What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. That's the plucky platitude from Nietzsche, of all people, who also declared "God is dead." Attempting to annihilate a professional nihilist is presumptuous, but I think my version is truer and bleaker: What doesn't kill us will try again.
I know the manner of my looming demise. Without meaning to (perhaps), my children will be the death of me.
It's my boy this time, trying again, and I should have guessed he'd be the most persistent, as I waited with the other mothers on the beach all those years ago, as our little ones -- junior sailors, none above the age of ten -- sailed bathtub boats across a slice of open water, a last test in a week-long sailing course. We'd set up a picnic to celebrate their arrival and we fluttered avidly, each of us searching for one particular face as they came into view. While the other children beached their boats and flew into the arms of awaiting mommies, my son refused to land, tacking back and forth just off shore, leaving me to lower my arms, to cross them and hug myself.
He tried to kill me last year with a harrowing trip across the Gulf of Mexico in an Igloo cooler. Upon his return he re-enrolled in college with plans to pursue an engineering degree, but just before classes started he got it into his head to finish the job, to bury his mother, once and for all. Surely that was the sole purpose of his next move -- a flight to Jamaica to crew for a sailboat headed across the Carribean Sea, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific Ocean to Australia.
When it comes to anxiety, I'm a one person power plant. I shit coal fire seven days a week, so I don't need any fuel. Whenever our son jumps shore he leaves behind bills, taxes, pets and property, memories of past reckless behavior and close calls. That's a lot of fuel. I have trouble sleeping because my brain never cools down. I lie there, looking up, and the ceiling becomes a movie screen showing a marathon of snuff films. For a self-professed optimist I wonder why, when it comes to my children, my imagination works in one dark direction. Why can't I make a lighthearted movie, a movie where no one dies in the end, not even me? I should try.
So I was feeling awfully frightened about my son's journey until I researched the trip. Did you know the Pacific Ocean, despite being Earth's largest ocean, is quite shallow? Five feet at its deepest point. That's why there are "No Diving" signs posted all along the route from Panama to Australia.
Along the way they'll stop at many islands. Galapagos first, where the main attraction is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme park. My son dressed as Donatello, his favorite Ninja Turtle, for Halloween last year and he's packed his costume to wear when they visit the park. You get a 10% discount on admission if you arrive in costume.
The next spot of land is 3000 miles West, a sail that will take three hours if the wind is right, to a pair of small islands named Coque and Bull. The islands are near enough that you can literally hop from one to the other, but they are harshly divided by economic conditions. Coque is a wealthy island, and Bull is poverty stricken.
In the 1970's both islands received a cash windfall from an anonymous benefactor long thought to be Marlon Brando. Coque invested in a factory that produces everyone's favorite infommercial product, the Automatic Self-Flagellation Machine -- 29.95 plus shipping and handling, but wait, there's more. You'll receive a satin-lined carrying case, free, just pay additional shipping and handling. I purchased one not long ago, when I'd run out of exciting ways to hate myself. The total amounted to $300.17. I opened the package and unwrapped a rock and a nylon, draw-string sack. Feeling duped, I set the rock on my dresser and every time I saw it my worst fears were confirmed – I'm an idiot. A zero. Can't do nothing right. – and, being so dim, it took me a while to realize, Whoa! This thing really works! Once I felt pleased with my purchase, it stopped working. I think it needs new batteries.
Bull Island used its money to fund a pet rock breeding program, and we all know the tragic ending to that tale. After being shipped out to children all over the world, the pet rocks died in captivity. For a while it seemed like the front page of every newspaper featured a photo of a sobbing child cradling the lifeless body of an adored pebble. Subsequent lawsuits bankrupted the island. Sadly, no one can afford to neuter the pet rocks; they copulate with abandon, and are considered a nuisance. Don't try to take one home as a souvenir, however. They are a protected species. Greenpeace shows up regularly to prevent frustrated islanders from tossing them into the sea.
Every other island is rainbows, coconuts, vegan cannibals, friendly snakes, toothless fish and oregano passing as weed (which still makes you plenty silly and temporarily Italian), and I won't be alarmed until he makes landfall in Australia. It's a fact that everyone who visits Australia is eaten by either a shark or a dingo. Why tourists keep flocking, I'll never know. Maybe koalas really are that cute. It's like New York City, where everyone who goes is murdered, but – The Shows! Oh well. Murder isn't usually fatal and I'm told by those in the know that the experience of being eaten by a wild beast is only mildly unpleasant, no worse than a mammogram.
My son left last week and three weeks ago this coming Saturday, he will get off the plane with presents from his travels. For me, two stuffed creatures – a dingo and shark. From the concourse, he'll raise a fist and yell, "They didn't get me, Mom!"
Of course I'll be happy to see him and also annoyed. The shark is huge, with a hideous smile and cold marble eyes, and I'll have to hang it on the wall and pretend to adore it like everything else he's given me from pre-school on, every glittery, construction paper craft. Like the damn macaroni necklace I've been wearing continuously since 1991. Now this shark. Jesus Christ, why can't he just draw something for the refrigerator like all the other kids? Didn't we pay for an art degree?
When he attempts to embrace me, I'll hold him off with a stiff arm. He stinks! Worse than a dead God wearing a polecat coat. The old me would have wanted to roll in it like really bad dog, but I'm stronger now since I've survived this latest assassination attempt. The hug can wait until he's had a shower.