Okay, I have to tell you about this stupid thing that happened, because then I can focus on the good parts, and also tell you something good that came of it all.
TL;DR: ALS RUINS EVERYTHING EXCEPT MAYBE DRAMATIC ENTRANCES.
So, I went on a cruise. I’d arbitrarily decided I wanted to do that, last year, as a bucket list thing. Cruises seemed cool, and at the time I was envisioning myself spending a week on the ocean, cruising to Alaska, taking the time to mentally collect myself and write all of my goodbye letters and look at the water. My friend Beth has been trying to get me to go on this one geeky cruise, but it was in Mexico and I’m not a tropical person. At all. And then, well, my hands stopped working so well, so it was less important that I have all the alone time, and then the geek cruise announced that Zoe Keating was going to be one of the performers and suddenly I am going on that fucking cruise, you’d better believe it.
It’s this one: https://jococruise.com/
One week of music and comedy and geekery. Puce, Lance, and Tam came with me, and we were gonna have a hell of a time and I was going to work up the nerve to say hello and thank you to Zoe Keating, and I was going to look at the water for hours and maybe have a cocktail and perhaps see a whale. And I did all those things and so so so many more. It was incredible.
…Except for this one thing.
From the start, I had concerns about accessibility. I can’t do without the walker, these days. I use a cane to get from the car to the grocery store where I can use a cart to lean on, or I’m using my walker. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the ship itself, though, I mean, these things are practically built for old people, right? I had a quick look at the cabin floor plan and realized with one week to go until the cruise that the bathroom was not even a little bit accessible. I sent a very apologetic and frantic email to the amazing planner people, who totally came through and switched me to an accessible cabin with grab bars and everything and it was all saved and glorious! (HOORAY FOR THO) ..Except for the shore excursions, I was still wary of them. Now, I realize fully well that the A in ADA is for Americans, and the rest of the world is not exactly accessible, which is why I’ve become reluctant to do a lot of traveling. But I completely intended to make do, so long as they could get me to shore, which they promised they could. And I tentatively believed them and didn’t worry about it at all until the day before the first one.
We were going to stop for the most of a day in Cabo. Unfortunately, there was a thing on the ship I wanted to do, right in the middle of the day, so we stopped by the front desk to ask how the disembarking would go down, to see if the hassle was going to be worth it for just a couple of hours. The town was too small to dock in, so they were offloading people by tender, which is a small boat, the woman with a delightful German accent explained. There wasn’t a rail, and there was a small gap between the ship and the tender that would wobble with the waves. Due to liability issues, they could not carry me in, but there were people on both sides to give me a hand. She assured me it would probably be fine. I had my doubts.
We skipped Cabo, and the event I wanted to go to was postponed til Friday, so I wound up spending the whole day on the ship, drinking fake mojitos and staring at the water and having a nap. SO HORRIBLE, YOU GUYS, SUCH MISERY WOW. CRUISES ARE THE WORST. The next day was Loreto, though, and not only a local food festival but an all night concert (Ted Leo will indeed rock your face off, so there was no way I was missing that). I vowed to get my ass ashore and do some sightseeing come Hell or high water – and yes the irony of that is not at all lost on me. The morning came, and so did my apprehension. Again, too small to dock so we were using tenders to get ashore. Lance went to the launch site to see how hard it would be to get me on the boat, and he assured me that it was a little gap, the water was calm, easy-peasy. They’d be there the whole time to help, and I knew they absolutely would. It wound up truly not being that difficult, even though I can’t step up a curb anymore, just a little gap and a lot of helping hands. HOORAY FOR THAT.
The ride to the port was nausea inducing, and the dock we wound up in was basically a narrow-ass pier maybe five feet wide, and then a steep as shit ramp to get up to the port. We had to step down from the tender using two wooden boxes made into stairs and yeah, you THINK you already know where this is going, but NO. I made it down the steps just fine with a lot of help from the crew and my friends, and walked across the narrow pier with no problems, and up the steep ramp without falling. You doubters. We made it to the city and looked around; it took forever for me because hey! No proper sidewalks and steep hills and cobblestone streets! Lance and Tam split off from Puce and I to do some shopping, while we looked at an ancient mission church and its museum of artifacts.
And then shit went sideways…literally. Without going into detail, I fell out of the walker and skinned the bejeesus out of my knees. As usual, the worst part was the strangers. It was right in the middle of the road, in front of a restaurant, so everybody and their mother pretended not to be watching but still managed to stare as we tried to get me up. A well meaning couple helped Puce out, and then overstayed their thanks by over-analyzing why I fell and how to prevent it from ever happening again while Puce and I both repeated YES THANK YOU and tried to move the fuck on with our lives. We limped to an ice cream shop, where I ate delicious ice cream from my childhood while trying to forget that it happened. Remarkably, my tights weren’t ruined, it turned out. Hooray! The day was not completely obliterated, but we agreed it should probably be a short day.
We did the food festival, delicious! and then stayed for the first act when the concert started. We decided to head back to the ship while there was still light to see. I was pretty wiped out by this point, but luckily there were taxis provided by the cruise organizers to get me back to the pier. And….again, I know what ADA stands for, but the van that showed up had a wheelchair symbol on it and yet was the most un-accessible van ever. He helpfully provided a little stepstool for me to get up into the seat with…which was a complete waste of effort because I don’t have the strength to lift my foot up that high to get ON the stool, much less step up with it into the the van. I managed, but it was not pretty and my tights were falling off by the time I was onboard. I discreetly hitched them back up when we got to the dock, I walked so, so carefully down that steep-ass ramp, navigated the narrow pier to the boat…
..and swore a lot because I’d completely forgotten about the fucking steps up to the boat.
Now, I can do a couple of steps if there is a sold handrail, because it’s basically using my arms to haul myself up. Without a hand rail, though, it’s fucking impossible. I quailed, but Puce assured me we would get this done. The diminutive crew took my walker on board, and then I slung my arm over Puce’s shoulder to try the steps. It failed instantly, and completely. I couldn’t help him get me up at all; I couldn’t lift my foot even, on to the first step. The crew tried to help, but they were small Asiatic men trying to assist a fat American giantess, and they were completely ineffective beside grabbing me under my arms and trying to put my feet on the stairs as though the only problem was getting my foot to touch the step. I asked to be allowed to sit for a moment, to catch my breath and rethink the problem. It took them all too much time to understand, this isn’t working, let me go.
I looked around, trying to think of a plan, and not allow myself to become a quivering, humiliated mass of tears. I noticed a line of people behind us and tried not to look at their faces. I noticed a cute girl with pink hair watching, similarly trying to think how to help. And then I noticed Anne Wheaton, one of the cruise’s celebrity guests. You probably would know her best as Wil Wheaton(the kid from Star Trek)’s wife, but she’s a geek in her own right and a fellow believer in the amazing power of googly eyes (for real though, google VandalEyes; the woman is one of my heroes) and was on the cruise doing a reading from her upcoming book. And she was watching me struggle with these ghetto-ass stairs on this unstable-ass boat and these little dudes hurting me while trying to help and I really, truly, just wanted to slip into the water and never come up. But that wasn’t an option.
I had just decided that the easiest thing would be to haul myself on to the boat and crawl over to the bench on my skinned knees like a fucking animal because surely my dignity could only suffer more if I managed to piss myself as well. That’s when the pink haired woman stood up and offered to help, assuring me that she was quite strong. I waved her off once, announcing that it was probably easier if I just crawled, but she repeated her claim of strength and voluntold another man to help her and Puce pick me up. I accepted with as much grace as I could pretend to have. Carrying 230 pounds of dead weight up what are effectively rickety fruit crates and on to a narrow moving boat is not an easy task. I think 8 people at one time were helping me, swiveling me successfully into a bench, and I tried to crawl inside my own skin as everyone else filed on board. Puce was amazingly supportive as always, and silently offered support while we rode back to the ship as I silently prayed for everyone to please forget this whole thing, and did my best to not completely lose my shit until I was alone. The pink haired cutie stayed behind to make sure I was able to get off the tender okay, and of course I could as there were no stairs involved. I thanked her a dozen times, we got back to our cabin, and I cried a lot.
I spent the rest of the cruise fervently pretending that the whole thing hadn’t happened. I had bruises under both my arms, my ego was shattered, but goddammit I had a good time for the rest of the trip pretending I hadn’t made a complete spectacle of myself in front of a boat full of strangers and Anne Wheaton. I mentally chalked it up as a lame-ass claim to fame and joked internally that she’d probably never forget the trip, for damn sure. And managed to forget it, mostly, specially when I got home. I knew I’d probably blog about it, but hopefully in a not-depressing way and try to find some positive angle on the whole ordeal, cause that’s how I fucking roll.
I’m off work for sabbatical now, so I slept late Monday. When I woke up, Puce asked me if I’d been on Facebook yet. That’s…never a good sign. I told him no, mentally wondering who died. He said I should check, and I got nervous and asked what was up. He asked if I wanted to find out myself, or should he tell me, and I didn’t feel like sorting through a time bomb of a timeline, and maybe Facebook’s stupid algorithms wouldn’t even decide to show me what he was talking about at all, anyway. I told him to tell me.
“So…………Will Wheaton’s wife posted to the JoCo Sea Monkey 2017 group about your…incident. It’s very nice, and sweet, and depressing…but she still posted about it, basically to give you support.”
“Then Beth went and tagged you in comments.”
OK. Breathe. It’s cool. No big deal. It’s cool. Public humiliation part two. OH MY GOD THIS IS NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY IS IT. I braced myself for the worst and checked the group. And the post was obvious.
“To the young Sea Monkey who was using a walker on the cruise-”
Wincing, I read her account of the incident, mortified that my emotions were so transparent and I was completely casting a shadow on what should have been an awesome night. I hate that my disease is depressing as hell to everyone around me. I try to keep my shit in check for this reason alone. “What I wanted to do was get up and come over to you to tell you not to feel stupid for your body failing you, but it’s not my place to tell you how to feel,” she wrote.
..Holy fuck, this woman gets it, I thought in surprise. Being told not to feel dumb or weak or sad is never helpful. It makes me angry, if anything. And she understood, and elected not to intrude on my struggle like some Feel Good Fairy Godmother with useless words of non-comfort. I wanted to hug her for that. She continued to tell me that she noticed that not one person behind us waiting to get on the boat was irritated or impatient, just standing by not knowing how to help. And..I was relieved. And instantly didn’t mind at all that she posted this story semi-publicly. Was grateful, even. Because of course my brain told me that everyone was watching, feeling sorry or being mad that I was Officially Ruining Everything. She understood how I felt enough to make a point to tell me this. Which was amazing. She gracefully relieved me of any obligation to respond or identify myself, and concluded:
“Just remember, you are not your body. You are an incredible human being facing a really shitty situation who chose to go on a cruise and live life to the fullest. You are an example of perseverance we should all be so lucky to witness.”
I’m…not entirely sure that’s so, of course. I’m just some dumb girl with a fucking ridiculous disease that ruins everything. I didn’t really decide to go despite my disease. Zoe was gonna be there and thus, so was I. The end. But Anne’s words were amazing and timely as shit and I felt immediately better about the whole thing, and I replied with a simple thanks on the post but sent her a more detailed reply in a Facebook message, including a request to pass my thanks to her pink-haired rescue goddess friend who was indeed super strong. She told me why it hit her so hard, and hoped I’d be back next year. I told her I’d like that, but maybe I’d skip the port of call next time (heh), and asked if I could use her words when I inevitably posted about this whole thing. She said okay and she’d be sure to pass on my regards.
And now I have. So, a super shitty thing happened, but as usual, there was a moment of grace in it that gives the incident some worth. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to hear this from her in person so I could hug her. And then show her the googly eyes on my JoCo badge.