My hand felt really weird. He was holding onto it as we stood in line, for just under forty minutes, it was starting to lose feeling. My father was generally austere growing up, and had a permanent red flush on his neck and cheeks that always reminded me of chickens. His hands were always occupied with something or other like a giant whirring inspector gadget, they were hardly hands at all, more like ever-changing tools.
We were standing in this long line underground and ever since we’d moved out of the sun I was freezing. It was really stupid of me to have left my windbreaker in the car, and now I was cold, and he’d told me I would be, so I couldn’t really complain. I slowly stood on one leg and then the other like a stealthy flamingo to warm myself up in the dark. The hallway was tinkling with organ music and stormy sea sound effects but the string lighting on the ceiling looked more like Christmas than a pirate’s den.
My hand was the only warm thing about me, but it felt unnatural to be joined up with my father’s, I was almost afraid that now that he was holding my hand, that my hand wouldn’t be good enough. Maybe he would say, “Makenzie, your hand is too cold,” and drop me. What if my hand fell off, could hands just fall off? It was so bizarre that I just sat there and stared at the string lighting contemplating what would happen, and continuing my slow, one-legged dance in the tunnel.
My father moved forward in the line too fast, and I lurched forward off of my single stilt tripping into the group in front of us. At first I didn’t really understand what had happened, I was so unaccustomed to the idea of moving in tandem that until my father pulled me up by my wrist I had forgotten that we were connected. He whispered into my ear, “pay attention!” I was mortified that I was ruining the hand-holding. For the next three minutes, I knew that he was on the edge of letting go of my hand.
The claustrophobia of being in poor lighting in this massive tunnel full of people, and I couldn’t breathe waiting for him to get annoyed and drop me. It’s a miracle that I managed not to pass out, or have a panic attack. That would not be good, because my father said that when my body went numb on the left side, and I couldn’t walk, and I spent the rest of the day vomiting, I was just looking for attention, because panic attacks were not real. Panic attacks would remain “cries for attention,” until I was diagnosed with a very serious stress disorder the following year.
I imagined for a moment that I felt my finger tips become tingly, that I was starting to feel the numbness coming on. Maybe it was all in my head, but I wanted so badly to be able to continue holding hands without making a scene, that I forced myself not to panic. I turned my attention to his shoes, making sure I was ready to pattern my every move after his. We finally reached a metal turnstile painted to look like wood.
Wide plastic boats that were also pretending to be made of wood, floated up in front of us as if they were piloted by ghosts. My father let go of my hand and sat down in the boat, scooting over to make room for me. I crawled in next to him quietly, and for the first time felt like my hand was naked. I thought to myself that if people had to wear pants and shirts, they should also have to wear gloves, so that their hands weren’t nude. I sat on top of my hands as our boat sank a little, becoming snug with the other passengers.
I don’t remember the Pirates of the Caribbean, it was not a very exciting ride. Mostly you just sat in a boat in the dark and watched plastic pirate models on metal tracks chase each other, or move one mechanical arm up and down in a repetitive raising of their gun, letting it omit white smoke followed by a delayed twang that poorly imitated a bullet missing it’s target.
I remember watching my father’s face. In the dark we sat next to one another, never touching, even though the boat was full. We came around a corner, and there was a wench with outstretched arms and a wild grin, chasing a frightened pirate with a wooden leg in a perpetual circle around a wooden keg. I doubted whether either was really made of wood, and my father laughed. I almost didn’t hear him, it was so quiet and entirely to himself. Looking up at him I could see that he was grinning. He had this particular smile whenever he was feeling childish or getting away with something.
He had smiled like this when he took my brother Ross and I to the Seahawks game two years earlier and we waited till halftime to sneak closer into the perfect seats. We watched them win while we ate hot dogs, and he smiled to have snagged us wonderful seats.
I looked away from him and cried to myself. I was glad that it was dark so that he wouldn’t see me. I didn’t want him to ask me why the fact that I could remember the last time he smiled like that, was devastating. I didn’t want to admit to him, or myself, how unhappy and rough he was. I was lucky that I was not old enough to be wearing makeup, and that by the time we got out of our little boat and joined daylight again, I had regained my composure. I was careful to stand just out of reach for the rest of the day.