The Ship

January 10, 2011
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A new sound infiltrated my ears, standing out ever so slightly from the midnight ruckus of the ship. I opened my eyes slowly, still exhausted from comforting Damien for most of last night, trying desperately to calm his seasickness while dealing with my own.

Damien! My eyes snapped open, adrenaline exciting my senses. Is he okay? I thought, was that him crying? My mind was running at top speed. I threw the old covers off of my rigid bed, not caring where they landed. I jumped up, ignoring the rush of blood surging into my head, and sped for the next room. I walked straight across the tiny, dark room to Damien’s bed and reached out to make sure he was there. My hands felt a soft bunch of hair, and my heart rate slowed immediately. I exhaled deeply and closed my eyes, stroking his blond hair gently.

“Mommy?” I heard his familiar, high-pitched voice from beneath the bundle of blankets.

“It’s me, Damien,” I whispered, bending down to sit with my knees on the floor. He wriggled his way out of the blankets and rubbed his eyes with his little fists.

“Are we there?” he asked, still not fully awake.

“Not quite, but we’re getting close. It should only be a couple of days, now.” I remembered the sound that woke me in the first place. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think I had a bad dream, but I’m okay.” He cried out almost every time he woke from a bad dream. That would explain the noise I heard.

“I’ll stay here with you until you go to sleep, if you want. Would it help with the nightmares?”

“I think so. Thanks, mommy.”

I climbed into his bed and sat with my back to the wall. He snuggled in with me, and I stayed there, petting his hair, until I could hear his breath coming out at a slow, rhythmic pace. I got up slowly and bent down, kissing him on the cheek. I pulled his blankets up under his chin, whispered, “I love you,”, and tiptoed out of his room. This had been the pattern for the last two years, ever since my husband, Damien’s father, passed away. Fred. Damien was only one year old when it happened. He had the same fine blond hair as his father did, and their eyes were the same shade of bright blue.

I felt a gut-wrenching jolt of pain whenever I looked at Damien. He reminded me so much of his father. As hard as it was to deal with that pain, it made me love Damien even more when I realized just how similar they were. It was like I had a piece of Fred with me. Thinking about him still brought tears to my eyes, so I lied down, praying for sleep to come.

Peace reached me quickly, despite the unpleasant nature of my thoughts. My exhaustion reeled me in for the entire night, so much that I didn’t even notice when Damien climbed up into my bed.

When I woke up, Damien was already wide awake, sitting on the floor. He was playing with his old blue toy truck, the only toy he had. When we finally made it to America, I would buy him all the toys he wanted. My heart sank – assuming I could find work, that is.

I looked back down at Damien and he beamed up at me, lifting my spirits again. He set down his little truck and walked over to my bed, squeezing me in the most enthusiastic hug a three year old can give. I returned the gesture, and smiled when he pulled away and was still beaming. His smile reached all the way up to his eyes, just like Fred’s did.

We hung around the cabin, like usual. I read Damien stories from the book of fairy tales that I brought along. It was the only book I didn’t sell to pay for the trip. His favorite story was always Cinderella. I didn’t think he knew it, but that was always his father’s favorite, too. He always read it to Damien before…before it happened. We played hand games and sang songs to pass the time, and read Cinderella over and over. I knew it by heart, but Damien loved the pictures in the book, so I pretended to read from it. The ship wasn’t rocking as much as it had been the last few days, so we didn’t get as sick as usual, making it a much more comfortable day. We even put on a play for the “audience” where I was Cinderella and Damien was Prince Charming.

Eventually, the sounds of footsteps and chatter lessened, and we settled in to sleep. I thought about sleeping Damien’s room that night, but I figured I’d be okay. I told myself it was so I’d be there in case he had another nightmare, but really it was so he would be there when I woke up from my own nightmares. I knew they would come tonight – they always did on the ship. I knew I’d be able to handle one more night on my own, though. After all, our rooms were so small that he was always close, anyway.

I dreamt that we were sinking. I was used to this dream by now, as it happened almost every night. Once the sinking feeling got too intense, I woke with a start. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. It still felt like we were sinking. I remembered that it was just a dream, and pinched myself to come back to my senses, but I could still feel it. The ship was sinking.

I shot up into a sitting position, my eyes wide with fear. There was water on my bed. I jumped up and stood on the floor, making me aware of my nausea. The floor was covered in water, and so were my calves. I rushed through the water over to Damien’s room, and since his bed was up higher than mine, the water hadn’t reached it yet. I grabbed him out of his blankets and he woke up, startled.

“Mom?” He sounded confused and scared, “Why is there water? Are we there?”

I fought to keep my voice steady, trying to stay strong for Damien. “We’re not here yet, sweetie, there’s just a little problem with the ship. We’re going to go out in the hall.”

“Mommy, are we going to die like daddy?”

That broke through my limited strength. I let out one muffled sob, trying to control myself. “No, we’re not. It’s alright. We’ll be just fine.” My voice was shaking, and I could tell he didn’t believe me.

I walked to the door with Damien in my arms. I opened it with some difficulty, seeing as my hands were shaking, and we waded out into the hallway. There were two other cabins in our hallway, both on the opposite side. The doors were shut, and I couldn’t hear movement inside of either of them. I debated on whether or not to open the doors and see what was inside, but I decided that sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

I carried Damien over to the stairs that led up to the main deck of the ship and walked up them. I was sure that the steel door at the top would let us out, let us be free of this water, but how wrong I was. The door was locked. I started to truly panic. I turned the knob both directions, yanking at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Someone up top had locked us down here for the night, and they must not have realized that our cabins were flooded with water. We were stuck. I was stuck. Damien was stuck.

Tears were running down my cheeks, and Damien was talking, but I wasn’t listening. I was holding him tightly and crying, I knew we would never get out. Damien hugged me, trying to comfort me, and he knew something was terribly wrong. His perceptive blue eyes could tell that this wasn’t just mommy after a bad day. This was real. I banged on the door, sobbing, screaming, “HELP!”, but nobody would listen. Everyone on the upper decks was probably either asleep or too drunk to care what was going on around them, to care that the ship was going down.

After a minute, the tears stopped abruptly, and my thoughts went right back to Damien. Was there any way I could get him out? The door was locked, so we couldn’t go through that. I didn’t have anything strong enough to cut through the metal, so that was out, too. But then I realized that there had to be some sort of ventilation system running through the ship. I knew that it wasn’t practical for an adult to crawl through the vents, but what about a three year old? It was crazy, but it was Damien’s only chance.

I turned and looked into his eyes, which had filled with tears. He was trying to hold them in, but he had never seen me in such a state before. One tear spilled out of his right eye and I wiped it off with my thumb.

“You need to listen to me, okay, Damien?” He nodded, his eyes already looking a bit less watery. “I’m going to take you back down to our cabin, and you’re going to get out, okay? You’re going to get out of here; I know there’s a way.”

“We’re getting out? The ship is there now?” His eyes lit up, and his mouth turned up into a small smile.

I swallowed the lump in my throat, and the truth along with it. “We’re going to get out. The ship isn’t quite there yet, but I’m sure someone up top will know what to do. Are you ready?”

He nodded eagerly, obviously ready to get away from all of the water and find someone to lead us in the right direction. I took a deep breath and walked down the stairs. The water was halfway up my waist once we reached the floor, and Damien scooted up a little bit higher. We reached our cabin door and I opened it.
The water had risen up to my chest. I searched frantically for the vent that I knew would be there, hoping with all of my might that it would be high enough to not be full of water. And then I found it. It was up on the wall directly under the ceiling, the perfect place. And the dresser was right under it. I hoisted Damien up onto the dresser, then climbed up myself. The water was almost at the top of the dresser. I told Damien to hold still, and I reached up, yanking the vent cover off and throwing it to the ground. Well, to the water. The tears that had been gone for a few minutes sprang back into my eyes. I knew this was the last time I would ever see my little boy.
“Now, you’re going to crawl through there, and you’re going to climb out once you see another vent just like that one. You need to find someone to help you, tell them what’s going on. Tell them that there’s water, and that they need to open the door that goes down here.” I knew they would never open the door in time, as the water had already come up past the dresser’s top.
“Why aren’t you coming with me?” He looked incredibly concerned, and it looked like he might start crying again.
“Shh, it’s okay. Once they open the door, I’ll meet you up there, okay? I’ll be right up.”
“Promise?” His eyes told me that he wanted the truth.
“I promise.” It was hard for me to lie, especially now, but I wanted to die knowing that Damien was happy.
“Okay. I’ll go, mommy.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you.” I couldn’t keep the tears in my eyes, and they fell down my face. I squeezed Damien for what I knew would be the last time. “I love you.”
“I love you too, mommy. I’ll see you when they open the door.”
“I’ll see you when they open the door. Remember, find someone right away, make sure they’ll help you.”
“I will. Bye, mommy.”
“Goodbye, Damien.”
I gave him one last kiss and helped him climb into the vent. I watched him crawl away, and just as he was almost out of sight, he turned his head and yelled back to me. “Will you bring my truck?”
I had forgotten about the truck. “I’ll bring it with me, don’t worry. I love you.” I knew it wouldn’t happen, that it was in the other room, where I would never make it out of. But I told him I’d bring it anyway.
“Thanks, mom. See you soon.”
I waved, and he waved back. Once he was gone, I cried. Memories came flooding back to me in spurts, memories I had tried for two years to shove down into the depths of my mind, never to see again. Fred and I on a cruise, having the time of our lives. Damien at home with a babysitter for the weekend. The ship sinking. Fred getting his leg stuck under the refrigerator on the ship. Me trying desperately to pull him out, but the fridge not budging. Him telling me to go, to save myself, to give Damien the best life I could. Me kissing him goodbye, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I swam away. I saved myself. I let him die. Now it was time to return the favor and let Damien live.

The water was all the way up to my nose, even as I sat atop the dresser. I craned my neck, trying to reach my last few breaths. I pressed my nose to the ceiling, inhaling for the last time. The water reached the top, and I sank down, my final thoughts resting on Damien, and my final prayers going out to his survival. I thought about how I would see Fred again, and I had a smile on my face as the water filled up my lungs and I felt the life leaving my body.

Five minutes later…

Damien reached a vent, and pushed. It gave way, even to his tiny hands. He found an elderly woman, and told her about the water, told her about his mother being stuck, and about his blue truck. She scooped up Damien and ran to find someone to open the door and evacuate everyone, hoping it wasn’t too late for this boy’s mother. The first employee she found went to alert the driver, and he started getting people off the ship immediately. He went down to open the door, but when he made his way back to the old woman, he just shook his head. She didn’t know how to break it to the poor little boy that he wouldn’t have a mommy anymore, but she decided at that moment that she would take him in. She would raise him as she had wanted to do for her whole life, but she never could, due to her illness. At the very last moment, right as she was taking Damien off of the boat and into a lifeboat, a little blue truck came floating up to them from the bottom of the ship.

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