Whisper The Ocean Waves
I could be anywhere. I could be on top of a building and the ocean could be a blue tarp for all I can tell. Aircraft carriers are so big they don’t rock with the waves, just bulldoze the ocean like soft earth. The air inside is so stale it makes me miss Meraid Bay, miss my home on the edge of the continent. There, the sea ended and the land started in no exact place, and air was like rain all the time. But I guess I had to get out, at the time I figured it was better to be a slave in the Navy than dealing with Skunk fish all day. They’re really called Culver fish, and that’s what everyone makes a living doing, fishing and selling the the sushi fuckers on the mainland for twenty-five dollars a pound. Expensive only because the sons a bitches can spray a gas that can kill you long after they’re dead, like if the stomach gets punctured or they hit the deck at the wrong angle. Everybody hates them. But it’s how you make a living in Meraid Bay. It’s a dangerous, awful, smelly living but it’s only one. That or getting out. And all that death takes a toll, the bay has a million widows running around. The soggy houses look like they’ve fallen into the ocean and someone was good enough to fish them out and plop them back onto the shore. But all that said, Meraid Bay is the place that understands that we all live like jellyfish floating on the ocean, bobbing and drifting, going where we’re carried. And I learned there that the sea goes farther than anyone knows and it changes all the time. The bay swayed and rocked to the rhythm of the water and air was alive. Here on this boat it’s like I’m inside a dusty room and I’m slowly choking.
When I was twelve years old, Mme. Alexis granted me a scholarship for free ballet lessons. She felt she could get her school on the map if I were to be be successful in New York, training full time until I was fifteen. After some negotiations with the junior high and my parents, a schedule was arranged. Everybody, in their hearts, wanted someone from Meraid Bay to accomplish something, and, because I was so outside all the groups of girls and quiet on my own, they figured I was different. In Meraid Bay, being different meant maybe you wouldn’t fail like everyone else. At fifteen I won an internship for The Govinstadt Ballet and it was implied that within a year I would be accepted into the company. It seemed like a dream come true to everyone but me. I wasn’t surprised at my accomplishments, ballet was all I did, never missing a day, and eating what Mme. Alexis told me to eat. I didn’t date, have friends, have fun, I was perfect. It seemed natural to succeed, but still I was disappointed. I had braced myself for pain and rejection, professional angst. And all I got was approval. I was spoiled. I think now, looking back, that it wouldn’t have been that easy, but I was fifteen and.
And I don’t remember exactly why I did what I did.
I went to the Blind Faith Diner by myself, the place where the girls from class would go. They would waddle in like clones of each other, with buns in their hair and exaggerated turnout of their feet. I sat at the counter and the boy working there asked me if he could help me. He had pretty eyes and hair like a beautiful girl I said Yes and ordered a Tab.
His name was Alan and after a while he started telling me a nonsense story about a priest and a snake charmer. The story went on and on and then he stopped and looked at me like I was supposed to say something.
And he said Do You Get It?
I said, Are You Asking Me If I’m A Snake Charmer?
He said, What?
I said What Are You Talking About?
He said, It Was A Joke.
And I said I’m Sorry.
He smiled. He said, Don’t Be Sorry.
Alan drove me to his parent’s house on the back of his motorcycle. He apologized for making me climb through the window, but I thought it was exciting. I realize now that there are codes of conduct for dates of which I was completely ignorant. When he put himself inside me I said, Do You Know What You’re Doing? He said he did and when there was that oyster sauce on my stomach, I figured that was that. But it wasn’t. The next time I saw him I told him I was pregnant.
Mom and Dad would have these crazy fights, mostly because Mom wouldn’t yell back. Dad would come home late and Mom wouldn’t say anything, just put the pot of soup back on the stove. Dad would yell loud and drunk Jesus Lana What Do You Want Me To Do? Then Mom would run like a fawn to the bedroom and lock herself in. Dad would stomp down the hall and kick the door with his heavy boot. It was the same fight over the same thing. As a kid I didn’t know what the thing was. Dad would come back to the table and light a match with his fingernail, light a cigarette and exhale, saying You Mother Is A Hard Woman To Fight With.
After some time, Mom would dart out of the room with tiny little quick steps and stir the soup on the stove. Dad was always too slow to get up and stop her before she got back to the bedroom. Mom was quick like that. Still is. Quick and precise. But sometimes Dad would come home when he was supposed to, and he would pick Mom up and spin her around and around. They would get into it and go into the backyard. He would hold her by one hand and one ankle and spin her around. Mom would go limp and get carried in the wind like a handkerchief. Dad could never make her laugh with jokes, but she would scream and laugh when he carried her around the house, and grabbing me we would all jump up and down on the bed and mom would beat her feet together in mid air. Looking at this blue tarp from the window of this floating building, I realize something. My parents played like little kids because, when all was said and done, they still were little kids when they had me.
Mme. Alexis told me not to have the baby. She said, This Boy, He Marry You? I said I Don’t Want To Get Married. She said You End Up Nothing. You End Up Fat, End Poor, You Never Dance, You Never Dance Again. You Waste Your Life In This Child. She offered me a ride to some place, offered to tell my mother we were going to New York to see a performance. You Go On Like Nothing Happen, she said.
Once Daniel was born, no one said I wasted my life. But I don’t know what a wasted life is. Our lives are not vegetables we throw away if they go bad. And things were beautiful, I had a baby. I had never really had anything before. I don’t know how being a great ballerina would have been better use of a life.
I quit ballet and went to secretarial school. Alan would come by my parents house and apologize for getting me pregnant. We would take walks by the rocks lining the shore and lie together on a smooth, flat stone we claimed as our own. In the night we would look at the stars and the soft clanging on the boats would sound like bells. He would ask sometimes, when I had my head on his chest, if I was falling in love with him. I would say No and he would say Good. Alan kept his job and the diner, and got another as a carpenter. He started staying at my parent’s house after Daniel was born so we could play with the baby together. We saved our money best we could for two years, and my parents helped us buy a little light green house on the shore. At the beginning he would come and go. Sometimes he would go for a long time. One day I put down my foot and said Either You Go Or You Make Me A Promise. He said Alright Alright and we were married the next year.
As I take the ferry into Meraid Bay, I think about what Dad said when I asked him why he hated the ocean. He said that the sea was some asshole who could do whatever he wanted with you, toss you around. My dad was awesome with the intuition, considering he was killed when he was thrown off his motorcycle. The woman on the back of the bike died too. I don’t know, he hated the ocean for other reasons. We’re all slaves to the Skunk fish, and we’re nothing but a bay, we might as well be drifting on the water getting nowhere, because we don’t have shit to live for on the land. I still remember Dad pointing at the green ocean and being like See That? See How It Looks Like The Waves Are Rolling To The Shore? We’ll They’re Not. The Waves Don’t Move At All, They Just Turn In Place Like A Wheel. He looked at me. I’m Making No Sense. A Spot Of Water Turns Like a Wheel And Doesn’t Move. Then It Hits Another Spot of Water And It Turns In Place. And They Knock Each Other Like Dominoes And It Looks Like They’re Heading To The Shore But They Aren’t Moving At All. It’s Just—he looked at me – Understand? I nodded but I didn’t. Now suddenly it all makes sense.
Mom is waiting for me at the dock, with her feet turned out and that bun in her hair. Mom doesn’t smile, but that is normal for her. She is Mom-like in other ways. At home she has rhubarb pie waiting for me. How Long Is Your Leave? she asks. I say I Don’t Know and shovel down a fourth piece. Navy food sucks and it is good to have an excuse for the short answer. I swallow and go, What’s New At Work? She’s like Why Do You Ask Me That Daniel, I’ve Been A Secretary For The Same Person For Eighteen Years And Nothing Is Ever New At Work. She doesn’t say this in a bad way, I think Mom would rather things stay pretty much the same. She used to always say that happiness isn’t the important thing. She never said what the important thing was. I tell her that I am going to fix up that schooner Dad left in the Eveshore Boat House. Mom asks why. I Say I Want To Finish This Thing. The Body’s Fine Mostly, Just A Little Carpentry Work On The Sideboards. She goes, What Do You Know About Fixing Boats? I go, Ma, I’m In The Navy. Hope she’ll take it as an answer.
Daniel didn’t talk for seven weeks after Alan died. The doctors called it a waking coma, a shock reaction. He snapped out of it eventually, but he was different for the next year. All day Daniel would stare at the kitchen floor tile. The design on the floor was that of a quilt pattern called wedding ring chains. They are light blue and dusty pink rings that interlock on a cream background. I watched his eyes follow the curves that go on and on, from the refrigerator, under the table, covering the whole floor. Circles that somehow make a line that ends up where it begins. We reached a comfortable silence in the warm kitchen. We ate almost nothing, neither of us had any kind of appetite, and who was I to push food on him when I didn’t want it either. He would sit in the wooden chair against the wall by the sink in a daze, his eyes following the rings. He was bone thin, looking like those little orphans you see in fairy tale books, with blonde-white hair and black hollowed eyes. We lived almost completely on rhubarb pie. Alan had a little garden that was full of dead weeds, except that rhubarb. The world could explode and that rhubarb would keep on growing, you can’t kill it. I would roll out a crust, the good kind with lard, cut up the rhubarb and add sugar to make it sweet. The kitchen would smell good and warm.
Daniel has grown into his own person. He worked on the docks through high school and then signed up for the Navy. Not afraid of the ocean waves like his father, not afraid to leave Meraid Bay like me. Imperfect parents creating a new form that can adapt and go beyond their own limitations. He’s grown so big, and he comes back wanting past for his future, moving forward as the bay’s piece of human evolution. He exceeds my dreams of stardom, born as a creation of my ultimate natural performance. Grown from a baby, my creature of instinct and divine excuse for existence.
Mom comes into the boat house. I show her my masterpiece, say Well What Do You Think? She nods. Daniel, They Called For You Again. I say Oh. Mom’s like You Can’t Just Leave The Navy And Not Tell Them. I’m like, Ma, I’m Not Doing Anything Wrong, I’m On Leave. Tell Them There’s A Family Emergency. Mom doesn’t say anything.
I push the schooner out on the water. It’s a clear and warm afternoon. Mom sits very straight on the starboard, looking at everything as I straighten the sails and we head out into the bay.
You can never tell what Mom is thinking, she always seems so serious but it’s just the way her face is. Dad once said she had cheekbones like a clamp. Dad. The sails catch the wind and we glide along, both of us wavering with the motion of the sea. Mom, Do You Think You’ll Ever Get Remarried? I ask. Mom turns her head quickly and looks at me and blinks. No, she says and looks back out on the water. I ask, How Come? She looks at me directly again and goes, Now What Kind Of Question Is That?
I hold out on this one. Comon Mom, How Come?
She takes a breath and lets it out. I Don’t Know. That’s Just A Part Of My Life That’s Over.
Do You Miss Dad? I say. Mom looks at me surprised. Every Day, Daniel, I Pick A Day Out Of The Past And I Live That Day All Over, I Have A Lot Of Time To Think and I Like To Wonder At How Life Happens As We Get Carried Along Just Like This Boat On The Ocean. It’s What I Enjoy. If I Met Someone New I Would Have To Explain. I Would Have To Move On. And I Don’t Want To Move On Right Now. Today I Move On Through You.
Shit. I interrupt. My shoes are wet and Mom sees it at the same time. There is a half an inch of water at the bottom of the boat. No Bucket? Mom asks, and starts throwing water out of the boat with her cupped hands. Well, Best You Steer Us Back, Daniel. I look for a hole, but there isn’t one, it’s seeping through the cracks in the boards. I adjust the sails and change direction while Mom splashes water out of the boat, bailing us out like an old pro who’s been doing it all her life.