It was 3:30 in the morning and I had just been hit in the arm by a flying fish. Despite this, my all consuming nausea and dizziness was really the focus of my sleepless, disoriented thoughts, but the sting in my right shoulder and a winged fish floundering around on the deck also disturbed me.
The ships rigging creaked and shuddered while we sailed through another long hot Caribbean night. I was on night watch from midnight until 4am and I had been at the helm when I became ill, a distinct pattern. It was my 30th consecutive day of seasickness and my favorite kind of fish, the flying fish, which I placed on a near godlike level, had just been mortally injured on my arm. I couldn’t help but laugh. I laughed for a while. I was living on a 125ft sailboat with 29 other people most of whom seasickness seemed to elude. They all knew how much I loved the flying fish. I was like a hyperactive four year old the first time I saw one, having believed that they were nothing more than an imaginary creature from childhood fairy tails. As far as I was concerned seeing a flying fish was as good as seeing a fairy. My fellow students and the ship’s crew were acutely aware of this fact. Despite the ungodly hour, it only took minutes for word to spread; I was a fairy killer.
My seasickness subsided while I contemplated the irony and ridiculousness of my situation. I laughed a bit more and then returned to feeling ill. I searched my pockets for comfortless food and forced down my four hundredth saltine cracker of the month, I never wanted to eat another saltine again, but unfortunately it was all I could stand to have come back up.
Dee, the History and Literature Professor on our ship had heard the news of the flying fish and in no time she was at my side. “Where’s the fish?” She inquired. I didn’t look at her. I faced the water, my arms wrapped tightly around the rigging, nearly contemplating throwing myself over. At this point I had lost track and pointed behind me.
“Great” she smiled, “You don’t mind if I use it for bait do you?”
Of course I minded. My slain friend deserved a better fate then to be used as lowly bait.
“No” I said, “might as well, right?” I conceded.
I loved Dee and was in no place to debate my inane flying fish morality. And anyway my watch was over and I could finally lay down and go to sleep, typically the only part of the day that I felt well. I was about to enter my 31st day of seasickness and needed all the rest I could get in order to get through to the 80th day, the last day, the day I thought about on an almost constant basis.
Counting days was something that brought me both sadistic pleasure and ultimate despair. I couldn’t help, but count. Sometimes I would even count hours when the days were not passing at an adequate speed. Each day often felt like many, with sleep being broken up into short blocks of restless time. Sleep was never more than a four hour period; a time when I wasn’t seasick and it passed in a blink of an eye. The only moments on my voyage that passed quickly was while I was sleeping or while we were on land exploring one of our Caribbean ports of call.
Time at sea crept by and the variable winds laughed in my ears testing the last of my sensibilities. I would often spend my nighttime watch singing to the sea in hopes we could make amends. I sung the sea shanties I had learned on the ship as well as songs from my childhood that at one time brought me happiness. While the singing would drown out thoughts of depression it didn’t bring happiness.
I don’t think that sailing has even been a particular joyous endeavor for most, but there have always been those who have romanticized it to the point in which the innocent and un-expecting consider the idea of trying it out.
I was such a person.
I pulled myself up from the rail of the ship by whatever rigging I could find. My thoughts danced between the low and persistent growl in the pit of my stomach and the anticipation of my small and extraordinarily hot, stuffy, bunk. This bunk, my bunk, was my favorite part on the ship despite its obvious and insurmountable flaws. No room to sit up, very little room for any personal belongings (of which I am famous for having too many), and unfortunately my particular bunk was as close as any bunk could possibly be to the diesel burning stove that the food I couldn’t keep down was cooked on. Ironic. It was a hot, hot stove and there was no barrier between its heat and my bunk. I hated that stove, and its unscrupulous ability to raise the temperature by at least 15 degrees, but still I loved my bunk.
As I crawled into its embrace I completely de-robed. Clothes were unbearable to wear in the heat and my thin, but adequate bunk curtain gave me some comfort that I was not completely exposing myself to my shipmates, although I could never be completely sure. I didn’t care. 110 degree heat warranted no excuses.
It was just after 4am. It would be less than 4 hours before I would be woken for breakfast and the beginning of another long arduous day. I located my contraband disk-man and pressed play. The sound of frogs on a warm spring evening flooded my ears. I gave one last thought to the flying fish and sleep took over.
I watched as my heart shrank and grew
My mind teetering on the edge
I noticed how the pit in my gut hardened and sank
And how with each breath I sighed
I watched myself for a long time
I turned inward and noticed my thoughts
They went in circles
Never forward, never ending
My hands were still
As was my gaze
My right foot tapped to a beat that found its way in
Outside it was raining
The drops falling as the dream of summer faded
But, it was still July
The season never came, it was in hiding
Just as my dreams were in hiding
Threatening to break through the fog
But, timid enough to evaporate instead
There was a fatigue in my eyes
I could feel them droop
But, I hadn’t cried in months
Maybe because whom I cared for most
Was out of reach
Nothing else was as sad
Yet everything was empty in his absence