While we were in California, my aunt and uncle took us out on their boat to fish for yellowtail. The grown-ups talked about this for DAYS beforehand — how we were going out into the open ocean, on our very own boat. They would look at one another every so often and shout out “Yellowtail!” which was invariably followed by raucous laughter, back-slapping, and a big giant gulp from their glass.
When the much-vaunted day came, we set out for the place where their boat was docked. My aunt’s car was so big that the accumulated seven of us had no trouble whatsoever fitting in, and the three kids and one adult still bounced around the back seat with tons of space to spare. It was like being in a room in someone’s house that up and moved from place to place. Riding in it didn’t feel like any car I’d ever been in. Usually, when you drove over a bump, you’d feel a bump. In this behemoth, when you went over a bump, the entire car seemed to take it personally, and became intent on minimizing the blow by rolling from side to side a whole lot of times instead of just hitting the bump and getting it over with. When I looked over at my brother, the freckles across his nose had taken on a greenish tinge.
The seats were made out of a weird material that felt slippery and a little greasy all at the same time. I couldn’t stop running my index finger back and forth across the seat beside me. My mother turned around from her spot in the middle of the front seat and caught me doing this. “It’s a brand new synthetic!” she chirped. “It’ll last forever!” Being four years old, I heard it as “SIN-thetic.” And since I had a limited but wholly terrifying idea of “sin,” and since my mother seemed unreasonably gleeful about the whole car upholstery topic, I thought I better not say any more.
When we climbed on to the actual boat, the adults were in such unfettered good spirits that I felt immediately suspicious and bewildered and like I’d been invited to some party that was celebrating something I couldn’t understand. It turned out that you have to spend a whole lot of time on a boat, doing one thing and another that was also incomprehensible to me, way before the boat ever moves away from its place at the dock. But that whole time, the boat sits in the ocean heaving up and down and back and forth. Somebody decided that we children would be more comfortable “below;” so we – my aunt and the baby, my brother, and me — were relegated to the little enclosed room below the part of the boat that was outside and open to the air. The minute the door closed behind us, my brother did a quick look around, spotted a tiny little bench alongside a tiny little table, curled up, and went immediately to sleep.
I didn’t know what to do – where to sit, or stand, or look at, or anything. My aunt was holding the baby and cooing at her. That baby looked right at me, staring a hole. And without so much as a fuss or wiggle or even slight change of expression, she just opened up her mouth and spewed a gigantic amount of puke that ran all the way down her body and my aunt’s as well.
My aunt had a mess on her hands, and she got very wrapped up in wiping at the baby and herself with whatever she found at hand, all the while cooing and comforting her. Then the baby upchucked again.
I looked at my shoes. Partly because I still couldn’t figure out what to do, and partly because I thought the puke probably splattered onto them; and I was very proud of my saddle shoes.
What the heck were my parents up to? I stared at the door to make sure I’d see them coming, whenever they did.
Painting are by: Chris Schenkel (top) and Alex Scott. Chris and Alex participate in Chicago’s Arts of Life program. “Arts of Life advances the creative arts community by providing artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities a collective space to expand their practice and strengthen their leadership.”