We were having the last weekend of summer at Long Beach Island in New Jersey – me and my b.f.f. Joanne.
We’d become fast friends 17 years ago — when we’d both wheeled newborns through the lobby of our Upper West Side building. We admired each other’s carriages. She was impressed by my antique English pram. I liked hers — sleek and modern. We discovered our husbands had the same name, John, and both were character-type actors. And, of course, we both had newborn babies.
This last day of summer, we sizzled on the beach with our teenagers, gossiping about old neighbors and new careers. Jo has returned to the workforce full tilt as a fashion designer, while my career, freelance writing and teaching, limps along.
From the beach, we watched a parasail glide past us.
Jo adjusted her stylish straw hat and told me, “I’ve been promising Little E for years that she could try it. But, no pressure, we don’t have to do it…. If you think it’s too expensive.” Which I did. And which she did too.
But see, we are two ladies who don’t want life to beat us. And this last year, life has nearly beaten us.
Our tough year is due to our declining marriages. My husband’s Parkinson’s Disease is worsening and her marriage is devolving. But we are resilient. Jo’s daughters called her JSJ, Just Single Joanne.
I reached for my phone in my whicker beach bag and called the number advertised on the parasail.
By now, the girls had perked up on their towels. “Can we do it? Mom? Please!”
“It’s a definite maybe,” I said.
“Oh, like the carriage ride?” See, for my girls’ 8th birthday, I’d promised the twins a carriage ride in Central Park. They are now 14 and still waiting. I’m ambivalent. What about the whole carriage horse and anti-cruelty thing? Besides, it is expensive.
And so, I discovered when I called from the beach, is parasailing.
“$75 a person,” I reported.
“Girls, I don’t know. That’s $225.” Jo said.
“No. That’s practically a trip to Florida in February,” I said.
“The carriage ride!” they said.
I waffled. “Look,” I said “if the conditions are all right, then we can do it. Sunny day, light breeze, calm water. We’ll see.”
One of my daughters said to Jo’s daughter, “We’re never going to do it. She’s been promising us a carriage ride in Central Park for six years.”
“My mom’s the same. She’s been promising me a parasail for so many summers,” Little E. responded.
I ignored them. I turned to Jo, “Wait. You said, $225. But it’s only $150. Two girls at $75 each?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m going to do it too. It looks fun. You and I can do it together.”
“I guess.” I shrugged. I am scared of heights. I don’t like ferris wheels. But it didn’t matter. I’d bought us time. The next day, I knew the forecast was for rain.
I woke before everyone else and looked out the window. Not a cloud in the sky. In fact, the conditions were perfect. Sunny day, light breeze, calm water.
Jo made us coffee. “I think we should do it.”
“Okay,” I exhaled. “Yolo. Carpe Diem. All that crap.”
The girls were thrilled.
At the shack on the Barnegat Light dock, I signed waivers on an ipad, not even reading the print. I had to rush to the bathroom.
We boarded the cushy white boat. The guide and the driver were 20-something year olds. Did they know about keeping me safe, synching cords?
We watched the shore get smaller.
When our boat was well out, Sean, the ex-Marine guide, asked, “Who wants to go first?”
“We do,” I said, answering for Jo and me. I wanted the whole thing over with.
“Okay.” He bent to slip one nylon strap over and under our thighs and another around our waists.
I whispered to him, “Basically, Sean, we two are single mothers so you cannot let anything happen to us. I’m not kidding. You have to make sure you bring us down alive.”
“That’s the idea,” he said. “We haven’t lost one yet.”
He sat us on the back of the boat. I looked around for the metal basket. Wouldn’t we be sitting in a metal frame like on a ferris wheel? No, the two straps of nylon were pretty much our whole seat and harness. I don’t know if it was uncomfortable. I had no time to think or feel because, with a whoosh, a gunning of the motor, we were jettisoned from the boat into the sky. We were suddenly miles away, it seemed.
Dreamlike, boats far below us left a trail of foam – V’s no bigger than a letter on a printed page.
“Oh, this is so fun.” Jo laughed, giddy, girlish, giggling. I recall a few moments in the sky where I was not utterly terrified.
I pushed my big sunglasses up my nose, looked at the beach houses, boats. Everything was tiny. Nothing mattered.
So quiet. I turned and looked up at the parasail behind us — full and reliable.
I noticed I was white knuckling it. My hands were clutching the straps. I told myself, Relax. Enjoy this. It will soon be over. I circled my wrists. The boat slowed, lowered us so we dipped our feet in the water. Then, we were raised up into the sky again. We laughed and shouted.
We waved at the girls.
“They’ve probably forgotten us,” Jo said.
But we could make out their tiny waves in the tiny boat.
After about 15 minutes, we were lowered back gently into the white boat. Behind my big sunglasses, I cried. I was so grateful to have survived. I had returned. Safety. I thanked Sean. I told the girls it was fun.
I watched my girls go up, kicking each other, swinging, waving, going no-handed. I felt a similar wide relief when my girls returned to the boat safely.
For a little while, that day, up high in the sky, life was light, someone else was driving. Everything – work, husband, money problems — was far away. I realized I didn’t need to clutch so tightly. I had been scared to let go. But it was okay when I did.
Maybe a carriage ride in Central Park will feel the same way.
I am part of a variety show this afternoon and I am going to read this essay. I’ve tried to sell it to a couple of magazines, but, sadly, no takers.