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Janine Zeitlin

In the Showroom at Sea, I was the only one not clapping.

It was the second night of a cruise with every member of my immediate family. The ship pitched in the North Pacific chop as the captain steered toward Ketchikan, Alaska. We settled into plush seats before a live show about a fellow named Bo or Chuck or some other moniker befitting the handsome owner of a remote Alaskan bar.

His capacity for survival there was unclear but, boy, could he sing and shimmy.

Bo had urged the audience to clap to the beat as he crooned. My eyes scanned our row: my older brother, mom, husband and daughter, all clapping and all looking way too gleeful. Surely I could rely on my dad, the most likely to cry in our brood, but he grinned too, thus completing their betrayal. This tiny tragedy, I could see, was mostly mine.

Eight hours earlier, they had crammed into our tiny cabin to comfort me. Just before that, I had returned from the restroom to the ship’s library not to flip through glossy guidebooks with my dad and then 3-year-old daughter as planned but to deliver the news, “The baby is gone.” I was two months along. Though it was really the beginnings of a baby, in that moment I called it a baby because that’s what I felt like I had lost. I squirmed under the weight of their silence and pity. A voice inside me had commanded, “Do not let this ruin your vacation.” More quietly it urged, “Don’t ruin this vacation for your family,” so I dressed up for dinner and ordered a glass of wine that made me nauseous. Bo magnified this malady.

At our first port of call, I ducked into a suspended canoe at a Ketchikan visitor’s center with my phone to hear a nurse back home warn me of potential trauma. Soon after, my husband and I soared in a seaplane above cliffs hemming sapphire streams. As the plane free fell due to thermal currents, I immediately regretted ignoring the nurse’s advice to be kind to my body.

Powering through was the worst thing I could do, but there is scant space to wallow on a cruise. I tried securing a quiet corner in the library the next morning but a man pointed out a cresting whale, prompting me to join in his gazing because whales are amazing. On deck, a steward popped out of nowhere to offer me a blanket. That’s why, despite the potential for an awkward encounter with the crew who fashioned our towels into Muppets when we were out, I holed up in our cabin. Seconds later came a knock. Another knock, another, and another until once again, my whole family stared at me like a specimen from the sliver of cushion considered a couch.

My mom urged me to grieve, “Would you like to have a ceremony?”

Summoning my inner teenager, I sighed in aggravation.

My husband hugged me.

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My brother frowned.

My daughter patted my back.

My father’s eyes glistened, “Sure you don’t want to come with us?”

Another night, another show, and this time I would not be going. Part of a successful family vacation comes from knowing when to leave one another alone. Once they left, I wailed bestial cries I did not recognize until my soul felt wrung out. I reached for “Into the Wild” to distract myself with Chris McCandless’ last days, starving and alone in the Alaskan woods. “HAVE LITERALLY BECOME TRAPPED IN THE WILD,” McCandless wrote in a journal entry in the book.

I, on the other hand, was trapped in a floating palace with a 24-hour pizza buffet. A cruise with your family is among the most absurd settings for a miscarriage, but it is certainly not the worst. I had lost a speck of a child in this vast wonderland. McCandless’ mother had lost a full-fledged son.

Several days later, we disembarked and set off for Denali National Park. One evening my family idled in a bar near our cabins. This was one of our best vacations, we concluded, apart from that one very sad thing. All a bit tipsy, we laughed about our long-ago trips in a Ford Granada without air-conditioning, the melted crayons and the Big Gulps spilled in the back seat — micro-disasters with straightforward solutions. None of us had known how to navigate this particular detour. I forgave them for clapping with Bo, a sin they were still unaware of committing. The clock could not dim the midnight sun or the memories, so we talked into the wee hours in a communal release of grief, or perhaps it was the comfort of the final days of an otherwise smooth family vacation.

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Janine Zeitlin is a writer in South Florida. She wrote this for The Washington Post.

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