The day that you’re born, you arrive on a great, sandy beach – naked and screaming in the hot, tropical sun.
Immediately, you are taken in by the people who brought you there, offered clothing and shelter and sustenance – everything you need to survive on it’s glistening shores. You’re comfortable and warm there, but spend nearly all your time looking out at the water, dreaming of the day that you can venture beyond it’s familiar banks.
As you grow bigger and stronger, you begin to envy those who’ve traveled out into the ocean.
You watch in awe as they board their tiny ships and let the wind whisk them away to uncharted territory. And as their vessels shrink in size and become tiny dots on the horizon, you swear right then and there that you will dedicate your life to following them out into the open sea.
Into the great unknown.
Away from comfort, and into adventure.
You begin to assemble the materials you’ll need – the wood and the cloth and the rivets. You place them in a large pile on the beach, and then you set off to find the people that have built the greatest vessels and had the grandest adventures.
Blueprints begin to take shape in your mind, and you commit them to paper as you digest the sage advice from the older builders around you.
As you toil away on the beach in the hot sun, you are not alone. Other people are building boats, in all types and varying sizes.
Some people inherit great big ships that don’t require much work at all, and you silently curse them as you sweat and bleed and toil away in the hot sun.
Still other people are working with almost nothing, and their struggles far exceed your own as they work to get their flimsy vehicles into the water.
Often times, others wash up on the shore, sun-burnt and dehydrated, warning how dangerous it is out there in the deep sea. You heed their warnings, but continue on anyways, patiently building your boat, one plank at a time. Board by board, sanding each one down to perfection.
Great big parties and celebrations occur on the beach, and although there’s a time in which you partake in them, you soon realize that your plan will never come to fruition if you spend all your time socializing. And so you turn down the invitations and focus all your energy on building the best damn boat that ever sailed into the water.
Sometimes, people laugh at your strange design, asking you just where the hell you got your diagram. You ignore them.
One day, they will eat their words. As you sail off into the sunset, they will stand longingly on the shore, waving goodbye… stuck there forever.
Other people wonder why you’d want to want to venture out beyond the comforts of the tiny island. After all, you’ve got everything you need to survive right here. Why risk the danger? But you can’t explain to them your compelling need to join those tiny dots on the horizon. They’ll never understand. It’s your destiny. It calls out to you every day.
Finally, after years of meticulous building, your ship is ready to set sail. You wave goodbye to those still left on the island, and take off into the deep blue expanse ahead. It’s invigorating. The smell of the sea and the wind in your hair. It’s everything you’d ever dreamt it could be.
Familiar faces line the boats around you and you emphatically wave hello as you pass them on their own journeys. Family and friends smile from the decks of their own ships and you smile back from the deck of yours. For a time, everything is perfect. Just like you’d imagined.
One night, a wretched storm blows through, and as the rain pours into your boat and the lightning rips the sky apart, you begin to realize that there are certain things about this boat that you’ve overlooked. Tiny cracks in the floorboards, and loose screws allow the water to pool ominously in areas the ought to be kept dry.
A feeling of foreboding emerges, but just as you begin to grow nervous, the storm passes and the sun comes out again. You patch up the holes and tighten the screws and set about sailing even further than you’ve ever been before.
Years after you initially set sail, you turn back and you notice that the island is no longer visible, even with a spyglass. But instead of feeling scared, you feel inspired. Even more so because you built this entire ship with your bare hands.
Plank by plank. Board by board.
And sealed, with an unwavering sense of pride.
Soon, all the other ships disappear and you are alone in the great watery wasteland.
You’ve gone beyond the reaches of even the map, and are charting new territory all on your own.
But there’s a problem: your ship, has begun to leak again, in all the vulnerable areas that had been exposed during the storm.
You gather buckets and attempt to slow the pooling of the seawater, but you begin to realize that this liquid that you’re immersed in… isn’t seawater at all.
You’ve somehow managed to find a patch of special water, cursed water that dissolves the exact type of wood you used to carefully build your boat. It eats away at the holes in the deck, magnifying their circumference by several feet. Soon, giant gaps have cropped up all over the ship and it begins sinking, much to your own horror.
You run around the surface of the boat, fruitlessly attempting to salvage it, but pretty soon, only it’s mast sits atop the water. You plaster yourself to it, desperate and alone. But eventually it falls beneath the ocean, and you are forced to cling to the meager bits of wreckage strewn about, praying that another ship will come along and rescue you.
As you bob along with the driftwood, you curse and cry and shake your fists at the heavens, lamenting the loss of not just this magnificent ship, but everything that you gave up to go about building it. You wonder what the point of it all was, now that you’re out here alone, starving and thirsty.
One day, just as your grip on the floating debris begins to weaken, you look up to see a dot on the horizon. You excitedly begin to wave your arms, and your scratchy throat croaks out a desperate plea for help. Overcome with relief, you watch in anticipation as the boat begins to grow in size, making it’s way towards you.
But there’s something very familiar about this ship. And as it comes closer and closer, you realize that it’s not just any boat. It’s your father’s boat. And not far behind it, are the boats of both your sisters and your mother, and several of your friends. And suddenly you remember. The water. The water is poison!
You begin to shout at them, warning them of the dangers ahead. But they can’t make out your words over the crashing of the waves and the seagulls floating overhead and all the other ambient noises of the ocean.
Not only are they plowing towards you at a dizzying speed, but some of them are preparing to JUMP IN, following you into the dark unknown.
There’s no way of knowing if their boats can withstand the power of the strange water. But you can’t risk it. You’d rather disappear into the ocean, sinking to it’s silty bottom, than watch your family and friends drown trying to get you out.
But they won’t listen. They’re determined to save you.
So you do the only thing you can think of – and you start paddling further into the stretch of dark sea. You know that you’re swimming to your own death, but you don’t care. As long as you don’t bring everyone else around you down in the process.
You close your eyes as you kick with all your might, and you pray to God that they will give you up for the lost cause that you know you are.
That they will return to their own boats.
And sail far, far away from the darkness.
And back to safety.
September 9, 2019
A horn barks angrily through the air as I slow the car to a crawl and pull over on the side of the highway.
Tears are pouring down my face and onto the steering wheel. I’m paralyzed by indecision. Stuck motionless as the surrounding cars barrel past me, going Eastward on I-94.
I want to go home. In fact, my car is already pointed towards Detroit, and all I have to do is throw it back in Drive and hit the gas. But I can’t. I just can’t.
I think of my mother. I think of everything I’ve put her through during my lifetime. And I just can’t do it anymore. Can’t force anyone else to clean up my mess.
To rescue my ship. To follow me down, down, down, into the darkness.
I love my family far too much to drown them.
It’s time to swim. Far, far away.
I merge my car into the right lane, and pull off on the next exit.
I still don’t remember how I choose the hotel I do or why.
All I remember, is thinking… swim away. Swim away. Swim. Away.
And I will spend the next 4 days, trying to figure out where exactly I’m going to paddle.
But there’s a slight problem. Right around day 2, I start feeling euphoric again. And this time, I build a new boat, but the blueprints are backwards and upside down.
And even though everything about it’s construction is wrong… to me, it’s magnificent to behold.
So I plop it into the sea.
And I set off into the water…
…with lead sails
and a paper anchor.
To be continued…