Devotion

Susan Slotnick

On an intermittently lurching and crawling irritating bus ride into New York City, someone patted me on the back. “I overheard you say you were afraid to miss your boat. I worked on a cruise ship. They never leave on time. People start drinking and having fun before the safety drill!” The voice came from a statuesque showgirl look alike.

“Dancer?” I asked.

“Actress,” she replied. “Let me check with my husband. He used to be a ship’s captain.”

“Lots of time!” the gray-haired man in the seat behind her said. As if his words carried the power of his former status, the traffic suddenly changed.

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An hour later on 39th and 9th, I discovered taxi driver and passenger had reversed roles since the last time we tried to hail a cab. Instead of the driver asking us, “Where to?” now he asked us our destination before we had a chance to open the car door. Five cabs whizzed away once they heard the fare would not meet their specifications before we realized we had to jump into the cab before revealing our destination.

I don’t want to act like that. “Bad karma.”

Although sailing time was at 4:45 p.m., the drinking and frivolity could start once on board. We arrived at an empty boat terminal at 3:30 p.m. “You’re lucky you’re late,” the attendant said. ” At one o’clock this terminal was filled with 2,000 angry people. A surprise boat inspection took two hours. It was hell in here.”

“Good Karma,” for us I thought.

Many passengers got drunk enough to endure the fear-provoking safety drill before the boat sailed past the Statue of Liberty. Excitement lit up faces in hopeful anticipation, while the festive sound of clinking glasses filled the air. I was not drinking, so the 200 passengers assigned to my life boat, many elderly and obese, evoked fantasies of thirst, man-eating sharks, and human sacrifice, in that order.

The boat was relatively small for a cruise ship, carrying only 1,200 people and destined for three quiet days in Bermuda. The passengers were comprised mostly of older long-term married couples. The elderly couples defied statistics: 1. They hadn’t divorced. 2. They weren’t dead.

We kept running into the same people in the dining room and the elevator. One woman’s husband was in a wheelchair she carted around in and out of the elevator and the hallway. They didn’t seem happy. When he spoke banalities in a friendly tone, she would say, “Why are you talking to them? They are not interested.” She seemed resentful, antagonistic and bored. I thought, “Is this what the future looks like?”

I decided that the cruise provided a sociological paradise if I wanted to study married people older than us, see how they were relating and if any seemed happy and still “in love.” It became a rather grim activity.

A very tall thin man and his very short fat wife were seated for meals at the same table as we were. They appeared to be in their mid-seventies. I lost five pounds watching them eat.

Breakfast — Hot cereal with milk and sugar, pancakes with syrup, scrambled eggs with bacon and/or sausage, bread, baked sweet dessert, topped off with a plate of fruit.

Lunch and dinner — More meats smothered with thick sauces, (pork, lamb, steak, deep-fried chicken or fish cooked in oil and sugar), assorted prepared salads with lots of mayonnaise topped with baby shrimp from a can and plenty of desserts.

I don’t want to eat that way.

She talked incessantly while he said nothing in response. Perusing the other tables, I noticed the majority of the older couples did not converse, make eye-contact, laugh or seem as engaged with each other as they were with the food.

I don’t us want to be like this.

It was hot in Bermuda, as unbearable as the worst days we experienced here this summer. After more than 40 hours at sea, most of the passengers went ashore to shop or soak in the pure green, warm salt water of the south Atlantic in August.

Directly in front of us strolling on the street walked tall thin man and short fat wife. Both of them were dressed alike in blue Bermuda shorts, yellow button-down shirts and khaki garden hats. She was carrying an embroidered bag. He was walking with a slight limp, a camera slung over his hunched shoulder.

I don’t want to dress like that.

We were dressed in aging hippie chic — my husband with a bandana over his bald head and me in tie-dye adorned with turquoise jewelry. I was reassured that morning when the short fat woman told me that we “looked like interesting people.”

Since Bermuda is a British territory, the traffic is reversed. The steering wheel is on the right. The oncoming traffic also comes from the right. Mr. And Mrs. Blue Bermuda shorts were directly in front of us, ready to cross the street as soon as the light turned green. With copious words still falling from her mouth, the Mrs. took a second to look to the left and seeing no cars coming, she stepped in a flash into the oncoming traffic from the right. It all happened so fast. Yet it was one of those moments that seemed to go into slow motion. I heard myself gasp.

Her husband wasn’t looking towards her at the moment her foot left the curb. His reaction was swift, almost too fast, to see with the naked eye. As if a limb of his own body had fallen off and tumbled into the street he grabbed her with a force belying his age and fragility. She let out a frightened whimper and slumped into his boney frame. The light turned red. When the light turned green, they crossed the street. Halfway down the next block, without so much as a glance, they simultaneously reached for each other’s hands.

I want us to be like that.

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