She was twelve. We were on a world cruise, just about to cross the equator, when she slipped on the upper pool deck, which evidently was built out of banana peels. After that she kept complaining her foot was broken and I kept telling her to stop complaining her foot was broken because one, if her foot was broken wouldn’t she be in tears or something? And two, Looky here!, the desert buffet has Baked Alaska. Finally my girl talked a responsible adult into taking her to the ship hospital, which they have those if you can believe it (they’re located in the bowels of the boat and look like large sensory deprivation capsules from the set of a sci-fi movie). I followed along, rolling my eyes, careful to keep my plate of food from tipping. Personally I am afraid of hospitals. My daughter, though, that girl is afraid of nothing.
The doctor was Australian and immensely hot. I remember thinking I needed to invent maladies in order to make regular visits throughout the rest of our trip. He turned to me with eyes full of longing, or perhaps they were simply full of pity, pointed to my girl’s X-ray, and said, “Freak show.” I wondered why the hell he was saying that until I realized, aha!, it was his crazy-ass Australian accent, and he wasn’t saying “freak show,” he was saying “fracture!” They led me to a chair on account of my knees suddenly got all wobbly, slapped a cast on my daughter’s foot, gave her a pair of crutches left over from when Rickets were a thing, and handed me a bill for $4,100.
I refused to pay it, seeing as how she was the third person to break a bone by slipping on that deck that week alone, and there should be signs or something if they were gonna build pool decks that turn into Astroglide when they come into contact with water. Surprisingly the argument worked.
Later my girl climbed the Great Wall of China with a cast on her foot. I have a picture of it. Now whenever she claims to be too tired to clean her room, I wave the picture at her and holler, “If you can climb the Great Wall of China with a broken foot, you can put your cell phone down and clean your room.” Surprisingly the argument works.
And then I’ll remember Dahlia, China, and our kite-flying excursion in the park. I figured you don’t need feet to fly a kite (I was wrong), and a park would be okay on a broken foot, right? (Wrong again.) This park was paved almost completely in concrete but for a single grassy knoll, which, oddly, was covered in hundreds of small, hand-written notes that day. I learned it was tradition for elderly folks to leave these notes hoping to find suitable matches for their children. “My daughter is good at driving in the city,” said one. “My son is respectful,” said another. I remember thinking I should leave a note of my own.
“My girl is afraid of nothing,” it would say.
Hollis Gillespie is Paste Travel’s The Ugly American columnist. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, which is on bookstore shelves now. Follow her on Twitter.