Thursday, January 8, 2015

Woman Overboard

            A sailor was washed overboard in the nineteenth century at the Cape of Good Hope. Many were, actually, and plenty of ships were lost, too. The coast at the Cape is jagged; the water, gelid.
It’s a treacherous place to sail. The Cape of Good Hope is near where the waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, and the waves of merging waters slam into one another ceaselessly. One of the fastest currents in the world is located at the Cape, and more often than not, the prevailing winds move against it. Rogue waves are common. I’m a lifelong landlubber, but the literature makes it clear; these are dangerous waters.
But the sailor I mentioned—the thing about him is that instead of being sucked down into the waters beneath the continental shelf, he was lifted up again. One of those wild, unpredictable waves took hold of him and threw him back onto the deck of his ship.
I learned recently that my position was eliminated. I teach English to international students at a small liberal arts college, and I love the work—it’s nothing short of exhilarating to see the progress the students make in such a short time. I can take a bit of the credit, but really, these are courageous students, who come from as far away as South Korea and Saudi Arabia and Kenya and Poland and Japan, and who do pretty well just by navigating the waters and talking to people, and even by half-listening to those commercials that would have them believe we all give each other beribboned Lexuses for Christmas.
I have another semester in front of me before I need to hunt for a job, and I plan to really treasure my students in the time I have left with them. It just about sinks me to know that I’ll be leaving the classroom soon, and that the day may come when I won’t be able to share in students’ growth and help them to overcome obstacles. Sometimes I try to imagine what the future might hold, and I feel numb and breathless—exactly like someone who is sinking.
But then I think of the sailor. I don’t know his name or the specifics; he’s someone I read or heard about, and he stayed with me. I can’t even find him in the endless ocean of Google, where there be dragons and Kardashian sex tapes and kitten after kitten after kitten. Maybe I made him up, but I don’t think I did. I think he’s real. Those waves certainly are. Even at this moment moment, they’re pounding into one another like watery crash cymbals, as I imagine it—although a friend's Merchant Marine husband clarifies that the sound of great waves coming together is more similar to a deep growl or a train.
I was in a ferry in dangerous waters once off the Massachusetts coast. Because waves are, well, waves, and arrive with regularity one after another, I experienced the same thing time and time again. The ferry plowed up a wave and launched off of it, just like your car might do on a dip in a country road. We went airborne and then belly-flopped into the trough before rising onto the next crest. With regularity, from Cape Cod to Boston, that ship launched itself into nothingness and then slammed into the water below. I understood it had been as bad as it seemed when numb passengers exited and the owner of the ferry line himself apologized to each of us for the frightening waters, the ferocity of which had taken the crew by surprise.
And that was just the Massachusetts Bay—the site of many shipwrecks, to be sure, but pretty safe for a twenty-first century traveler on a good-sized vessel. The terror of passage on a turbulent Cape of Good Hope—originally called the Cape of Storms—is beyond my imagining.
It must have been agonizing to slip into the salty drink of Western Africa. Finding oneself slammed back onto the deck would seem like a dubious blessing—to lie there stunned and breathless as fellow seafarers grabbed you, pulled you in, secured you while you recovered.
I hardly dare to hope for this sort of mercy, but I have to admit that I want it. I want to be pulled back in, where I can move and breathe and eventually be a productive, contributing part of a team once again.

And there’s always the chance that the sea won’t take me anyhow.


  1. Karen
    I took some writing workshops with your husband Mike and was also recently unemployed, so I know the feeling and you write about it beautifully. I wish you all the best in your search and am glad you have a semester to search.

    1. Thank you for saying that! I really feel better days ahead. I just like what I'm doing NOW. Hope your situation has improved. It will! I feel it.

    2. The layoff lead to my teaching at one of the best high schools in Michigan. The future there is not certain, but then again, what is? Be faithful in the little things, stay hopeful, take walks.