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I Found Myself on the Cliff
I see the rocky coast miles ahead and it tells me that I am awake. In my dreams, there is no coast but sea for miles and miles. There is no one else on the ship with me and I sit, facing the horizon.
The call of the Captain shakes me back to reality, telling me to pull in the traps. I look down and see the worn, ragged rope in my hands and I begin to pull it in. The sleeping rope is forced alive and it soaks the deck as I pull. Eventually, a wooden box emerges, a classic lobster trap, containing two large ones. Will fetch good money from the restaurants. After all my years handling them, I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing their weight. I tell my fellow crew that I’ve got two five pounders and I put them in with the rest of the day’s catch.
I feel the tug of the ship as we begin to move towards shore. Some of the new men around me look homesick.
I want to tell them that they’re never going home, because this town has a pull and once you’re in: you’re trapped. Sure they may go to their parent’s house for the weekend, but it will never be “home” again.
Some of the men talk about the weather. They say the sky says a storm’s coming. Like they know what the sky is telling them.
I look up and look for the signs of a storm. The sky tonight is full of painted grey and blue swirls, like that Van Gough painting, “Starry Night.” The art room in my high school had a poster of it, and I used to look at it during class, trying to imagine the feeling of that night. I tried to replicate it but I’m not a good artist.
This is the time of night where the sun has already left but the moon has not arrived. It makes me feel defenseless. It makes me think there is no God, no heaven, no deity looking over me.
I’m hoping for a storm. It’s when the ocean decides to bring its wonders to the land: the wind, the water, the gentle hum of the movement of nature.
Our ship is an old tourist boat. When the town of Perrysbay attracted all types of people it would be filled to the brim with tourists who wanted to take in the sights of coastal Maine. They would take pictures of the rocky cliff, jagged and hostile, with swirling pools of foam collected at the bottom. They would go boogyboarding and swimming on the beaches. But they left when my family did. When it seems like everybody did.
When I came to this town as a child, around age ten, it was a place filled with awe and amazement. I would sit on the edge of the cliffs or watch the seals lounging on the rocks, each of my buddies claiming a seal to be his own and then arguing over whose was better.
But now this town feels like a chewed up piece of gum having lost all its flavor.
We dock and I hop out to tie us down. I take the rope in both my hands and tie a perfect sailors knot, one that I have perfected over the thirty years on the ship.
Just the captain and me from the original crew, and the rest are young high-school dropouts, sent away by their disappointed parents to find a job. But during the holidays, they tell each other about the extravagant presents their parents purchased for them. That was once me and sometimes I see myself in the younger workers. I have to caution myself not to tell them advice I wish I had known: “Follow her.”
The dock moans as I shift to tie the other knots. The men pour out of their ship, eager to get home, or whatever friend’s basement they’ve found themselves living. Most of them have some sort of family, even if it is only a young golden Labrador.
My old shearling jacket hangs when I left it this morning, on the rusty hook. Above it hangs the nameplate that has corroded so much that you can barely make out the words: Sam Bayer. I was named after my uncle, also a fisherman. He ran his own ship and now lives on the cape. I wanted to be like him, growing up. I visited him for a while in Massachusetts a couple of years ago and it was the sorriest sight I’ve ever seen. He was slowly dying of depression, alone and secluded, in a house built for a family.
I try to leave as quietly as possibly, never the one to engage in social interactions. Just as I cross from the dock unto the pebbled beach, I feel a touch on my shoulder. I whip around, causing the hood of my jacket to fly off my head. It’s the captain. The features on his face are muted because of the ever-present fog. He’s telling me something, but I just look at his hands: twisting his wedding band around and around his finger, a sign of anxiety. I tend to notice these kinds of mannerisms, like the girl who works at the market’s twitch or the mailman’s stutter.
I try to leave the conversation but he twists me back around, used to my general unsocialness. He speaks again, and his words press into my face like a branding.
I hear him and then immediately lose all my senses.
I find myself on the cliff. My hair, graying and too long, blocks any sense of perception. I am unable to locate my hands and find them clenched into fists in my pocket. My arms and legs, once strong with the muscle of a boy, now feel as though they have been beaten and mashed. The only body part I can sense now is my toes, alive and active in my boots, as if prepping for a race. Or a jump.
I have only now realized that my eyes are closed. The reason that I knew that I was on a cliff is beyond me.
At once, my senses return. It is similar to the feeling of being awakened with cold water. My eyes snap open to reveal what my mind already knew: I was inches away from the cliff and slowly moving forward. I tell myself to stop, but I can’t. My fingers, purple from being forced into a fist, are now alive and hyper. It’s as though they want to use all the energy they have missed these last years and all the years I am preparing to throw away.
I think back to my seat on the boat, where I had stared at this exact cliff. This rocky cliff kept me from dreaming. It was my string to reality. Far away in the ocean, I can still see it. I can see it now, but from a different view. Now this cliff is the pathway to an eternal dream.
I am a forty-year-old chicken, I think. I have experienced no greater joy since my childhood than the joy of the water. What a peaceful way to go. As a child, whenever I had imagined falling off this cliff by accident, I had pictured a soft landing on the foam.
But we’re fighters, us humans. I can’t give up what my father would kill to have again.
I sit with my hands under my bottom, because they have gotten cold since I recovered my numb senses. My legs dangle over the edge and my knee burns in pain from my last surgery. I don’t care about it though. A life with pain is better than no life at all. A life without love is better than no life at all.
I understand now why I stay in this town, this country, this life.
In the moonlight, the bottom on the cliff is not visible and the darkness seems to move like the fog of a spring morning, lethargically and without purpose. The inside of my nose begins to run, and I wipe it with the sleeve of my jacket. I start to laugh and my laughter sounds maniacal against the wind scraping along the leaves of the trees. I laugh harder until tears roll out of my eyes. No more job, no more family, nothing but a shearing jacket and a good pair of work boots. But I continue to laugh and laugh. I laugh at my horrendous self-pity and at my ex-boss for firing me. I laugh for the ocean, which I’ve now determined is a lie. From above, it looks clear and innocuous, but dive beneath its crest and you’ll discover an environment more hostile and secluded than our homes could ever appear. We live on land for a reason.
My self-pity has shifted to pity for others. The men on the ship will fall prey to the same cursed career that I was a victim. They’re trapped for life, like the fishes in the sea, or my father in his grave. I, the aging lunatic with a failing heart and no health insurance, pities them. I am free.