I don't do boats.
He knows this, but he's in the "let's conquer our worst fears" stage of his life. I'd be a little more okay with this if "our" included "his." Instead, we're busy conquering my worst fears. I've tried to call him out on this, but his reply each time has been, "Paulie, you know I don't have any fears." He always says this with a sly smile.
After weeks of coaxing on his part, I finally find myself on a little boat with Ron, Audrey, Donnie, Juanita, and Captain Mike, who managed to hook us up with the free and private boat ride. Apparently, Captain Mike is a family friend of Ron's, and he'd like to see me get over my fear of boats too. Thanks, and good luck with that.
I'm the first to grab a lifejacket. Safety first, right? I also pop a few Dramamine before everybody else is settled. I was a child the last time I was on a boat, but I remember having motion sickness even then. Things just wouldn't stop spinning, which was confusing to my seven-year-old self, and hell if I'm gonna go through that again.
The four of them are a lot more excited for this trip than I would have ever expected. Who would have thought that they would have been okay with traveling the high seas and being swashbucklers and stuff? I would have been more content to sit this trip out, but Ron insisted.
Right now, Audrey's trying to explain to me the difference between port and starboard, and even though we're standing in the middle of the boat right now, I'm not really listening to her. I'm gripping one of the bars for dear life, and my palms are sweaty as hell as a result. Audrey doesn't notice that I'm not paying her much mind; I'm just trying to concentrate on not actually falling off the boat. I'm really not a great swimmer, and I'd really hate to have to test my elementary swimming skills today.
After Audrey was satisfied with the lesson she gave me, she walked up to Donnie and Juanita, and I hear them gabbing about about pirates and pirate ships or something crazy like that. I tune them out until I catch Donnie saying something about a barge that apparently came into contact with a little tugboat out on the river. I freeze, and then every irrational fear I have about a big boat crashing into us rises to the surface of my consciousness, leaving me unable to quell them.
What are the chances that Ron has packed a spare paper bag in his cooler? I can't handle this shit.
I try to calm down and control my breathing before anybody else notices. They all seem to be having a good time; deep-seated fears or not, I would hate to ruin this day for the rest of them. After I finally catch my breath, I sit down on one of the benches on the edge of the boat… starboard side, I think. The sky is perfectly blue and the sun is shining, but the wind whipping in my face is too much for me, and again, I find myself having trouble catching and keeping my breath.
I know today is a beautiful day, but I'm too terrified of falling off the boat to actually appreciate it.
It takes me a few minutes to work up the nerve to walk to the front of the boat where Ron and Captain Mike are. Captain Mike greets me with a big smile.
"How's it going there, Paulie?" He asks.
I give him a tight-lipped smile back, and say, "It's going."
"Well, you're doing well," he replies, still bearing his impossibly huge smile. He turns to Ron and says, "I have to go check on a few things around the vessel. I'll be back up here soon."
Ron says, "Sounds good." Captain Mike departs the area, and I felt my face drop the smile almost immediately. Ron is still standing in front of this wooden wheel, and he spins it back and forth, dancing around like he's Steamboat fucking Willie.
"Ron, stop it!" I yell, scared that he's going to rock the boat back and forth. I look around for something to hold onto to try and brace my inevitable fall.
He turns quickly, and stops, almost chuckling. "It's fine. This is just a replica, Captain Mike is doing all the steering. I'm just being silly."
My face must be green or something, because a serious look replaced his grin within a matter of seconds. "Paulina, are you okay?"
I remain silent, choosing my words very carefully. Finally, I settle on, "I don't do boats, and you scared me a little bit."
Ron looks thoughtful. "I guess I never asked you why you don't do boats," he says pensively.
I hoped that I would never have to recount this tale to anybody. "Yeah," I sigh. "There's a reason why I don't do boats. When I was a little kid, seven or eight maybe, before you moved here, my brothers and cousins took me out on a boat trip or fishing trip or something. Jared always teased me about not knowing how to swim, and he always threatened that he was gonna push me over so I'd learn.
"It started to rain, and so we were getting ready to turn around and come back to shore, and I was standing on the side of the boat, and Jared was next to me. He was sort of shoving me, trying to scare me, except I'm not sure if I slipped or if he pushed too hard, because next thing I knew, I was in the water, and I didn't know how to swim."
"Jared jumped in after me and saved me, but I know he felt horrible because he thought he pushed me in. He made me promise never to tell our mom about what happened, and for the most part, I was okay with that. I liked hanging out with him and his friends, and I know my mom wouldn't have let me hang out with them anymore if we told her what happened on the boat."
Ron let out a slow whistle. "Wow, that sucks. Jared's got eleven years on you, he should have known better."
"Tell me about it. That asshole told the rest of my cousins I slipped, and the rain let us explain away our wet clothes when we got home." I sigh, looking away. The boat then hits a wave, and I try to swallow before my heart begins beating in my throat.
Without another word, Ron extends his hand out of me, and I grab it. He holds my hand high and close to his body, and begins to lead me slowly around the boat. He gives me a lesson similar to Audrey's, but the grip of his hand and the nearness of his body make me feel safe, and I know he'll never let go.
Neither of us can guarantee that I'll be over my fear of boats by day's end, but this is certainly a start, and I'm willing to take it.