My father turned forty when I was thirteen. I can remember my mother secretly planning a surprise party for him and wondering what all of the fuss was about. She stashed party decorations and cases of beer and soda at a friend’s house. She wrote out invitations when he was at work and intercepted phone call RSVPs like a ninja. And, she ordered a six-foot sub sandwich that seemed very impressive at the time.
On the appointed day, our house was bedecked with black streamers and signs with “Old Fart” and “Over the Hill” emblazoned on them. Even his cake depicted a man with plumber’s crack inching his way over a hill, with his golf clubs and plaid shorts in tow. The mood was festive, yes, but the message was clear: his life was now over because he’d hit the Big 4-0.
I remember his surprise when he walked in the door and I can recall the laughter as his friends made jokes about his age all night long. And, I remember distinctly thinking that I was never going to turn 40. Because though 40 came with a surprise party and cake, I was certain that I didn’t want to ever be that old.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
As I approached my 40thbirthday a few years ago, I told my husband that I wanted to celebrate in grand style. I didn’t feel old and I sure as hell didn’t want to be subjected to wearing an “Old Fart” sash while holding dead black roses. I was excited to turn forty: my second act professional career was taking off, our kids were more independent as teens and I was in the best physical shape of my life.
Old Fart, my ass.
While my husband did succeed in throwing me a surprise party at a local casino wherein 20 of our closest friends participated in a cross between “Grown Ups Behaving Badly” and “The Hangover,” my real gift from my husband was a trip sans kids to St. Lucia. Seven days of sun and fun on an island. And all the fruity drinks I could handle. A dream trip, for sure.
On the morning of my 40thbirthday, I woke up to the news that my husband had one more surprise in store: he was whisking me away on a day trip to the nearby island of French Martinique. An excursion arranged by the hotel, we arrived to the dock feeling excited as we discussed the day’s plans.
As we boarded, one of the stewards asked me if I’d like a little blue pill, “For nausea,” as I got settled into my seat.
I should have taken that as a sign, people.
I politely declined because I have my sea legs. While I can’t actually drive a boat, I’ve lazed around and consumed many a beer on the open water while visiting my inlaws’ beach homes. And I’ve seen every episode of Gilligan’s Island. And Castaway. I was prepared for whatever the Caribbean was going to bring me. No little blue pills needed, thanks.
The first fifteen minutes of our 90-minute sail were idyllic. As we watched island of St. Lucia become smaller in the distance, I thought about how 40 really didn’t suck as much as I expected. I mean, sure, my boobs were unrecognizable and my ass hung lower than I cared to admit but, on the whole, it was smooth sailing into my 40thyear.
Until it wasn’t.
The first waves came unexpectedly and the ship listed hard to the left. I had been standing near a window when it happened and I was briefly thrown off my sea leg game. After I’d regained my stance, I made it over to where my husband was sitting and gave him a concerned look. “It’s fine, just a little chop,” he smiled.
And then the chop became choppier.
As I took deep breaths to try to contain the growing nausea, I concentrated on people watching. That would prove to be unwise.
The man in front of me, wearing a “World’s Best Grandfather” shirt and flip flops seemed to be turning greener and greener. And, without warning, he announced that he had to throw up. One of the stewards came running over, wearing gloves and carrying a little blue plastic bag, similar to a dog poop bag. “Here you go, sir!” she said cheerfully.
I should have taken her cheerfulness as another sign.
And then the puking began in earnest.
Everywhere I looked, passengers were tossing their cookies into little blue bags of hell. The ship attendants and stewards were dashing between passengers with ginger candies, blue bags and cool cloths. The crew was prepared for Pukapalooza. This was not their first passenger puking rodeo, people.
One man stumbled out of the ship’s only bathroom with puke clear down his shirt, seeming not to care.
I don’t have to tell you that the inside of the cabin smelled like a water buffalo’s ass with only the crew still holding onto their faculties.
It was my 40thbirthday and I was surrounded by pukers.
This was it. I was in hell.
As people continued to empty the contents of their stomachs into the little blue bags, I noticed one man had put his entire head into a garbage can and just let it fly.
There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It was Caribbean Ocean 1, Passengers 0.
I gripped the seat I was sitting in and helplessly stared at the floor.
I refused to puke on my 40thbirthday.
Not today, Jesus. Not. Today.
I briefly contemplated trying to make it to the front of the ship, in hopes that finding the horizon would help me out of the seafaring hell I was living. But, one glimpse of passengers being pelted with sea water and gripping the railings for dear life made me realize that I also didn’t want to become fish food on my 40thbirthday, either.
So, I sat and I waited. I listened to the sounds of retching around me.
And I started to hysterically laugh.
Because while my day in French Martinique was no doubt marred by nausea that I wouldn’t be able to shake for the rest of the day, I had succeeded in being able to tell a much better story about my 40thbirthday than my dad could.
I totally won at turning 40.
But I’d rather not talk about the events on the return trip to St. Lucia. Ahem.