Greek Cruise Adventure: French Fry or Die
By Maureen D. Friedman
“You smell like a French fry.” Clara wrinkled her nose in my direction while Sarah Jessica Parker mused loudly from Clara’s laptop.
“That’s Easter egg to you,” I said and soaked my hand towel in 15 Euro cent white vinegar again. I wiped my red legs and blistered shoulders one more time.
“My grandmother always used to tell me that a vinegar rubdown before bed turned sunburn to tan overnight,” I told her.
“Yeah, but your grandmother never spent an entire day half drunk on a Greek beach sun burning her ass fire-engine red.”
“Look whose talking, bitch. At least I’m doing something about it. Can we go to bed? These lights are making me sweat.” I switched off the cabin lights and crawled beneath my crisp white hospital corners. The rocking of the ship turned my stomach slightly, but my ipod shuffle distracted me enough to lull me to sleep.
At 3am, I woke up from the pressure of my nose against the wall alongside my bed. The small Greek cruise ship had listed so strongly to my left that I had rolled over and been squished against the wall. The captain of this maiden voyage was either asleep at the wheel, or drunkenly sputtering something like “lets see what this puppy can do!” The room was so hot to me in my sunburned state that I was sweating through the thin white gauze of my peasant-style chemise. I instinctively looked over at Clara, who was clutching her pillow to her belly and also facing the wall, fast asleep. I shimmied out of my sleeves and let the white fabric collect around my waist. Cooler, I covered myself with my sheets again and soon found myself to be blissfully unconscious.
Two hours later, I was vaguely aware of Clara’s low groans and unsteady gait as she felt her way to the bathroom light. A few seconds later I heard a loud thud but was so confused from sleepiness that I just sat upright in my bed, blinking helplessly at the black room, pierced by a the line of warm yellow light from beneath the bathroom door.
“Clara? Are you ok?”
Then, in a frightened voice: “Ohhh my ga-ga-god. Maureen! Oh oh my god! Oh my god!” The last would have been a scream, had her voice not silently escaped her lungs in fear. She burst from the bathroom her hand to her head, holding a blood soaked white towel against herself. There was so much blood, all over her and the bathroom, it was difficult to take it in.
“Clara! Clara what happened? Are you sick?”
She lifted the towel off of her forehead slowly, and gushing red projected straight outwards. It was in that moment that I realized the blood on her shirt was not from bloody vomit, but was coming from an enormous gash that we later discovered reached from her hairline to her eyebrows. She screamed and pushed the towel back against her head. I sat stupidly, topless, mouth agape. I felt like I was in an opening segment of “House.” But this wasn’t a delusion, it was actually happening.
Wikpiedia will tell you that the red geyser I was hopelessly staring at falls, by definition, somewhere between “incision” and “laceration.” I prefer laceration because incision sounds so innocently medical. But I was far from these thoughts as Clara put on her shorts with blood-soaked hands and bounded out of our room.
“Clara! Wait for me!” I ran to the closet and numbly studied my clothes. “Fuck, fuck, Oh SHIT oh fuck!” I shakily grabbed the first simple once-piece item, since the challenge of buttons and zippers was unthinkable at that time. Bedecked in my black cocktail dress, I stopped short as I reached for the door handle. And I did something awful. I, in a flash of selfish clarity, put on a bra.
Yes. If Clara had died by a margin of 12 seconds, a charge of involuntary manslaughter would be a fair punishment for my moment of vanity. But she didn’t die [pause for common reader exhale], not even close. So it’s a secret between me, God, and anyone who reads this essay, which I hope to get published.
I sprinted in my bare feet and formalwear through the unnaturally (for 5:00am) bright hallways, the plastic flooring that smelled like thrown-up Tequila sticking slightly to my soles and making a loud “slap, slap” sound.
Clara was nowhere to be found. I yelled breathlessly for her on each level of the small ship. Nobody, not even the geriatric cruisers, was awake. I finally spotted an impatient looking cabin boy and a beautiful Turkish girl about my age.
“Hi! I’m sorry. But. [Gasping] My friend is bleeding. She hit her head and she needs a doctor or nurse. Or something! The captain? Can you help me look for her, and for the ship’s doctor?”
The Turkish girl went straight to action, even as the boy rolled his eyes and shot me a glare that could make a hyena weep.
“I’ll find the doctor. Nick, go look her friend! Hold this for me, sweetie.”
She handed me a small packet of something. In my state, I didn’t even look at what it was. The girl dashed down the hallway as the boy shoved his fists in his pockets and walked away to “help” me. Just as I began to rush up to the top deck, Clara emerged holding onto the arm of a janitor who looked frantic with worry. His English was non-existent, but it seemed that he had some sort of walkie-talkie and had apparently used it to call the captain because, as she descended the steps, he suddenly appeared from around the bend in his full captain’s uniform. But seconds later, before we could even answer his first question (“had she been drinking?”) the ship’s doctor arrived, pulled by the Turkish girl, in boat shoes, swim trunks, and what appeared to be a t-shirt with Russian writing across the chest. He looked for all the world like Will Farrell.
The men stood around and asked questions in English, Greek, and Russian. Clara and I sat on a bench and tried to answer them while attending to the gushing head wound. I gently rubbed her back as she fuzzily tried to explain, through tears, what happened.
“Ouch! That hurts! You’re hurting me, Maureen!”
That was the thanks I got for attempting to save her life and giving her comfort. I chalked it up to divine justice for that moment of vanity.
Thankfully the doctor insisted we quit the chitchat and go into the health room so he could examine Clara’s head. As we walked away from the small crowd that had gathered to assist us, I remembered I was still holding the small package that the Turkish girl had given me.
“Opps! I almost forgot to give you your…” I looked down for the first time at what was in my then-outstretched hand: a 6-pack of condoms. Suddenly, the whole scene of the girl and the boy talking in low voices at 5am in an empty hallway blazed bright across my brain, taking on new and painfully obvious meaning.
“Thanks,” she spat as she glared at me and shoved the package in the crook of her tan arm. To this day, I feel awful about being so stupid and uncool that I accidentally embarrassed this kind prostitute.
Inside the health room, the doctor told me, in a heavy Russian accent, that the bleeding was slowing but that the wound was too large for him to “sew up” comfortably. He said that we should wait until we arrived at the next island to see a surgeon.
“Can she have 2 Advils?”
“Of course! She is a grown woman.”
It turned out that these were especially “fun” Advil, as Clara would later realize. Once they kicked in, Clara was loopier than a jumbo box of fruit loops but much drowsier. The doctor had instructed me to not let her sleep if she looked like she really wanted to, but if she was wide awake, it would be good for her to sleep. That sort of practical [read: ass-backwards] information was too complex for me, so I just crossed my fingers and let the girl doze off.
As I babysat her snoring body, I felt the ship rev up to nausea-inducing speeds. When Clara briefly rolled into consciousness, I attempted to lift her spirits by telling her that we were going faster just for her, to reach the far-out next island, faster. I was rewarded with a faint smile, followed by her eyes rolling into the back of her head.
The doctor knocked on our cabin door once we arrived at Paros. He tried to put Clara in a wheelchair, to which she replied: “I’m not a cripple!“
The captain met us at the gangplank and escorted us off the boat before anyone else had a chance. We were met on the port by the governor(?)/president(?)/king(?) of the island, bedecked in a blazer covered in a plethora of dazzling military-esque decorations and awards, who we were told would personally escort us by car to the hospital. It was at this time that the beach-cover-up clad Clara squinted into the baked sun of the distance and said: “Is THAT it?”
The hospital, which was about as big as my house, was approximately 2.5 blocks away. Clara then proceeded to say something very rude about not being a cripple to the king of the island, after which we set forth on foot.
In the hospital, they insisted Clara stay the entire day while her head scans were processed. We doubted that the man in tennis shoes, jeans, and an NYC T-shirt was even really a doctor, so we declined and said we would prefer she was given stitches now and we would return for the scans later in the day. I twiddled my thumbs while she clutched her little pillow to avoid crying from the pain of a quilt being made on her face.
We learned later that Clara should have received twenty-seven stitches. When she sat up, she had only seven black stitches across her forehead which made her look like Frankenstein.
“Its barely noticeable.” I said as rosily as possible.
Like any girl with a severe head wound and a moderate level concussion, Clara insisted we spend the day climbing rocks on the edge of the island that had great views of the cliffs and windmills. As I sat ostensibly staring into the sunset, I stole glances at my friend’s severely botched head and ever-darkening black eye thinking how thankful I was that fate chose Clara, instead of me, for this particular torment.
Even now, as I am writing this, I am still at a loss as to why Clara fainted and split her head open that night, rather than me. We had the same amount of sunburn and dehydration. What saved me? And my mind always comes back to my grandma’s old wives tale that drove me to slather my body in white vinegar the night before. I said as much to Clara on the airplane back to London.
“You’re gross. But whatever you say, French fry girl.”
Some people never learn.