On the boat.
Hungover, cross, and wishing I was holding my own pillow, in my own comforting bed, I woke up in my cabin. A stabby pain behind my left eye convinced me it was really happening. I was on my way to another chapter.
My head was a heavy balloon, not sure if it would float to the ground or lift off to the ceiling. Even though every inch of movement threatened to make me sick, I lifted myself up off the hard mattress.
I pulled my shirt over my head and buttoned my pants at my waist, and dragged myself into the dining hall. I was miserable, groaning, and splotchy.
The mess hall was empty, and not wanting to go on deck so soon after waking, I flopped myself onto a bench and laid my head down against the tabletop.
“Uh, Hallo?” an angel voice said very quietly. I sat up and wiped the crust from the corners of my eyes.
Rachel had long straight dark hair and a wide nose. I thought she must be around the same age as me, and she was beautiful and smiled as much as I grumped at her. Her clothes were neat and pressed.
Angel Rachel thought I was ill. And I was, I guess. If you consider still being drunk when you wake up, still having the taste of vomit up your nose, having a raging headache and bloated belly illness.
Actually, a mothering friend was something I welcomed at a time I thought I was as low as I’d ever be in life.
She asked me gentle questions, and fed me juice and crackers and water, and when I finally started to feel human again, I realized I had hogged all of the conversation. Guess you can take the Toni out of Germany, but you can’t take the selfishness out of the Toni for very long.
Turns out my new friend was going to America to find her family. They had fled persecution in Germany and she had stayed and hid.
Her survival is the first miracle, and her joyful spirit amidst such atrocity against her people was the second.
I think I loved her that first day.
When those long shoreless days finally came to the finale, the first thing I noticed was the birds. Gulls filled the sky, cutting figure eights and circles above the horizon. Like they were stirring the air: figure eight, circle, figure eight, circle. Just as my mother used to mix batter in an oversized bowl.
I couldn’t imagine how it was they managed to not run into each other.