Stranded with longing
This is a losing battle
Wrapped, deep in sorrow
No words can describe this feeling in my stomach. My lips split as my cracked voice echoed out, onto the endless blue void. It was torture to need water so pathetically, while all I could see for miles was a vast beryl scape. I looked to the sky and hummed to the rhythm of the throb in my head. To see another’s face, touch another’s hand; to hear the words, “It’s okay…” So simple. So difficult…..
I hear my name break the sounds of the crashing waves. I shift to the left as the boat sways. Today I am going out on my own, (for the first time,) to examine the social habits of the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross and its impact on squid of this region. Its unlikely that I'll even see one, but it’s a easy lesson for a beginner and should help me get the feel of my possible occupation.. I am currently an intern on the Juniper, (Our main research vessel). For the next semester I get to work alongside of some of greatest minds in my science, and today’s my chance to show them what I can do.
“Cora, I’m here…. At the mass of the ship!”
I walk toward her as small puffs of dense fog are blown through my auburn hair. “You have your course charted?”she beamed.
”Uhh… yeah,” I say, slightly frazzled from her hype.
The ship bows to the ocean’s push for what feels like the trillionth time since I’ve boarded this boat, but I think I’ve finally overcome my sea sickness as of the last few nights.
“I revisited the manual just this morning,” I blurt out, “ so I should be prepared.”
I scanned my mind, quickly, checking off my virtual list of supplies. Patches, first aid kit, portable intercom…
“Good,” she chided, and forced another painfully awkward simper.
Hoping the conversation was over I turned, trying to conceal how strangely agitated I was and I strutted to the dock with a sense of purpose to continue preparation for my excursion. Today my life begins….
Later that day: I am surprisingly calm as they unhook my raft from the boat’s port. My peers wave me off and spurts of fare wells ensue, but I am too determined on floating my route to acknowledge their courtesy. Within twenty minutes the ship is only a spec between two clashing blues, squeezing it further into the distance. My eyes lower to the plastic, white case resting up against my knee. I don’t want to jinx it, but I tell myself I won’t have to use it.
I won't need it.
The motor of the boat generates a loud clattering alongside a the sound of a rusty fan slapping the water. I cut the motor and it hastily revs to a hult. I look around, and determine it’s my destination (judging from the sun’s placement.) I quickly look away and savor the relief I’m given when the small sensation in my eyes relinquish. It’s 95 degrees and I stand on my my raft in a white labcoat, sweating so much I could fill one of those little kiddy pools I’d splash in at my grandma’s old farmhouse. I slide off the extra layer and twist a frayed ponytail from my wrist . Once I am situated I plop my hot self onto the surprisingly hard seat and reach for my pen, mouthing the words on the side, “Baler Marine Life specialists.”
As I waited I pieced together a haiku. One of those old Japanese verses I studied in high school. I’ve always liked poetry. It was the one form of art I could actually flourish in. From my limited experience, my painting looked like a two year old could have done better, I am completely uncoordinated (so dancing never worked out), and don't even get me started on me auditioning for the school choir- it went down in flames…if that means having my pride momentarily crushed. Hiku just comes easy to me, and despite my downfalls I love art. Hiku just made sense, when other things in my life didn’t. Don’t I wish I was talented in some other craft, of course! -but this is who I am.
Nothing to fear now
Your day will come if you wait
Discard those troubles, my dear
The ocean seems so endless, and just continues for as far as my sight will take me. “Don’t do that,” I quietly shun myself. God, freaking myself out is the last thing I need when I’m trying to be professional. It’s rare that I’d even see an yellow-beaked albatross out here, so I should be extra alert in the case one should appear. I check the time. It’s only two. Then somewhere far off in the distance I hear a sound, possibly a bird. Yes! It approaches from the west and draws near. I squint and…... it’s a gull. I go back to my notes and prep for (hopefully) the next bird to be an albatross.
The sun is beating down so hard and suddenly a figure hovers into my vision. For a second I shift my view and the sun blinds me, until the mass of flapping feathers returns to block the light. It swoops downward like an axe slicing into a spruces truck. Gathering speed, the bird levels itself to the ocean and skims the water, intensely searching the water for a vulnerable meal. Perfect! Not even three hours and I’m already filling my quote of notes for the afternoon!
Instinct and power aid the albatross as it thrusts its beak down, forcing it’s slick-feathered body to glide through the water with it. Coming up with a significantly sized prize it pushes its massive wings out and pulls them in, as I stare in awe. My pencil presses against my callused finger.
Vera Park, June 20th 2006.
Today I am writing in from the South-Western corner of the atlantic. My main vessel’s destination is about 11 meters from my current location. My goal today was to mark a feeding ground of the yellow-beaked albatross that are threatening the population of squid in this region, the problem we encounter is the albatross species’ health will be compromised if we relocate them. I have witnessed that the albatross will target the weakest squid and in doing so will not harm the most dominant/powerful parts of the species….
I could have been a lot closer to the action, and my notes could have been more thorough, but I am satisfied, and I’ll continue my notes once I get my raft back on course. I tie up some loose ends in my response to complete my theory and unintentionally smile at my luck. Seriously, a yellow-beaked albatross hasn’t been spotted for at least a month and I was just sent out here to get a taste of this occupation, and will be returning to the ship with an impressive find.. I can just see the edges of Cora’s mouth reside to an astonished jaw-drop, as the ship director shakes my hand.
Excited and feeling great achievement I pack up my stuff.
Have you ever had that notion when you’re just falling into a sleep, and, (in your head,) you miss a step or your feet slip out from under you, and you wake up in a rush of confusion and shock? I’m feeling that in slow motion, as I turn with a speed unnecessary to grab my satchel. The raft tilts, but doesn’t tip. Still waiting for the cold embrace of water to swallow me I recover and thank the lords my ignorance didn't cost me my hard earned work.
I should head back, (especially after that almost catastrophic encounter with the sea.) I am supposed to meet the main vessel at five. I shift the boat’s bumpers to guide me back to the main vessel and start the engine…. It makes no indication of moving in the slightest; not even the faintest of it’s usual clanks. Again I yank the small cord with ease. I swear I uttered an, “Ahhh,” aloud as the motor jolts to life.
It clacks and clanks until water gushes from the back and slowly curves the boat back on course. Just as I reach for my book, a stuttering rattle from the back of the raft makes it apparent something’s wrong. Well, I’m not technologically inclined in the least, and in reality, the extent of my knowledge is how to turn the motor on and off- that’s about it. So my alternative is, repeatedly pounding the top until something gives way; which in hindsight should have been a last resort. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Why am I getting so worked up? It’s just so kind of weird fluke. Somewhere I hear a voice, and it convinces me this is not good. This is the opposite of what I’m supposed to be doing; panic won’t get me anywhere.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” I mumble. I snatch up my walky-talky, and reassuer myself. Squeezing it in my hand I expect it’s screen to light up when I click the button, but the item posing to be my savior was of no help. I click it again.
“What the heck!”
My words spinn back to me and repeat like a broken record. I click the button several times but in vain. Not even a blinking red light to show the battery’s state. The battery. I charged the battery and didn't put it into the intercom! This was my fault. I grab the motor’s cord again and uses so much strength that I half expected to rip it from it’s base. I tried again and again, each time with a false sense of hope I’d hear the purr of the motor upon the next yank, but soon enough my vision was blurred by salty pools of tears overflowing onto my cheeks, flushed with sunburn.
Yank, yank, yank
The boat could only be about two hours away, (if I’m lucky,) it would have reached it’s destination by now. I attempt to rebound and scoop my hands at the side of the boat. The raft barely moved despite my vigor, but I paddled through it, checking the sun’s position frequently until it hurt to look. It had only been a bout twenty minutes of this task and my arms ached and throat yearned for water. I couldn't resist and grabbed my canteen, feeling the soothing rush of water down my throat. I felt terrible as I did this, knowing I would probably need this for later, but there was no way i could continue paddling if I wasn’t hydrated. Excuses, excuses. Stupid girl.
I kept striving forward and with every stroke my energy drained. I would swear to myself there was a boat just beyond the horizon, and imagine my reunion with the crew. Fading in and out of a limbo-like daze I am making no distance, (from what I can tell). Everything looks the same out here and the sun’s colors are dimmed as it lowers. I slowly count the syllables…
When day shines on dark
Stars combust into the gloom
Lying here sinking
I stop my paddling, (which at this point is just two limp, pruned hands barely reaching the water.) Breathing hard and hearing my insides churn with hunger, I hastily check the survival case for a scrap of food. It contains: a survival guide, patches for the raft, a first aid kit, two flares, a pocket knife and a useless walky-talky. Great.
I lay on the raft’s coarse bottom ad stare up at the stars, so much brighter without the pollution of artificial light. I trace out Cassiopeia, and feel more tears trickled down. Clamping my hands beneath my neck I could feel my wrinkled, damp fingers brush against my face raw and hot, despite the drastic change in climate.
“Tomorrow,” I say, “Tomorrow they’ll send out fleets to find me.”
People have been stranded for years on an island and survived or some other deserted terrain, why should this be any different? I am strong enough and intelligent enough. I’ll be fine. I shiver. Liar.
I’m running on a giant endless track, dragging me back to the same place I started as a giant wave approaches. It lingers behind me as if it could strike, but wants to let me think I can escape. Always the same distance away it's back just so that if I stop to catch my breath it would surely engulf me…. but I’m too tired, and it’s so cold. I slow down. I hold my breath and the wave folds.
The next thing I see is not a massive tidal wave slamming down on me, but a blinding orange glow from the sun. Nightmares. As if being out here all alone isn’t enough to drive a person insane...
A sleepless night led to a morning of regrets and discouragement. It’s scary when I have time to think about my choices. I mean really think. I had nothing better to do. Did I even really want this job? No I wanted to be an entrepreneur and share my ideas with like-minded individuals, but that occupation is too risky, and hard to sustain a stable business, but then I get the opportunity to work my mom’s dream job…. And what could I tell her? -That it “wasn’t for me.” Not when she spent her life working for a chance like this. I guess it didn't really matter in the long term anyway though, considering I rarely make important decisions independently, anyway.
After reminiscing and watching the clouds for a few hours, a pounding in my head hits me so suddenly that I grip the rafts side. The material caves in at my touch and I don’t think much of it until I feel it. A hole. Air is squeezing out and the tear widens I as I slowly dig through the case for a patch. I have to stop myself. With every movement more air is forced from the hole. I just say a silent thank you in my mind that I didn’t move too much as I slept or else who knows if I even would have woken up this morning. It’s now a button-sized rip and I notice the raft’s sides slowly collapses letting in water. I try to hold them up, but the hole lets out too much. I try to quickly find the patch but the thunderstorm in my head won’t subside, so my hands lethargically search through the case. I hit a pocket knife and wince.
I find the patch and securely fasten into the raft floor. Crisis averted. The raft is on the verge of sinking so I use my empty canteen to drain the water and then bandage my badly-cut hand. I was queasy still, and thought to myself as I began to fall asleep of all the things I took for granted, and how I’d kill for an Advil.
My eyes flash open the next day to the numbness in my right hand. My hand had bled out overnight. It wasn’t until I laid my eyes on the puddle of crimson liquid at my side that I nearly fainted.
I attempted to hold my hand straight as to apply medical ointment and can't even bring myself to lift it. I cry in frustration, and in spite of my sorrowful self. I hold my breath and rewrap my hand, removing the old gauze, limp and heavy with blood. Gradually I complete this process, with my non-dominant hand, (making it difficult.) I thought it wasn't that serious yesterday, but the blade cut me deeper than I thought. I didn’t know if I could move my fingers and wasn’t willing to try it.
I dropped my fragile hand to my lap and shoveled briny water into my raft to remove the blood from all around me. Once all the blood came up from the floor, I shoveled the murky water back into the ocean.I tightly closed my eyes and wined…
That was a mistake. Even if you’re not a skilled biologist you most likely know that sharks can detect as single drop of blood in the water from countless miles away. Maybe I wasn’t thinking, but I had just released almost a pint of blood into the waters of the Atlantic. The waters of the atlantic where the lemon sharks mating ground was.
I scorn myself and think, “Perfect.”
And it was. Shark infested waters is just what I needed right now. Oh! Did I mention I am afraid of sharks?!? As long as I’m up here and they’re down there I’m safe, and that gave me a reluctant feeling of calmness. There I go picking up that defective walky-talky again.
“Stop it doesn’t work.”
If a weren’t so Earth conscious I’d throw this stupid thing so far… actually no I wouldn't considering that I can barely lift my right hand... The wisps of clouds overhead cross each other and blend into wide undefined shapes.. Then, just as if were taken right out of a cheesy 70’s horror film, I see a pointed fin peak from the water and cut through it with a growing spread. Making sharp turns around my fortress I see the full size of the shark as it skims closer to the top of the water.
It’s probably wondering where the victim it smelled so distinctly was. One by one more fins gathered around me. They wouldn’t attack unless their food was in short supply, and there were pretty abundant fish in this area this time of year so I tried to settle myself, but who can be truly be calm when you’re surrounded by a frenzy of sharks as big as eleven feet. My jagged-toothed companions stuck around for awhile until they came to the conclusion that there was no young adult for them to have a post-dinner meal on. Slowly, my heart stopped pounding and I was able to breath regularly. Getting up at the crack of dawn this morning is taking a toll on me and I can feel my eyelids growing in weight by the minute...
I wake up to a face hovering above me, and lunge forward as the winged creature climbs into the sky. I brush one stray feather left from my predator off my coat and slowly rise to my knees.
“Don’t even think about it”
Don’t even think about how much you need food, or how much your parched lips sting, or the harsh humidity. I hit the walky-talky power button, (it’s become a habit and I’m slightly paranoid that maybe I’m just not pressing hard enough.) When it doesn’t work, I reach down, into the foam-covered sea, to begin my paddling, (because why not? I have nothing better to do with my time out here,) but the second my arms are set in the position my muscles reside; so strained I can barely hold them up.
I rock back and forth
The silence is deafening
Words never spoken
I grab my pencil and a notepad, (meant for my research,) and glance at the sun's luminescent reflection against the water, so deep it seems black. I sketch a parrot fish, and shade in each scale one by one. I pass the time hunched over my thick pad and release all of my agony. A ship on the ocean, a speckled gobbe sliding from under an old pipe on the ocean floor, silent girl, whose long hair sticks to her neck as she sits on a raft waiting; waiting until her face contorts into painfully sculpted features and her skin is stretched so tight against bone she is trapped in her own body.
A day ago I was worried about making a good impression on my colleges, now I just want to be found. I just want to live. I collapse in exhaustion and self pity. I have no fuel. The price I would pay for a drink, god, half an orange…… I turn to lay on my stomach and feel the sun’s rays seep past my clothing into my my skin. Again I slip into a dream.
It wake to the slight burning feeling in my eyes from a rising sun. My surroundings are oddly beautiful despite my current state. The combinations of popping orange and reds shining down into the sea and reflecting off into my green eyes made me sad…. sad that I could never share this memory with another. Sad that no one else would witness this picture I held with me. I could not name an inch of my body that didn’t ache. I could not speak a single word without cringing at the dryness of the scrape in my throat. I was going to die out here.
Blowing in the wind
Pushing a white sheet to sail
They go with no choice
I put my pencil down, wet with the sweat of my palm. I cry until the stars hover above me. I’ve lost track of the days, and I still watch for the juniper, but somewhere deep inside my heart a voice tells me they’re not coming...
I wake up to myself violently vomiting up whatever was left in my stomach, (not much.) Somehow I had made it to the side of the raft while I was still unconscious, so, luckily, I had not dirtied the place that I now resided. I gagged at the dry, acidic flavor, scraping the back of my tongue. Once it seemed that my body was satisfied with putting me through absolute agony, I layed back down to the creak of the rough fibers beneath me.
I sobbed with little tears to fill my chapped eyes. I fluttered my eyes, rapidly blinking; waiting for my eyelids to bring relief. Trying to hold onto my sanity was impossible. I gripped what little clarity I had left, but I knew within the day I’d fall apart again and again and again. This is not my life.
Floating from my crowded mind, filled with hope and wonder into reality, smashing into me, hard, with all the force of avalanche, I drift in and out of sleep.
It looked as if it had just gotten dark. It felt like my insides were just a dried up shadow of my former self; I NEEDED water. The strongest craving I have eren had... It was like I ran a marathon and breathed in nothing, but dusty, particle-infested gas that sucked the moisture from my body. I hadn’t peed since I began on this trek and the throbbing in my head was a piercing shriek. I was blacking out constantly now. I couldn’t sleep, and always woke in confusion and frustration. Blinking the dots from my eyes I sighed… Goodnight ocean...
I’m drowning. That’s what I think as I open my eyes, gasping for air and choking up water in the new morning sun, but it was not salty it was….. Rain! I take my empty canteen and scoop the water into into it. Plunging my face into the cool liquid, practically cutting of my oxygen I swallow. Who would think water would be the best thing I’ve tasted in my life? When I’ve had my fill, I restock my canteen and lay, letting the sun soak up the rainwater on my skin and carry the vapor miles away.
That night was the worst, I couldn’t sleep due to a terrible pain in my stomach that I could feel spike whenever I breathed. Every Time it seemed as though I was able to drift into an absolute sleeping state, I’d wake again in illness and distress. Eventually I stopped trying to sleep and accepted that I was not going to rest tonight. When I sat up, nothing in my life even shocked me more… I doubled over in intense pain only to quickly rise so I could resume my viewing.
It can’t be…...What is………....No……
Something out on the water catches my eye. A ship! It’s drifting…..towards me! I scramble through the emergency supplies, digging for… a flare, that’s it!
“Got it!” I burst out smiling, (an expression I thought I’d never use again.)
I fumble the metal in my hands, and shoot it off. Marveling at the blurry blaze of red above me and waiting anxiously for the ship to turn my way, I whisper, “Yes.” Finally it’s appearance grows in size and I exhale all my pain and alarm, but I squint and it’s shape is odd. I lays disproportionate and long to the ocean’s top. I am weak, but my will is strong so little by little I move along the raft with my hands, hoping that I won’t be too late, and the foreign object won't pass me by.
I get closer and begin to make out it’s deformed shape more clearly, I am just reaching the critical point where I can see it and determine its label…
I melt; like an icecream in the hands of a careless child, onto the burning pavement. Before me I stare at the pile of seaweed clumped into a mass of discouragement. Screaming; uttering words unrecognizable I released my torment so that the whole ocean could here. My hands shake and my brain refuses to comprehend. I collapse.
There’s nothing I can do. I’m just so...so helpless… It’s pitch black (probably near midnight,) when I feel myself slide into a restless dream.
Here I am, drifting
Slowly crossing no one's thoughts
Do not close your eyes
Five syllables of truth; seven syllables of tragedy; five syllables of pointless. Too late
I wake up with several figures spread alongside of me.
“I can’t feel my legs,” I think.
I’m dead. I just know it. My sharpness is gone, but I feel no pain. In fact, I feel nothing, except for longing. I want to live. To quit my job I’m only doing to impress my parents and just be...alive….but I can’t. At the same time I’m relieved it's over, but if I’m dead, who are all these people blanketed in white? I try to move. Then, in an instance, I can feel. First a bob of my head then a jerk of my entire body and it’s like someone flicked a switch…. It’s fuzzy, but then I see the flourescent lighting hovering above me.
I snap to attention, but then feel my eyes rolling back when my spine straightens. Hushed sounds explode from around me, in all directions and, finally I can see. A doctor, strangers, the expedition advisor, Cora…
“You found me,” I babble in the quietest of pitches.
They look puzzled and I repeat myself, louder this time.
“No, Vera, I saw it happen. I was there don’t you remember?” Cora asks me a tone that would be acceptable if I were eight years old.
“The raft-” I say as she cuts me off.
“The deck was slippery and you fell into the railing along the stern.”
“No I… on the raft I saw an albatross.”
The doctor misunderstands me and blankly states that no, iI cannot set out on the ocean until my concussion is fully healed.
“Nine, days isn’t enough time under your belt to set sail on some adventure. Your health comes first.”
I don’t understand and I want an explanation, but I am just so relieved that with those words I cry.
“Don’t worry I don't think I’ll be going anywhere near the water for a while,” I stretch out a smile
That was 3 weeks ago, it seemed so real, but as the days go by I forget more and more of my experiences on the raft. I try to hold on, before my remaining memories disappear, but it’s a struggle. I also quit my internship on the Juniper and am planning out my path in entrepreneurship in every available minute. I haven’t told my parents yet, but this time their opinion will not sway me.
I still regularly visit the ocean, despite what I thought. I have always loved it and not even the raft could take that from me.
Do not drag your feet
Drift along like a current
Pull like a riptide
I was finally let out of the infirmary a week and a half ago, and I am still recovering from my concussion. I never told anyone about the raft and they never mentioned my reaction as I awoke from that nightmare anymore. It took me a while to be able to even think of it, but now I’m ready, and since the details aren’t as vivid in my mind I write it out, so that my experience on the raft won't be lost. Honestly, my words could never do that time any justice; the waiting, the fear, the hysteria…
I’ll never feel anything more true than those days even though the others insist it was all a hallucination from the meds. They may not believe, and someday I may not either, but for now, the raft is a piece of me, and though life moves on leaving my past to fade into the background, those days will live inside me. I dream of the raft sometimes, and always wake up in a cold sweat. Even now, I can still see the haunting images of my journey, their colors fading into fiction.
Don’t want to live in a trance
Finally I’m safe
Stranded with longing