One Boat Away | Teen Ink

One Boat Away

April 9, 2021
By Kat_K13, Syracuse, New York
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Kat_K13, Syracuse, New York
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Author's note:

What I hope people take away from this piece is that everything you do in the end is for your family, and others safety.

I wake up to the noise of a wildcat screeching in the distance. The pine board I sleep on is stiff and uncomfortable-but I usually manage the night. I look around and see that I am the only one that has been woken by the noise of the animal. I don't attempt to fall back asleep, so instead I lay on the board hoping not to wake the others. There are about thirty men in the same shack as I am. Some of them are immigrants from Germany, but most are from Ireland. There are a few I recognize from County Cork, but I mostly see unfamiliar faces. 

People start waking up, and then we all lay waiting for the chef to call us for breakfast. It's only my second day here, so I still have much more to save up before my brother and mom can travel overseas. By the time I have saved up enough they will most likely be quarantined at Ellis Island. It may take longer than I want, from what I have heard things are not well back in Ireland. There have been so many deaths from the famine, and it's sad to think that many of those deaths come from family and friends. 

We walk out the shack into the bright yellow sun. Sun is scarce in the tough weather we get here. Seeing the sun brings me memories of my family that I try so hard to remember. Even though the conditions here are tough, the money I make will bring my family too safety, and right now that is about all I want.

We get our usual serving of breakfast but sometimes when there's food too spare we get a little extra. I sit on the side of the table eating my food that has just started to become cold. I look around me and find no one. Most people eat near the working sites or even back in the living quarters. I enjoy eating alone, even though it would be nice to make a friend here. When I am finished with my breakfast I start towards the tree that holds our assignment for the day. Instead of the usual brown paper with our names and job for the day, I see a paper containing large words. “Clinton’s Ditch Petition,” underneath are lines with names written underneath. About all of the lines are filled up, but about fifty remain. 

I walk up to an older man wearing a yellow shirt. He looks like he knows what he is doing so I ask him what I am expected to do today. 

“Haven’t you heard? You are expected to attend a meeting to discuss the importance of ‘Clinton's ditch’?

This catches me by surprise. 

“Oh, thank you for letting me know.”

I almost asked for his name, but his answer left me in shock. 

With the whole day off I don't know what to do with myself. I walk back to the shack that holds my “bed,” and am left in shock as I see forty men surrounding a table in the center of the dark wood room. 

I walk near the crowd and look down at the table and see the poster that was hanging on the tree earlier. They all seem to be confused, some of them are crying in the corner, but I can't seem to think why? Then it hits me, almost as if someone had taken my chair from beneath me. If this petition gets enough signatures and is signed, I won't have a job anymore. I will be shipped back to Ireland awaiting the day when I am able to come back to America. My family, starving on the streets. Diseases taking over, I can see an image in my head but I try to shake it away from fear of it becoming true. 

When I come back to my senses I am the only one circled around the table. They have all gone back to their tasks before, but I still stand absent-minded with fear of what could be coming. I walk back to my bed and I lie there for almost the rest of the day. When I am ready to do something else I get up and walk out the door. Even though today wasn't a work day, there are people deep in the canal with cannons. I rarely ever see cannons so when my eyes adjust to the harsh sunlight, I am in awe of them. Someone in the distance yells a nonsense word, but I wasn't listening carefully. Before my mind can process what had just happened I am being blown backwards into the air.

The sun shines brightly into my eyes. My legs are numb and I have a bandage over my head. I am lying on the ground but not where I originally was. When I try to think back to what happened my mind goes blank and I start to feel dizzy. When I open my eyes again I feel a sharp pain on the side of my arm. As I start to form the word “what,” I fall back asleep and become senseless.

I start moving my legs in an upward position but I immediately fall back down to the ground. A young lady starts towards me and I try to look the opposite direction but she helps me up off the ground into a chair. I am so stunned and I have no memory of what happened, all I know is I woke up and someone put a needle into my arm. She speaks in a gentle tone, “I am very sorry sir, the cannon went off while trying to blow the rocks away, they yelled to you but you didnt move. The cannon went off and you were blown backwards into the air. We ran a few simple tests and think you have a concussion, and a broken leg.” For a minute I sit there, stunned and confused. I try to process it all. I think she understands so she lets me sit there for a minute by myself. When she comes back in the room she has a sad expression on her face and I can tell she has bad news. 

“I asked the guy in charge of injuries, he said he doesn't think you are able to work.” 

“You leave overseas in a week.”

My mind is full with fear and worry. My job here was to make enough money to give my family a better life. Now I am being sent back without money, injured, and with many problems to deal with. She tells me I will be paid this next week, but only half what I was making a day before. 

She gives me a tall sturdy stick for walking, and an extra bandage for my head. I get a headache every once in a while, but the bigger issue is my leg. I can barely walk with the stick, and even though I am trying my best, I can not sustain this for very long. I tiredly walk back to my bed and lie down. I process everything that has happened to me. I try to imagine the look on my mothers face when I show up at the wood door that stops the street dogs from getting in. My mother and brother are probably having their evening tea with mint leaves mixed in. The food back at home isn't much, but it's nice to think of the things that hunger has made my mother forget. One of those things is potatoes. For the past few months we didnt have potatoes, so our meals consisted of mint tea, cabbage, and a bit of beef if we can spare any. Part of me is excited to go back home, but just to see my family. I don't want to see the look of despair on most families' faces. I know mine must be making the same face, but it's nice to imagine that they are well even though I try very hard not to lie to myself. 

When I imagine it to be about six everybody gets up and exits the building. I am expecting them to be going to the meeting tonight. Now that I am being sent back home, it doesn't mean much to me. I know I should feel bad if the petition is signed, but it doesnt affect me. I gather my walking stick and pouch fillled with a bandage, and a small roll of bread. I walk out the door and someone grabs me and pulls me to the side. Two large men stand in front of me. I know better than to run away, so I stand there still not wanting to upset them. 

“You are being taken back home today.” The largest guy says.

Before I can speak, the guy next to him says, “there are more men being brought overseas, you are injured and cant work so we need the extra bed.”

I let out a sigh that comes from deep within me. Instead of talking I just walk with them not wanting to cause a disruption. He takes me to a small shed near the woods. It is painted white and almost looks like the churches back home. Home. I feel both anger and a wanting to be back in the place where we have starved for weeks without a single soul knowing. Where we rescued a stray dog, but had too let it go because of the lack of food. Where my younger brother Daniel took his first steps without falling. 

I walk into the shed that holds medical equipment I can’t name. They set me up at a machine and take my blood. They don't want new diseases forming anywhere, so before anybody leaves they have to take a simple blood test. I feel a sharp prick, then nothing. I watch as my blood goes up the tube and I start feeling a little queasy. When I am done they load me up onto a steamboat that is located on a small lake I am guessing leads to an ocean. 

I board the boat, and am soon leaving the place where I was safe, (until the cannon,) full, and happy. There are only a few other people on the boat with me. The conditions are worse than back on the canal, and I get pretty motion sick. But a week and a half later I am still alive. We pass a few destinations that are important, but other than that, mostly ocean. We finally arrive in Ireland and a rush of sadness goes through me. Even though I get to see my family.

 I let them down. We get to the station and my blood is taken again. This time I am not left hurting from the prick. I barely notice it, I am way too distracted. We get to a small road where my home is. I step off the vehicle and start walking. I try to think of all the ways I could greet them, but all my thoughts stop when I see a grave in our front yard. 

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