Thursday, May 10, 2012


I'm en route to North Carolina from Seattle. There is a two year old behind me, stuck between his mother's legs and the back of my seat, and he keeps plowing his head into the back of my seat with surprising strength. Bam! Bam! Bam! Those little people and their giant heads, like weapons. It goes on for hours and I keep turning around and looking at the mother but she always just smiles with determined ignorance. Finally I start to say something and she interrupts me: "Oh, is he bothering you?" And I say weakly, totally pathetic, "Um, maybe he could just stop with the head thing?"

She gently asks him to stop, with a little too much room in her tone for him to refuse, in my opinion. Then she flashes me one of those searing just wait till you have kids looks, and the plane starts to shake very suddenly. We're flying through something, something bad enough that the drink service is halted, which always feels way more disappointing than it should feel, and also unfair because the first half of the air craft got to have their drinks and now the plane is going down and they'll have more of a chance of surviving, since they're all hydrated and we're not.

The turbulence is bad. I hang onto my arm rest and feel really really angry at whoever is responsible for all of this, the invisible hydraulics in the air and the trajectory of the plane and the geography of the country and everything else. I was actually looking forward to the cross-country flight, a few relaxing hours to sit still and read a book and not be bothered. Actually, I was really looking forward to this trip- a quick trip- three days, two of them full travel days, to my grandmother's funeral in Cleveland.
The Wilderness Discoverer heads out to Alaska
You could say I'm a bit, oh how do I say this, overwhelmed with my new career choice. And I was looking forward to this little break with the excitement of a fifth grader about to be released on Summer break. Like, me? I get to go to Cleveland? I don't have to go to work for three days? Tell me, how did I get so lucky?!

It gets worse.

 Last Monday, some of my crew and I were hoisted away during the work day and taken into Ballard for a mandatory drug test. There were eight of us, and we had to go into that back room with the security guy one at a time. It took an hour and a half. I was the happiest I've been in a while, totally relaxed, sitting there with an Oprah magazine, mentally directing the others to pee slow. Make this last. When it was my turn, I did a quick overview of the space in the room- a tiny room with a nonflushing toilet and a sink with broken taps, no water- and just enough space for me to curl up on the floor and shut my eyes. If I wanted to. Which I did. I estimated how much time I'd have- ten minutes- maybe fifteen? Before the security guy pounded on the door. Fifteen golden minutes to myself.

I know how to work hard. I promise I do. But this life, this boat world, was dropped into my lap when I least expected it. I had a job, car, house, boyfriend, dog, routine, friends, plans. And then this offer happened, and I said yes, and suddenly I cannot keep up.  I wake up at six, try and get the dog out for a few minutes, pack my things, stop for coffee, run out the door to Fisherman's terminal. Almost everybody else lives on the boat. They already left behind the aforementioned dog, boyfriend, car, house. I haven't yet.
I screech into a parking space on the harbor and run up the gangway with coffee in one hand and it's amazing how much can spill out of that little hole in the to-go cup. I forget about breakfast or brushing my  hair, whatever it takes to get my ass onto that ship before the all-hands meeting at 7:30. Last week I went to the wrong ship and therefore was four minutes late getting to the correct ship and I got an extremely firm talking to by my captain. Being reprimanded by the captain of your ship is like being yelled at by the president, the chief of police and your mom all at once. I told this story to Lisa a few days later, recalling the whole scenario in horror in the back room of her work. "Did you cry?" She asked, eyes wide. "I would have cried."

I didn't cry. I think I left my body. Like a dying person who floats above their mangled, car-wrecked corpse on the side of the highway and feels peace. I felt peace because I was planning, with utmost certainty, to jump overboard and drown myself as soon as I got a moment to myself. I've never been yelled at before in my life- surely death was the only option.

The day ends after 6pm. Then I go home, to the moping dog, the half-packed house that needs a subletter, the car with the broken breaks that won't be fixed until October, and I run run run run from task to task, and late at night I drive across the city and shore up at Andrew's house and he makes me dinner and listens to my my tyraid, yet again, about how bad I am at everything. He's cooked me dinner three hundred times. I've cooked him dinner one time. I'm leaning on him hard.

Anyhoo. That's why the drug test was such a rush. An hour and a half sitting in a waiting room. The luxury. The magazines. The little cooler of chilled water. Peeing into a cup was nothing- I'd pee into a thousand cups if it meant having that quiet time with Oprah. I think my crew-mates felt the same way, only they have a legitimate reason. They spend all day scrubbing, sanding, hauling things. I outfit kayaks and put together slide shows about edible plants in Alaska. The expedition team does not have the most grueling job on the boat, at least not when we're in the shipyard. Whenever the bouson spots us on deck, studying maps or looking through books, he always finds something to slam. "Do you think this ship looks finished? Do you? Jesus, I wish I had your job!"

In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't curl up on the bathroom floor like a demented person having an episode. But I could have. And that was thrilling.
The view from my doorway
Unfortunately the airplane isn't as luxurious as I'd hoped. It's no drug test, that's for sure. The turbulence not only makes me nervous in a white knuckle seat grasping suddenly religious kind of way, it's making the kid behind me nervous and he starts screaming and banging away at my seat again. Only this time I don't blame him. There have been times this past week I've wanted to bang my head against the bulkhead, or the wall of my bedroom, or the window of my car when I'm driving downtown to the DMV. Maybe it would help? Let him bang out his two year old frustrations and fear into my thoracic spine. What do I care.

1 comment:

SmithShack71 said...

Sorry to hear about your grandmother.