Family Vacation

by Nicholas Henkey — on


- Karen is a fake name to protect the identity of the actual person.
- This post contains foul language and subject matter of questionable morality.

I'm guessing it was around 1AM when I entered the ship nightclub. My sister was speaking to Adam, or Alan or some kind of "A" name guy... the ship's village asshole. My mom left us at the bar to fend for ourselves. She had her fill, having had taken advantage of drunken friendly men with cash to burn. Jackie was being sober and Karen was following my mother's footsteps.

There was no telling how much Karen had before I arrived. I should have guessed that it was too much since she was kicking my barstool (a warning sign). She was swimming through appletinis. After the third vodka concoction, she had a shot of good tequila, a fourth appletini and another shot of Patrón Silver.

After her big 90 minute binge she started suddenly (in hindsight maybe not so suddenly) to shout out jabbering blurbs about whatever the hell was going on in her mind at the time. I thought at first that the music and loud conversation was affecting my ability to hear her possibly coherent thoughts. After much effort she managed to project, and create understandable words.

The female bartender started to give me shit about my age and ability to buy a drink; she wanted an ID of some kind. She ultimately refused to serve me at all. I asked Karen if I looked younger than twenty-one, in other words young enough to card. I explained that college parties accelerated my aging, (I was twenty-two years old at the time) but she shook her head “no,” a little too carefully for a sober person

Karen started spewing off, and repeating, "You're so handsome, and young and handsome. Ahh! You're handsome." I mumbled, "thank you," three or four times, but she didn't seem to hear. I finally put some power behind it, shouting rudely. She heard, and shut up immediately, sobering reality hit the synapses in her brain. She hung her head in what appeared to be shame and she rustled through her bag for a pack of cigarettes. I snagged a beer from a more familiar bartender, and slipped him a bonus to his normal tip.

Karen began to stir with boredom. She put her feet on my knee and tried to use it as a foot rest and i finally registered that she had passed her limit. I asked her repeatedly if she was okay; she replied "yes" each time... but I was not convinced. Her legs were slipping off my knee, not my fault. I didn't care much one way or another, but she was too wasted to balance anything. She finally found balance just as my bartender came back in a meager attempt to mediate an impending disaster. The bitch behind the bar wanted to call to security because of my "under age drinking." I had to stand; Karen's ankles slipped off my knee. She gave up on using me as a footrest, and began using her neighbor's occupied seat.

I wrenched my beer back with common wit, and an old driver's license. I still thought that Karen's condition was manageable; until I asked her if I could bum a cigarette. She struggled to get the second of two cigarettes from her pack. She gave up and handed me hers so I wouldn't have to wait for her fumbling; I didn't have a lighter anyway. After some slurred finger movement she miraculously pulled out a second one without breaking half the pack or ripping the box...

I took down the first half of my cigarette in about 12 seconds; she was more… forgetful about her own. She began to stir again with her feet. She scraped her feet against the back-lit, ice textured glass under the bar counter, trying to use the smooth surface as a footrest. I guess... she thought that her feet would go through it? The nicotine began to take full effect, my head and throat swelled with a hollow and numb sensation.

Sudden exclaimation hit my ears, "You're so much fun!" I assumed that Karen was a reference to my ability to take on the vices of my company. I responded, "I'm not so sure about that but thanks." The statement made me feel uncomfortable; I can be entertaining at times, but the exclamation made me uncomfortable. Some moments or minutes of silence passed, and I asked "do you want to go back?" She nodded. I thought that I could still salvage my beer so I clutched it in my left hand, and helped her balance with my right.

The bitch bartender glared as I participated in a balancing act, escaping with 8 ounces of alcoholic brew and my sister-in-law. My elation was short-lived, as five steps to the door and I had to write it off. A buss girl was hovering like a vulture and she closed in the moment I set it down. When she asked if I was done, I gave her a grave look and heard, "Yes, take it," come out of my mouth. My tone was consistent with my facial expression.

The moment that I actually released the beer from my hand, both of Karen's knees gave way. Fortunately, I could still get her to participate in some degree of foot action during my mad drag for the door. If she hadn't helped I would have had to walk backwards and pull her like a comrade soldier in a war movie.

I heard a voice in my head, "If I can just get her to the elevator, it won't be much more difficult to get her to the room... if I can just get her to that goddamn elevator." I turned around for a moment to mourn the loss of the half-pint of beer that I fought so steadfastly to procure.

Karen's eyes began to cross and move independently in a way that I had only previously seen in iguanas. She mumbled something preceded by my name, and when I asked, "what!?" She responded only with a grunt. Maybe it was a reassured grunt, or maybe a reassuring grunt, no one will ever know.

Around the corner and out the door, I had the elevator in my sights when security blockaded me and began to ask questions. They behaved as if I was a goddamn criminal. I was unaware of their plan to take me to ship-jail, where I would certainly be cellmates with one of the sweatshop drycleaners that they cage below deck. The male guard told me that it would be best if I left Karen there and I didn't quite understand. I gave him a confused and worried look. The female guard read this as genuine concern as opposed to loss of a potential victim. She mentioned that they would take good care of her and mumbled something about a wheelchair.

With the word "wheelchair," a quick smile consumed my face; I repressed it quickly.

They asked me questions, "how do you know her? Are you related to her?" They obviously hadn't ruled out jail at this point but some of the tension had vanished from their voices. Seemed more protocol than interrogation. They scribbled down her name and room number into their PDA notebooks and notepads; then they told me that it was okay if I stayed to watch out for Karen. I pulled up a chair to face the door, and sat down.

Karen bobbed her head side to side, up and down in various flailing attempts to stand up, and speak. The will to move said, "Alright, I'm okay now!" What came out was. "Nick! Amblebnmd anjn blewmble mninb." She managed to say my name right so the mumbling was probably an attempt at real words. I responded, "You need something? What is it?" She responded "Armmmmmm," then fell asleep or more likely passed out. She did that three or four times in the five minutes that we sat there waiting for the wheelchair.

The wheelchair finally arrived, so security thought that it would be a good idea to drill me three more times, asking the same questions as before. They were probably hoping that I would just admit that I was an escaped felon… registered on some list. I realized that they actually intended to arrest me. I told them, "She is married to my brother." Then I began to worry about the fact that Jon has a different father. I explained, "My brother and I have different last names." They didn't seem interested; I took that as a sign that I had passed their tests and they didn't think that I was a serial rapist.

The guards pulled up the wheelchair, and I helped to turn Karen's chair into a good position. She was out like a light, dead-weight, so it took two guards and me to get her into the wheelchair. As if picking up a limp body wasn't challenge enough, she woke up seconds before we set her in the chair. She began thrashing and fighting; I speculated that she was vaguely aware of the upcoming embarrassment of being hauled out of a nightclub via wheelchair. Mostly she just seemed determined to stand.

Fortunately alcohol not only inhibits motor function, but muscular strength and endurance. Karen exhausted the last of her energy within twenty seconds or so. She surrendered, and slumped into the wheelchair. She lost her right shoe in the collapse.

The sight of a drunk in a wheelchair made me think of a similar event during a recent trip to Las Vegas. I failed to continue repressing my smile and began to openly laugh while looking at the wheelchair. I covered my smile with my right hand, looked away from the drunk in the wheelchair, and convulsed with strain in my attempt to stop laughing. I succeeded... for a moment.

The guards began heading for the door but they had to turn the wheelchair for the ramp. The safety precaution reminded me of the reality I was living. I laughed again, this time I was out of the nightclub, and no one was watching, so I laughed… out loud.

We walked towards the automatic doors, they slid open, and we walked out into the bright forward atrium of the ship. The guard with a PDA notebook and the room number hit the up button on the elevator and drilled me again, "What floor?" I knew that it was a suspicious question. This was the same guard that wanted to haul me below deck for a beating so I replied quickly, "seven."

The bell dinged, and the elevator doors roared open on each side revealing a party of Gudrathi Indians. I had been hoping for an empty elevator, the sight of a full one shocked me into full laughter again. Ship security is not trained in maintaining a person's dignity. I walked away for a moment trying to hide my smile from the residents of the elevator, and then I jumped on board, ready to take my wild ride. Objective review of the humorous reality was material. There was a party of four Gudrathis, two security guards, one standing behind my sister-in-law slouched in a wheelchair, and lastly, me to witness.

I figured that the sight alone would silence the party, or at least the guards. I was so horribly wrong. The Gudrathis broke the silence damn near immediately. One of them asked, "Are you from Nepal?" He asked one of the guards. "Yes," replied the male security guard with enthusiasm and a smile. The man who posed the question writhed with self satisfied laughter for correctly naming the guard's regional heritage. He spoke with wheelchair pusher casually for the remainder of the four floor rise to seven. They discussed their respective homelands and cities that they have visited while in each other's home countries.

During the conversation Karen opened her wandering and crossing eyes, picked up her head for a moment, and passed back out. She woke back up, and tried to get up with the coordination of a palsy victim, and in this collapse lost her left shoe. The bell dinged seven, and we got off; the Indians were headed to floor eight.

Wheelchair pusher smiled as he pushed Karen out of the elevator, he was obviously happy about his new friends. He shouted some "good luck" type bullshit back into the elevator, probably in Hindi or Gudrathi. The Indians all smiled and shouted it back.

After exiting the elevator I began to walk solemnly towards my brother's room, but the guards had a different idea. They had just remembered that they might have to take her to the infirmary, where she could be monitored for choking, or just basic vital signs and probably be put on an IV. I was somewhat encouraged by the prospect because it meant that I wouldn't have to wake up my brother.

No luck, the infirmary told the guards to shove her into my brother's bedroom, and have him call as health issues arrived.

During the walk down the hall I ran scenarios through my mind, ways to wake up my brother. We could knock, I thought, or open the door. Opening the may have been less abrasive to a sleeping body and wouldn't require him to get up; so I settled on that plan. When we got to the room I raised Karen's key, and pushed it towards the door.

Security poised like police officers in the freak-out stance. Each of them put their left hand forward as a warning, "don't do that!" and their right hands shot down to their security belts. At the moment that I realized they were considering jailing me again. 4 minutes earlier, I hadn't bothered to check if they had cans of mace. I have always wondered what it feels like to be pepper-sprayed. This was not the time or the place to find out.

The man said something similar to, "the door has to be opened from the inside," and my instant reaction was, "this wet turd is going to knock on the door like a cop hot on a drug bust!" I felt that a phone call was a more polite choice, and offered to call my brother from my stateroom phone. Wheelchair pusher shook his head, and picked up his portable phone; had to call twice.

Personally, would assume that calling anyone twice at 3:00AM says something about urgency but this guard did not. He had to add urgency to the situation, "This is security; we need you to open your door right now!" He sounded so much like a narcotics officer, that I figured it would have been better to let him knock with a battering ram. There was no humanity in his voice or phrasing, no kindness that screams, "hey, look, we've got your wife, and she's too fucked up to walk." The coldness of his voice really said, "Open up or we will knock down your door and search your stateroom for cocaine!"

I'm not sure what happened next behind the door, but it sounded like pacing. I thought that Jon was getting dressed, or maybe he thought that the guards actually were going to search him, and was running a last second check to make sure he hadn't violated any laws. I suspected that the moment he realized that Karen wasn't there he expected her to be in some sort of trouble. When he finally opened the door, he was wearing nothing but his boxers, he looked as though he had bee-lined straight for the door and the look on his face suggested no worry... and less surprise than I was would have guessed.

Jon squinted into the bright hallway lights, with a curious expression that said, "What the hell do you want?" Then he looked down at his wife passed out in a wheelchair. All the tension in his face fell away; he showed neither anger nor surprise, just the look of disappointment of being inconvenienced. I saw the kind of inconvenienced disappointment that I would express if I had a flat tire on my bicycle.

We helped my brother pick Karen up so Jon could drag her to the bed. This time she did not fight us, or attempt to help in any way. Jon said things like, "come on Share, help me out," but she did nothing. Jon strugglingly tossed her on the bed, with both legs hanging off, and came back to the door so I could hand him her shoes and purse. He thanked the guards, said goodnight, and closed the door.

I was relieved, and slightly intoxicated, so I tried to hand security a tip; all three one dollar bills that I had in my pocket. I forgot that they were the police as far as I was concerned, and this was technically a bribe. They refused before I realized that I might get in trouble for the gesture. The woman security guard actually smiled, she said, "no thank you, it's our job." We all departed in separate directions. They went to the food court, and I ran down to the bar to see if I could catch last call.