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I have a secret, shameful confession:
I’ve been baking bread.
It started with a craving for the crumbly bread Justin used to make underway, and the honey butter he’d serve with it. It was like a cross between Irish soda bread and the brown bread they give you at Outback. I hunted down the recipe and baked it on a stifling Saturday afternoon while watching “Mona Lisa Smile” with Mel.
‘Cause if you’re gonna go all girly and domestic, might as well do it all the way, right?
It was warm, soft and delicious.
And it was only the beginning...
Next, I thought I’d try to find a recipe for the beer-bread my mom made a couple times when I was three or four. I remembered it as a crusty, tangy farm-hand kind of bread. I tracked down this recipe, too, and assembled the simple ingredients on a foggy evening after work.
There’s something phenomenal about the smell of baking bread - and something satisfying about eating something delicious, knowing exactly what it’s made of. No chemicals, no artificial anything.
Fresh bread tastes amazing with salty Irish butter....
I can stop anytime I want.
But don’t tell anyone, ok?
You think you’re operating from a position of power. The process is wholly unconscious. You just assume this.
She exists for the sole purpose of expanding your spank-bank - for your viewing pleasure. She serves no other purpose, inhabits no existence beyond the five minutes it takes you to get your coffee in the morning.
But she doesn’t even see you. She is oblivious to your appraisal and commentary.
You are the ones who cling to her image, giggling and dissecting her later in the company of other men.
Those five minutes are the most exciting you will have today.
You want me to stop acting like the world is about to end. But it is. The world is
about to end. Somewhere, someone’s world is ending right now.
Someone is receiving a diagnosis. Someone is slamming on the brakes. Someone is dialing up their voicemail. Someone is stepping into the manager’s office. Someone is coming home from work early without calling. Someone is watching the stick turn blue.
Why not us, then? Why pretend we are immune?
Yeah, I know. All life is suffering, and fear is a function of attachment.
No path to Nirvana for control freaks.
I've never been on the "civilian" side of a relationship. It's kind of an identity crisis, becoming "the spouse".
Beeps would never treat me that way - we've been through too much for that. Drug interdictions off Panama, 40-foot seas in the Bering, a hurricane off Wake Island.
But I seem to spend a lot of time explaining that no, it's not some new, mysterious thing for me to see my man in uniform... and no, i’m not gonna flip out if he comes home a few hours late.
Don’t patronize me. My aim is better than his...so far.
I fell asleep on the couch once with my then-newborn daughter. Kev had taken the older two kids to the commissary while the baby and I slept. I woke to the sound of someone banging furiously on my door, the house full of smoke.
The keawe grove behind my house was on fire, and it had spread to my backyard.
Houses on the west coast of Oahu are old-style wooden houses. And since my car was gone, it's amazing that anyone thought to check on us. I’m lucky I lived in a neighborhood where people gave a damn.
All day I kept thinking I’d forgotten something important. August 7th. Is it someone’s brithday? Did I miss an appointment?
It finally came to me. I was stuck in Berkeley traffic, peering through the fog at the bridge.
Has it really been a year?
I have never forgotten the sight of you, the boat crew lowering you gingerly onto the pier. I never learned your name, never knew the whole story.
Fifty-two black pins crowd together on the chart. Dramatic dives, hasty hurdles, hesitant hops. Four seconds of terror, elation or regret. All land with the same chill splash.
We were three weeks out of Alameda, bumping around the Bering, when I found a black spider in the Aft ECM fan-room. Still alive, but barely - clinging to a scant, empty web.
So startling and delightful, to find some living creature out there, amid the stonegrey sterility of ship-life.
Dutch Harbor, three days later. At the first crackle of the liberty pipe, I slid down the icy brow, my hands cupped around something tiny and tickling. We were off to seek a few weak rays of Aleutian sunlight, to grind our toes in sweet genuine mud.
Kwajalein. So sleepy, so salty and sunburnt, trudging up the pier to the ship. My shoulders sunburnt - not much ozone left at that latitude. My bag heavy with purple shells - gentle clatter as I laid it on my rack. A short, cool shower and six Shivaree songs later, I was clean and ready for sleep. I cranked up the fan and switched the lights to red-mode.
Hand under my pillow - something tickled my fingers. One of my purple shells had made an escape from my bag.
Back down the pier in my pajamas to release the cranky hermit crab.
Am I getting lazy? Or are those three hours of sleep per night catching up with me?
So... in my August 7th entry I misspelled “birthday”. And in my entry for the 9th I used the term “sunburnt” twice in quick succession. Painfully obvious errors.
I am not doing so well lately, if you must know. No sleep... no idea what’s going on from one moment to the next... and no Lithium! I'm amazed I haven’t locked myself in the garage yet, with a bottle of brandy and a grandfathered-emissions-standards Chevy.
Don’t worry. I don’t have a garage.
One more thing I despise about summer - nobody ever answers their e-mails! What is it about the summer months that makes people so inconsiderate?
My Coast Guard friends get a pass, for the most part. Transfer season is a bitch, even when you’re not the one transferring. Breaking in the new guys is a pain. None of your usual comfortable screwing off - can’t establish a bad precedent, can’t risk a rat. No taking leave - a third of your qualified crew has just been replaced by doe-eyed newbies.
Coasties are off the hook. Everyone else - well, they’re just wankers.
Did you notice that? Of course not. That’s the whole point.
You couldn’t detect, over the phone, how my heart dropped when you told me what happened. I felt alarm and fever, frantically trying to convince myself that everything was all right, that everything was above board, that you are a professional and acted accordingly. My voice never wavered, I never asked even one of the millions of questions that whirled and clunked around inside my skull like fenceposts dislodged by a tornado.
Hear that? I’ve swallowed my fear. I’m wincing at my first taste of trust.
It tastes terrible.
A little puffy-headed egret watches me warily as I make my way down the pier. Tiptoeing along the rocks, he issues a few hoarse cries before stretching his neck and lifting off. He leaves behind a ring of murky ripples, a startled pair of Canadian geese, and a couple of shiny blue crabs.
Perfect day beneath the bridge. Fog tangled in the cables, sun warm on my hood, blast of the span’s foghorn every minute or so. All three MLB’s bob in unison at their docks, waving their DF antennas like lighters at a concert.
No sad sirens today.
Crippling headache struck me at work, two hours before quitting time. I leaned into my supervisor’s window and asked if he had any Motrin.
He looked up from his keyboard. “I gotta leave,” he replied.
“That’s ok,” I shrugged. “You can give it to me before you go.”
He looked confused. “I gotta leave,” he repeated.
I frowned. How long could it possibly take to hand me a couple of pills? “Fine. I’ll see if Duane has any.”
He chuckled a bit, told me to wait. Then he dug though his desk drawer - and pulled out a bottle of Aleve.
I made two major purchases today. First, I ordered three new absinthes from LDF - one is the first Italian CO absinthe, another is a Ted Breaux blanche from I haven’t tried yet, and the third is a new formula developed by Swiss bikers. Fly, monkeys, fly!
I also bought plane tickets today! Going to meet Amy at Dulles and road-trip it through New England. I do feel a bit guilty at leaving Beeps to fend for himself for a week. But I haven’t seen Amy in three years!
I’ve needed something to look forward to, in the short term.
Precarious. All of our plans, everything we work to create, everything we depend upon. I am so weary of disappointment, so wary of celebration. The universe has worked very hard to keep my pride in check, to keep my expectations fragile, to teach me that joy is a prelude to disaster.
In this particular matter, I have no agency - no possibility of controlling the outcome. If I could even assist or advise... at least I would have something to do.
My hope and dread are equally futile. I can only wait for the cosmic jury to hand down its verdict.
Sector San Francisco’s DVL had stopped recording again. I had to bring our spare - all forty clunky grey pounds of it - up to their communications center.
The watchstander beamed. “We’re getting a new DVL? No more glitches?”
“Sorry, this is the same one we de-installed last time. That one in the rack
the spare. We just keep patching them up and switching them out.”
He frowned. “Couldn’t you just tell me it’s new? Just to make me feel better?”
“Nope. ‘Cause it doesn’t make
feel any better, and I’m the one working at midnight on a Saturday.”
I'm not as surprised by what happened, as I am that these things still surprise me. If I woke up tomorrow as my twenty-one-year-old self, wide-eyed and clutching my shiny new multimeter, it would not alter the course of my workday one bit. I could build my own flux-capacitor at my own workbench, and someone would still ask the guy next to me how it works.
I am a highly-paid decoration. Every time I start to believe otherwise, someone is sure to remind me.
I feel like Data, trying desperately to pretend he's human.
"Back in the Old Guard" is your way of saying "before they let women on ships". Before you had to treat them with at least an outward degree of respect. Before you had to listen to them explain to you the electronic gear you take for granted.
When I say we need a part, I mean it. I mean that I've tested the system, used all my shiny toys, all my manuals, all my powers and all my skills - this piece is broken.
It sucks. But I’m not just being lazy, not getting some secret delight in holding you up.
So you call my supervisor, ranting that I must’ve missed something, that I just don’t understand how crucial your mission is, can't he send over one of the
you normally see?
Makes me wonder where you've been for the past year. Remember Christmas Eve, that fried radome? That was me, on your mast, wiring up the new one. And the time you had to pull in because your GPS died? That was me, on the pier.
You're one of twenty or thirty units I deal with - but my vagina has yet to come between you and your drug-runners.
The old nightmare is back, making its annual guest appearance. The whoosh-whoosh sound of a fetal heartbeat - I know now what that sounds like. But when this dream first made its debut, I had no idea what the sound was. Only that it dominated the dreamscape, and that it frightened me.
EFM. This is a real instrument, and I wear one in the dream. But again, at 19, I’d never even heard of such a thing.
How did my mind create this dream out of hitherto-unknown elements?
I’ve been back at my Jung, trying to figure it out.
I don’t remember making that decision. I have protected myself well from that burden. Now and then I experience a blinding flash of clarity, and it leaves me in tears... or sometimes, in the hospital.
This is one instance where I could really use some faith in the afterlife. Something beyond the betrayal and the blood. Let me believe that you are now a fosterling of mermaids, a bard of Avalon.
A bottle thrown into the sea, a tear-stained letter. A starfish recovered from the slippery rocks. I have ceased to commemorate, but I have never forgotten.
Everybody likes this stuff in theory... they all want to commune with the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec or something. So I louche them up a glass of my best Swiss Verte.
90% of them take a sip... wrinkle their noses... and whine, "But it tastes like licorice!"
So I end up drinking the rest. It takes very little of this stuff to fuck you up. No, there are no visions. Nothing hallucinogenic. But it will keep you from sleeping. So inconvenient.
Benadryl is the only way to combat the lucidity. I shall take a few.
. Such a delightful specimen of an absinthe.
The color is olive-gold, almost yellow - not like the nuclear green of a Marteau, not like the perfect peridot of a Duplais. The louche is thin and barely opalescent.
The first sip - it tastes like you’re downing perfume. Something in your throat tightens, something in your brain protests. This is wrong, somehow it’s wrong!
But then the herbal medley splits, and you savor layer after layer of floral delight. Minty... then sweet... then slightly bitter... then a licorice-candy finish. The next sip is more than voluntary... it’s necessary.
Do you hate me? Is that what this is?
I know that you would never tell me. You would never let me know. But your artful silences give you away. You will tell me nothing that betrays your fear. You have become an impenetrable fortress of “everything’s fine.”
I mean you no harm. I am not here to disturb your garden. I want to hear your stories, I want to hear your dreams. I am not here to take anything from you.
Hear me now. I am no black-masked thief. I am content with the love I am given.
One hundred degrees. Maybe ten days a year, Alameda will break ninety. Home from work - I eagerly strip off my work clothes and head for the empty pool.
Arrow-straight dive into the beryl-blue water. Resting upon the surface, all worry seeps away. Once I fell asleep like this, off the coast of Edisto Island, South Carolina. I woke up a quarter-mile down the beach.
Limbs ghost-pale beneath the water. Toenails painfully purple.
Tonight we will sleep again beneath the fan. Your alarm will wake you an hour before mine. My thighs dead-people cold against yours.
Sometimes, while I am driving or typing, I will feel it twist like a wind-up key at the base of my neck. And I know I will not be able to turn my head for the next three days.
One night, years ago, I reached for my baby in the crib beside my bed. I reached an inch too far, though, and landed with my head on the floor - my feet still on the bed, my baby laughing above me between my outstretched arms.
A vat of Vicodin, that’s military medicine. Couldn’t even take it, I was still nursing.
Never knew those critters could move like that.
Stepped down from the deck of the boat to find a sea lion waiting on the pier. It raised its head and galumphed toward me at a frightening speed.
I backed away, toolbag clanking against my hip. Duane poked his head out of the bridge window - “You’re runnin’ outta pier!”
I surely did not want to face the creature in the water... so I stopped, eyes squeezed shut, bracing myself.
The sea lion slid to a stop at my feet... and bent to lick the freshwater from the toes of my boots.
I’m already compiling a list in my mind - all the Downeast places I want to see again. I wonder how much it’s all changed?
The Big Chicken Barn in Ellsworth, with its miles of dark aisles packed with sailors’ swords, old ladies’ hats, yellowed books and 78’s.
The cemetery on Beals Island - five gravestones in a row, cracked and fallen now. A sea captain and his five children, all dead within one month in 1754. A legend on the island, whispers of a faithless wife who poisoned her husband and her four children - then eloped with another sea captain.
Pass it on.
I take them to Olema, I lead them down the trail. Near the stream, a row of blue stakes driven into the earth. An old wooden fence interrupted, offset. Here we straddle one of the seams of the earth.
Alannah places her hands atop one of the blue stakes. One foot on either side of the fault. She looks up at me and smiles, taps her left foot: “This side ends in Japan?”
Taps her right foot. “Where does this side end?”
“Iceland,” I tell her.
That’s where the earth is always tearing, always healing.
Spent, sleepy and smiling beneath the dragonfly lights, behind the gossamer bedcurtains. I have asked for water, you have gone to pour it.
Hum of the fan, breeze blunted by the curtains but still refreshing. Windchimes tinkle through the open window.
You return with water... and with a plate of strawberries and chocolate bark. Did I doze off, were you gone so long?
Strawberries tangy-sweet, chocolate smooth and just barely bitter. I am pierced with fierce delight and gratitude. How long will I be allowed to savor this dream?
My skin has chilled, your arms are warm.
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