Issue: January 2006
Close Encounters

     The morning the aliens came to visit Luna I was asleep like someone had clubbed me. It had been an interesting night, in the sense of that famous old curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The thunderstorm roulette had begun the afternoon before as we approached the Rappahannock’s mouth. I must confess that as storms loomed on what seemed like every point of the compass I found myself yearning for twin 454s the way Romeo longed for Juliet. However, they say that learning humility in the face of a greater power is spiritually fulfilling; if so, there’s nothing that brings out the Zen in a person quite like a foul current, five knots of SOG, a 53-foot lightning rod sticking out of your boat and enough electricity in the air to light up Las Vegas.

     Somehow we skated through it all and found a safe anchorage on Indian Creek before nightfall. So perhaps I can be forgiven for quoting from Caddyshack that evening: “I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite some time.” The first storm hit at about 1:30 a.m. It was notable for its quantity of blinding lightning, but it lacked much wind; that came with the storm that arrived a few hours later.

     Now, I enjoy watching a nighttime thunderstorm-the intensity, the primal wildness, the thrill of boats dragging anchor straight at you, their owners evidently capable of sleeping through the Apocalypse. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that has interfered with my viewing pleasure: my kids are getting longer. Their pilot-berth bunks still have plenty of legroom, but their legs these days seem to Velcro themselves to the metal straps that run vertically though the inboard sides of the bunks. These straps secure the chain plates to the boat’s stringers. See where I’m going with this? Big lightning rod connected to aluminum rigging connected to stainless steel chain plates connected to metal straps connected to flesh and bone? As a mom I feel entitled to entertain hyster-ical notions of how my kids could be maimed, but a lightning strike shish-kebabing them while they sleep? Not quite crazy enough.

     During round one Johnny and I kept watch together, that is, he watched me while I dashed like a lunatic between the bunks and rooted around in the kids’ sleeping bags making sure their legs were clear of the straps. But my compression strategy wasn’t very effective; I would fold the kids’ legs up like origami, and in a few minutes they’d groan and roll over and fling them back into the danger zone. By round two I hit on a new plan. I fastened lifejackets around each of the straps and for good measure threw in a couple of boat cushions. If we sank the kids wouldn’t have any flotation devices but by God they wouldn’t be electrocuted.

     By this time (somewhere around 5 a.m.), Johnny had long since passed out, less exhausted, I suspect, from the stressful weather than by watching his wife’s neuroses in full flower for half the night. At some point, I too crashed into the V-berth. Sometime later I awoke to an unearthly glow from above; the whole cockpit was bathed in it, and it was pouring through the portlights. It was just like that light emanating from the ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind! “My God!” I gasped, staggering to something like an upright position. “What the hell is that light?” My whole family, sitting in the cabin eating Cheerios, looked at me warily. “Um, it’s morning?” Johnny said.

     Back to the pillow I went, face down. And that’s when I dreamed of aliens with long limbs, strange tendrils of light and rubber-padded pilot berths.