm. There was a comedy magician with a raccoon puppet who was pretty funny. Then another comedian who had some pretty funny material about learning to ski and being mystified by body-builders who take pride in giving themselves hernias lifting incredible amounts of weight.

Of course, I almost fell asleep during the show. Really tired. Can feel the motion of the ship as we sail. Wonder how sleeping will be in this. Finding Nemo is on the TV. Mom’s actually never watched it. So I guess we’ll be doing this until I fall asleep. Night!