I slip into a wet, clammy lifejacket and pull the straps tight. What am I getting myself into?

Love is about taking risks, about stepping out of your comfort zone and putting it all on the line. I wish I could say that love is my motivation in strapping on this lifejacket at my husband’s family reunion on the lake, but my motives are far less pure. I’m determined to prove myself as a 21st century power woman amid a sea of pasta salad serving skirts. Why? Because I’m obviously a sucker for punishment with a distorted sense of bravado. And why tubing? Because isn’t that the kinder, gentler alternative to humiliating myself on water skis?

With the slimy lifejacket belted on, I mount the beast. It’s a giant rubber Boston cream with a chocolate nylon cover. When I’m clinging on spread eagle, ready to go, only my feet stick off the back.

The huge motor revs with a wildcat scream, and we’re off!

After the first jolt when the rope catches, it’s blissful. The warm sun is heavenly on my face and the backs of my legs. The wind is in my hair, and I’m wearing a big smile.

The uncle driving the boat and my husband, in the back as my spotter, smile back…but mischievously. The uncle cranks the wheel and my Boston cream instantly changes into a hard hit tether-ball. Centripetal force takes over and slowly, ever so slowly, the right side of the tube starts to lift up into the air.

For one brief, gravity defying, moment I’m flying sideways over the water, still foolishly holding on. They can’t think I’m a delicate city girl, the horror! Then, my world flips upside down and my face catches the next wave straight on.

We have splashdown!

I come up spluttering, to the sounds of my husband’s laughter.

“You O.K.?” he yells.

“I’m great!” I yell back.

Only a delicate city girl would fess up to being cold, soaked, and scared out of her wits!

“Time of my life,” I mutter under my breath as I haul myself back on.

The girl who got A+ in university physics certainly ought to be able to figure out the formula for surviving a tube ride. Getting slammed head first into a wave sure gets the brain gears turning. Maybe if I drag my inside foot to balance out the forces?

The rope pulls tight again and pretty soon it’s my turn to laugh. My foot dragging works a miracle and the tube stays flat. My physics genius has conquered the day. With a smug grin on my lips, I close my eyes and enjoy the ride.

Then, we hit our own wake.

My left shoulder just about rips out of its socket at impact. The pain is excruciating. I hadn’t realized I was going to be risking life and limb out here!

I sneak a quick look at my husband. This could be the last time I see his sweet, wait a second, gloating face? The brute! I’ll show him. I give the thumbs up signal for more speed. If I’m going to go, it might as well be in a blaze of glory at full throttle.

The wildcat roars again and takes off down the lake, dragging one grimly determined city girl behind it.

“Go on,” I hiss through clenched teeth, “just try and get me off now.”

I quickly master the art of the foot drag, open eye approach. It’s almost too easy,

then the uncle jacks the throttle again and makes another tether-ball turn. Something’s not right. When I drag my foot, my whole calf up to my knee is in the water. Either the tube’s suddenly shrunk, or I’ve grown 12 inches in the last 5 seconds!

My body is maxed out by the extra g-forces. Every muscle and tendon is stretched to its limit. Even the smallest ripple plucks me like a guitar string. All I can do is grit my teeth and hang on. I try to guess which joint will give out first, because there’s no way I’m coming out of this in one piece. Next thing I know, I’m staring down at my hands from a terrible angle above them in the air. Sure, my shoulders are still in their sockets, but my stomach’s in my throat!

The tube hits wave after wave and I’m flip-flopping all over the place like a fresh caught fish. At least my charming husband is being entertained.

When we finally come out of the waves, I find myself staring straight backwards. How could this have happened? Your guess is as good as mine. The rope catches and the tube spins 180 degrees so lightning fast I can feel the brain cells squishing in my skull.

I hug the slippery nylon with my knees as best I can, crawling frantically in place, trying to keep a bend in my elbows. I can’t afford to scream anymore. My poor muscles need every last atom of oxygen they can get. I know I can’t hold on much longer, and when I do let go, there’s no way my arms will have enough strength to pull me back onto this Everest of tubes.

I look up to my husband for help. Just past his head, through the windshield, is one of the best surprises I’ve ever had: I can see the beach!

Three seconds later the motor stops and the rope mercifully goes slack. I drift towards the shore, half dead, spread eagle on my Boston cream. My whole body is jelly, numb, and shaking. I haul myself, grunting and groaning, over the stern with my cooked spaghetti arms.

“How was is?” asks the uncle.

“It was awesome,” I wheeze, meaning it. Both my elbows are scraped and bleeding, and I have a strange pain deep inside one knee, but my smile’s wider than ever. As I wobble across the lawn I see one of the mothers put down her salad and go grab my dripping lifejacket for her turn. Turns out most of them have bathing suits under those skirts! Out of the whole reunion, the only person I’ve succeeded in proving anything to is myself. But that’s not a bad place to start. And I hear that next year, someone’s bringing a wakeboard!


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