You are on a cruise ship with your Nmother, Nsister, and your 5 year old child. You and your child share a small stateroom. You awaken to the smell of smoke, a loud clanging alarm, and your frightened child. Quickly you dress but when you try to get the door open, you find it is locked and your key is missing. You are too big to fit through the porthole…but your child is not. Knowing that she is your only hope for escape—and you are her only hope for eventual survival—you boost her through the open porthole and instruct her to go around and open the door to the stateroom.
You wait for what feels like an hour, two hours, and you can actually feel the ship is sinking. You try everything you can think of to get the door open, from picking the lock to smashing it with furniture, all to no avail. Finally, as the ship is tilting precariously, the door opens and your child stands there with a key in her hand. “I took it from Grandma’s pocket,” she says as you sweep her up in your arms and run for the open deck.
There is only one lifeboat remaining and too many people. “Women and children first” you hear and step forward. As a crew member starts to help you and your child into the boat you are roughly grabbed from behind and pulled back. “You cannot go ahead of me!” a familiar voice claims. “I am your mother!” You start to step back but the crewman, who is himself doomed, interposes himself and safely escorts you and your child into the lifeboat. You hear your NM scream in protest and see her thrust your adult sister ahead of her, saying “Women and children first? I am a woman and this is my child! I demand a place on this lifeboat.”
The crewman ignores her and continues to escort women and kids onto your boat and finally, the boat is away and you are floating, with a half dozen other boats, watching the ship go down. Numerous people are bobbing in the water, wearing life vests, but these are tropical waters and sharks are expected at any moment. The person who has taken charge of your lifeboat announces that the ship had drifted out of normal shipping channels and it may take some time to be found…you may be on this boat for days…even weeks.
Suddenly a hand comes over the side of the boat and grabs your child by the upper arm and tries to drag her overboard. You react by grabbing your child with one hand and, using a nearby paddle, beating the offender’s arm until your child is released. You look at the culprit and it is your mother, floating in a life jacket nearby. “That seat belongs to me!” your NM screams at you. “And you must give your seat to your sister! We were in line first! You weren’t supposed to be there!” Suddenly you understand what your child meant when she said she got the key from Grandma’s pocket.
Your NM clings to the side of the boat, as does your sister. She tries to convince you to put your child into the water “…just for a little while, so I can rest in the boat for a few minutes.” She tries to convince you to take a turn in the water so your sister can rest in the boat. She tells you that you are wrong to save the child because she will not be able to contribute to the welfare or well-being of the other passengers, she will only consume resources and has no wisdom, experience or even the ability to do physical work to contribute to the group’s survival. Your sister complains that you always get the advantage, that she is always left in second place—which you intellectually know is bullshit—and now would be a good time to even up the score.
Night falls and, exhausted, you begin to drift off to sleep. You are worn out not only from the ordeal, but from having to defend your silent and traumatized child from your NM’s and NSis’s predatory behaviour. As you slip into sleep, you suddenly feel something around your neck and feel yourself being pulled backwards. Your child sits and watches, paralyzed and silent with fear, as you do everything you can to fight for your life. The others in the lifeboat—some sleep through it, others avert their eyes, unwilling to interfere in what they have decided is a “family matter” and none of their business. You are dragged far enough over by one pair of hands that your head is submerged, while a second pair grapples with your body and tries to drag the rest of you out of the boat.
You are drained and ready to just give up but as you struggle for air you hear your child cry out…with you nearly out of the picture, she is under attack. You summon strength you didn’t know you had and break free, retaining your place in the boat and beating them off with a paddle yet again.
They are also exhausted so as they cling to the boat and try to regroup their energy for another attempt at unseating you, a woman nearby leans towards you and quietly says “You keep defending yourself against them. But there is only one of you and there are two of them and this could go on for a long time. Why are you not taking the offensive?”
You have no idea what she means.
“Beat their hands bloody with that paddle so they can’t hang onto the boat anymore. Eventually the currents will separate them from us if you don’t let them keep hanging on.”
“But what will happen to them?” you ask.
“Why does it matter?” the woman replies.
“Because they are my mother and sister.”
“That didn’t seem to mean much to them when they were trying to drown you and your child,” she observes. “This is survival…you and your child cannot survive if they keep hanging on and keep trying to drag you overboard. The minute you are gone, they will sacrifice the child. And if you don’t DO something to change this, you will be worn down to the point that you can no longer resist and then it will be curtains for the both of you. Not only will you cease to exist, your child will be lost as well.”
“How can I condemn my own mother and sister?”
“They were more than willing to do it to you,” she reminds you. “This is not a philosophy class in which you can debate right and wrong without consequence. This is real life…gritty, dirty, painful, traumatizing real life. These people have shown you who they are—that they are willing to throw you and an innocent child to the sharks to advantage themselves—you need to believe them and even if you don’t care about yourself, think about that child. She cannot survive without you.”
As she stops speaking, you see movement out of the corner of your eye. Your child is sleeping, her head pillowed on the edge of the lifeboat. A hand has appeared over the edge of the boat and is quietly moving towards your child’s tangled hair and you realize that as long as they are within proximity of the boat, you and your child will never be out of danger.
You pick up a paddle…