waterline

I wonder if I look like I’m waiting. Moving from space to space, buying some juice and borrowing wifi, ready for the email that tells me when they’ll be here.

If waiting is defined by looking forward to an event in impatient stillness, then I think this actually might be the furthest I’ve been from that in a long time.

I am a touch impatient, yes. But I am also so deeply comfortable in my decision, in this opportunity, in the soft air on my skin and the almost tangible healing I can feel through out my body.

My eyes are on the horizon, searching for sign of Argo and the 18 people that have become my family. But the stillness I sit in is settled.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Going back…

Going back…

Dear Argo,

In my last three journal entries I ended each one with the phrase “this is enough.” I was filled. Full up with all of the pure magic moments that had built the past 59 days. Full with confidence that the next 31 would be the same.

Then things changed. Hospitals and broken things and reality set in and it turns out that I am leaving you today. A month earlier than I was supposed to. Infinitely earlier than I wanted to. I have to leave and I have to leave my people, my wonderful and crazy and flawed and brilliant people that I have come to love with my whole heart.

It would be easy to go home and wish to be back with you. It will be difficult to think of anything else. But I am trying, as always, to see the lesson in this. To listen to what I said myself just days ago. This is enough. Some is better than none. Meeting them at all is worth leaving early.

I am heartbroken and blessed all at once. So lucky to have been here, so sad to be leaving. Thank you for making these last two months some of the best I’ve ever had.

Take care of my people for me, okay? Keep them safe and together and full.

Thank you thank you thank you.

- Caroline

Day 61

 I keep thinking about the overlapping. The way arms and legs and hands and fingers crossed and crisscrossed and retied around each other. About how they all sat on the floor and on the bed and in the tiny doorway and we all overlapped again, for the first time in two days, we were woven again. 

When it happened I didn’t think, just felt. I spoke words but I don’t remember thinking them first, just hearing them come out of my mouth. Get this off me! Someone go get Annie! I see it repeat in my mind, the sweaty metal handle, my fingers wrapped around the key of the hatch, the clicking sound as it slid out of place, the loud slam as it fell from distance and the white of the foot left on the other side. I still held the key in my hand, but the door was gone. I screamed, but I don’t remember it. Just dark red and the slow realization of what had happened, where I would be going, of how much had just changed.

 We went to the clinic first, and I watched fear slide into the eyes of the nurses. They shook their heads and in broken English repeated hospital, hospital, hospital. We went, of course. Across curving roads and speed bumps, around corners, through towns and stretches of less light. We waited and the man at the wheel drove and when we got there they brought me a wheelchair. The ER was bright and yet shadowed at the same time, and babies cried and we waited some more. When the x-rays finally came back the man held them up to the light and said surgery. So we waited more, for the IV and medication and allergy testing and blood tests and chest x-rays and gowns and changing and eventually I said goodbye and was wheeled away.

The waking after was slow and inconsistent, I rolled from short nap to short nap, waking only for sips of water and bits of the meals they brought me. Once I woke to the crack of thunder and bright bursts of lightening. Alone in my room, I pulled the covers tighter to my chest and closed my eyes, willing it all to soften – the throbbing in my wrapped foot, the wind against the window, the flickering of consciousness. Later, when they gave me the option of leaving early instead of staying another night, I jumped at it. Even though it meant a long day of travel and crutching and slow moving. I wanted back. I wanted to be with them.

I am surrounded by good and kindness in my life, enveloped in love from so many different directions, but I have rarely felt as needed and loved as I did when I returned to them. For 59 days we had slept, ate, cried, laughed, moved, and become in the same place, in the same air. I had not been away from them at all, not even for an hour, for 59 days, and then I was away for quite a few, kept in a hospital room alone, separated from the people who had become more of a family than I expected possible. I missed them with a deep consistent ache that surprised even me, someone already comfortable feeling too much at any given time.

I wish I could explain to you the complexities, the lightness, the magic of this group of people. The way I am in love with the smallest messes of our interactions, the constant soft bickering, the tease and tug and pull of people who know each other so well that they have seen and shown all sides and decided to stay. They handed me chocolate and ice cream and sweets and letters and water and gifts but all I wanted was their skin against mine, the overlapping again, the hands in hands and arms over legs and all of us wrapped up, mixed together, making one.

They are gone now, exploring Singapore, the prize we have all been waiting for over the past few weeks. I am jealous, exceptionally jealous, but mostly of the time they get to spend together while I am here in bed waiting. The excitement and pull of Singapore, the pink dolphins, zip lines, waterslides, utopia of all that we waited for, it all takes a back seat to what I am really missing – hours spent sharing desserts or jokes or stories with the people I have come to love so deeply that it frightens me at times, leaves me vulnerable and open skinned, leaves me learning that it is always connection that undresses you, that leaves you naked when fully clothed.

I do not know what will happen in the next twenty-nine days we have together, or what will happen once we leave and go our separate ways. All I know now is that we are an every shifting and tightening woven net, pieces of rope, crisscrossed around and under, each dependent upon and supporting the other. And I can wait, in this bed, as rain streaks the hatches and my Argo family explores the city, I can wait, because for now I get to stay with them, and that – that is enough.

 

Day 54

It is night almost, on the riverboat, and I am holding everything tight to my chest. Wanting it all, knee deep in it, trying to convince myself to lower it to the page. 

Yesterday we waded in the sun up the river. Dinner by candlelight on the dock, fast voices and knowing looks, high pitched rolling laughter.

 We walked through the jungle with sneakers and long pants and imagined the multitudes of spiders moving beneath the soles of our feet. We stick and shove through the air back on the boat, falling to our netted beds with far space between us. Our mouths taste like fish and shrimp and cooled down tea and we rub toothpaste over our gums and spit into the spot of water between the tied boats. I shiver in the night and wake to a cool gray green morning. I imagine the fireflies from last night are tied onto the sleep fog, pulling it up with slow beats of their wings. 

Breakfast is thick, dense, banana coconut pancakes, cold white toast, scrambled eggs and tiny bananas. We eat fast, Many giving me more than I take on my own. I am surrounded by family. After we travel on boats and watch orange apes and walk on wobbling board walks. We return to tea and coffee with thick sweet milk and battered bananas and tonight I eat until my stomach rounds and sip sugar water tea. 

We were walking back from the tress when the rain came. Before, after we had scraped hot corn patties and potatoes off our plates, we had stretched out sweaty in the sun. Hunter played music and we sang along and waved our hands above our overlapping bodies. When the rain came, it came fast. Soft then everywhere, slipping down our skin and beneath our clothes, soaking us slow and steady. On the boats we sunk to our knees and slid across bright blue paint, laughing until our stomachs hurt, Giulia and I wrapped in each other’s light crazy. After the man teased and pushed and first Mandy and then the rest of us jumped from the deck into the brown muddy river. We moved fast and scrambled up the sides, feeling crocodiles between our toes. Back on deck, the rain still poured and we leaned back with heavy wet clothes and felt our racing pulses and wide bright eyes.

Now, almost back to Argo, Anna sits next to me, Mandy across, the boat is vibrating beneath my feet and my writing hand. I am still damp, wanting hands, so completely satisfied and still searching all at once. I will go back and write it all, but for now this is enough. All of this is enough. It is dark and damp and lit by one bright bare bulb. I am here and there all at once. Like sleeping stretched in a square of sun. Like dust catching light, like someone you love asleep against your chest. This is everything. It is enough. 

Conversations at Sea

I haven’t been taking as many pictures as I wanted to, but part of me is immensely proud of that. Like yesterday, when Giulia and I sat up on deck chatting in the morning sun, when we heard a splash and looked over the side of the boat, when she first spotted them, their bodies gleaming in the sun, their fins flicking through the water – I didn’t go get my camera then. I leaned into them, wrapped my hands around the rail and didn’t dare close my eyes or turn away. Dwarf spinners, we later identified them as, the dolphins that swarmed around our boat and rode our waves. They were small, so agile, cutting through the water, about fifteen of them, on all sides, racing us.  That night when the sunset made the clouds placed in such a way as to make the term “silver lining” seem like an actual touchable string we might use to wrap around our wrists to remind us of times gone past, last night, someone said “if we move, we miss this moment.” I didn’t move.

There are many more moments of magic, one so precious I can barely find words to describe it. I am holding it like one would hold a rosary, rolling the beads between my fingers, savoring each second. As of this sentence, it belongs to me and Morgan alone. If I play my words right, soon it’ll belong to you too, at least in pieces.

For you to understand, you need to know that I was scared. That before passage, I felt deep fear vibrating inside of my bones, that many days I fought panic and wrote to my closest friends about the impracticality of a body often riddled with anxiety and fear of being trapped in one place setting sail into the middle of the ocean. If there was ever an action of stepping wildly, boldly towards the face of what scares you most, this comes pretty close. I was scared. We were getting ready to leave, preparing for passage, securing everything below, deflating the dinghies. I watched our mode of leaving Argo be folded and packed away, and played with my breath to remind it to go normally.

It is funny, because the word dolphin is such a childish one, something that belongs to sororities and towels on Florida beaches. But the first time I saw them, just two, just barely, in a harbor in Langkawi where they absolutely shouldn’t be, what I saw didn’t match the word I had in my mouth. It was just a moment, the first of many on our trip, they surfaced once or twice and disappeared. And then we set sail. But like light coming over the horizon after driving for a long night, there was a strange comfort in witnessing something previously invisible but consistently present.

The moment came later though, although it too consisted partially of porpoises and running water, it was built of much more. This is the part where I stop writing for myself, and start writing for you, because this belongs to me in a way that needs no words or photos, it is tightly tethered.

This time, it started with the sky.

Just picture sitting with head back and the slightly-scary-watch-team-leader, a gruff sarcastic man, looking up with me. Like everything good in life, there was no exclamation of the perfection of nature and stars and the world working as one.

Instead, he growled, “You know, stars are just God wrapping us in a blanket with holes in it.”

I, of course, found that wildly poetic anyways.

“That’s beautiful.”

“No,” he corrected me, “God’s trying to smother us. It is postpartum depression.”

“At least he left a few holes in for us to breathe.”

“He’s mending them all the time.”

Secretly, I wondered to myself if that’s why I feel safer in nature than I do in the heart of a city. At least here I can see evidence of offered air. Maybe, if you believe my watch team leader, it is due solely to a lazy God making his way around the globe, but for now, with all these holes staring down at me, the ocean seems like a pretty safe place to be.

Next, once the sky had a chance to sink deep enough into our skin, to line up it’s lights up with our freckles, next it was the waves. Bioluminescent waves. In the ocean, there is a certain type of plankton that, when met with motion, light up electric blue and bright. Cascades of water sliding off the boat hit the dark depth beneath and blend from bright blue to black. Like the blanket above, the water blanket stretches miles and miles around us and beneath us, yet right where we meet the air, chemical reactions cause a million shards of bright to trace our every move. In our wake, there are particles the color of the brightest fire. Above our heads, a window of ripped air sends in small bursts of bright. In the middle of the ocean, it seems, there is nothing but dark, light and the places they meet.

Later, that night, Morgan and I sat with legs over the rail and tethers clipped behind us, and flipped our heads between the sky and sea, watching the light reflect in every surface our eyes found. There were shooting stars, which is important only because of the reflection, the reciprocation. From across the water, we saw them, except we didn’t see them at all. We just saw light. Streams of light moving toward us through the dark water. Bubbles and light and glowing from beneath the surface. We only knew they were dolphins, huge gleaming sheets of muscle, when they broke the surface. And when we saw their tails, wide paddles sorting the water on either side of them, glowing with every movement. The bioluminescent light had found the dolphins as well, so that their every movement looked like a light show. Morgan and I, we sat with our feet over the edge, and we watched. We watched them jump and leap and watched the light slide of their skin back into the water, we watched them crisscross under our feet, we watched them speed towards us, we watched them speed away. When they left, it was a mix of silence and speed, all of our words and none of them all at once. Morgan said, “How do we keep this moment?” I told her we would. We would keep it. And I would write it down. This is why we’re here.

I feel as if I am witnessing conversations between forces I wasn’t supposed to recognize. Like I am understanding, or rather recognizing sounds, in a language I never should have learned. Like I am privy to the whispered words of something I barely understand, but feel anyways. If these three months are filled with more moments of conversation, of words exchanged in the silent way they were in that moment, I am (as always) exactly where I am supposed to be.

 

February 7th, 2014

When the wake up comes, we swing our feet fast over the side of our bunk and lower ourselves to the floor. Night or day, it doesn’t matter, we barely glance at the time. We all know we have ten minutes to get ourselves ready for the next four hours on watch. Sleep filled, we step in an awkward shuffle around tiny cabin floor, trying to dress and tighten our PFDs (personal flotation devices) with out waking any of the others, many of whom are getting their first moments of sleep after hours on deck. While at sea, all of your muscles are constantly working; bracing, loosening, releasing and holding fast, trying to keep the body balanced and counteract the steady roll beneath stepping feet. Each lesson on this boat I have learned bilingual, translatable from English to action. With each wave and sideways tip, I unconsciously stick out a hand to hold myself from the nearest wall. My thighs and calves tighten, my abs contract, even my toes curl. Here, movement is balance, each effort requires strength and balance.

Come time for the first pre-watch muster, all traces of sleep must be well gone, or at least mostly hid behind soft enthusiastic voices and straightened spines. If it is dark, we clip our tethers around rails or into jacklines, the rigging that parallels each side of the boat so that we can walk from bow to stern safely. If it is light, we pull hats down over our eyes and sunscreen coats our already darkened skin.

Watch is spent mostly alternating between the helm and the bow. On my team’s bow watch, our job is to see ships before they exist. Or, perhaps, at the very slightest hint of their possible arrival. My watch team leader scares many of the students on board. He is intelligent, well informed, and hard working and will expect no less from those under his command. I have learned surprisingly quickly under his gaze, both what to do and what to say during the four hours that our team is in charge. Unlike others, we are required to stand while on bow watch. At first it created a small mutiny among the four students on my team and others who sympathized. Stand? For three out of four hours? Like many of the more difficult tasks so far, our thoughts consisted of the same thing: this is impossible/unfair/icantdoit. Slowly though we have broken through those thoughts, as with others before, and found a compromise. We worked out a system so that whenever one is standing, another of us is there sitting with them, talking to them through out the hour, keeping them awake and alert and focused. We alternate in a rotating system – one hour helming (steering the boat), one hour doing a boat check (running through a checklist of safety items on board and inspecting various aspects of the boat), two hours bow watch (one of which you spend sitting and talking to the other person who is standing). Four hours can go by surprisingly fast. Or they can drag for what feels like eight.

Already, after only six days on passage, we have figured out the best watch times and the worst. Tell me I will be spending 12 am – 4 am awake and monitoring a 112 foot yacht, and it’ll feel like Friday. Tell me I’m on the 8 pm – 12 am watch and then the 8 am – 12 pm watch and I’ll probably sink a little lower into my chair. How bizarre that we have adjusted so quickly to a schedule that revolves entirely around a wide desert of water and the forces that act upon it. The schedule works like this: four hours on, eight hours off. Unless of course you happen to be on one of the “dog watches” of the day, basically the two hour meal shifts. Or if your watch is interrupted by the only two scheduled things each day: class and showers. So really, it is a complicated turning of various wheels and systems that happen to work perfectly together — most days. In between watch, we spend our hours not in class and not showering (showering while underway is an adventure in itself) curled up in our beds trying to piece together enough sleep to get us through the next watch. That is, of course, except for when you have an assignment due. Then most of us are littered around the galley, trying to read articles and type papers on computers that keep sliding from side to side. We have had two tests in the past two days, and have two papers due in the next two. Not to mention the fact that in addition to our normal classes we are supposed to be learning how to actually sail our current home across an ocean. As I am not getting the science courses for credit, I try and spend extra time reading the MTE (sailing) textbooks. For now, that is a priority. There is little more overwhelmingly terrifying then the friction filled moment when someone yells, through the wind, across the deck, for you to ease the sheet, and your brain gets stuck imagining your bed instead of the mass of running rigging your hands should be grabbing. There is no time to ask questions in the moment. That comes after. In the moment, you move. Fast. Pull hard, hang your bodyweight on the line, keep your fingers away from the cleat, and duck your head. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t good at this, if you can’t name the part of the sail you are hauling into the sky, you just need to do it. Figure out your mistakes later. Or, better yet, don’t make any at all.

I didn’t expect to find it on passage. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ve found something. I didn’t expect that it would be here. That an immense calm would wash over me with the ebb and flow of each day, that I would be able to wake up at all hours of the day or night and go to work, regardless of turning stomachs and aching limbs. That I could show up, every single time. So far at least. It’s only been six days at sea. At the speed we’re going, we’re only about 65% of the way to the Maldives. Of course, by the time you read this, we’ll be there – but for now, I still see only blue in all directions.