Recurrent: a Submariner's Dream-Telling
Most people experience drastic differences between the dream state and waking. Even the word “dream” invokes a sense of wonder and unreality to it, contrasted with the overly-understood “awake”. I wish all that I knew about dreams were these stark differences in being, feeling, and seeing. Yet, to my dismay, I cannot.
“Dive, make your depth, EIGHT-ZERO-ZERO”, I hear from the Conn. There is a subtle, yet constant chill sitting on the bottom of my spine. I’m about three hours in, five to go. The shrimp are speaking in tongues like they always do. Do they even have tongues? No one here will know that answer, and there isn’t a document to support it, either. We live in an age where questions get answered immediately. If someone in your group doesn’t know, then Google sure as shit will. We’ve lost what it feels like to wonder, to lust over unanswered questions, to not just want answers but desire them. But, luckily for me, Google doesn’t exist down here. The internet is a fairy tale. The sun doesn’t shine, the moon doesn’t rise, and the wind doesn’t whistle.
My fingers are bone cold. I keep one hand tucked away and wrapped up in my brown sweater, and the other is the sacrifice. A few months back this cold hand started growing more hair than the other one, the knuckles look lonely and marked up like they’ve made bar brawls a daily habit. But they haven’t. My eyeballs are cold, too, they twitch every few minutes, or maybe seconds or hours, I don’t know, and there’s a wet glaze over them I can’t get rid of. Sometimes I’ll strike up another unanswerable question to the gang. And we’ll argue, and laugh, and agree, and get yelled at, and crack some jokes. But we’ll always circle back to the quiet, cold, loneliness. It makes me feel… different. Not awake, not asleep, just changes the pace a bit.
When I finally get out and stretch my legs, the chow line is stretching all the way down the hall and back into the cold, dark abyss that is berthing. I pull out a small novel from my back pocket. I’m reading a book of which the words I can’t fucking see. In reality, I’m staring at pieces of paper imagining myself reading a book. Going through the motions, flipping the pages, standing in that contraposto stance with my head tilted up and my eyes focused down on the pages held before me. I can’t see shit. The wad of peach-flavored Skoal in my mouth has been in there too long, I don’t even like the stuff, makes me gag, but there’s nothing else better to do.
Bodies sleeping and snoring all around me. Tossing and turning, shuffling in the darkness. The floor is lit by just a handful of dim scarlet lights, like a movie theater you might visit in Hell. On the other side of the doors are important voices and sickening bouts of laughter of the disturbed kind. Before long, the important voices get closer and closer until they are encircling me. This book I’m not reading, but staring at, is my cloak of invisibility. I’m just a pillar to be passed.
I’ve always gotten a crude sense of joy from hearing the slap of the slop the cooks throw on your plate. It’s always accompanied by a few sly remarks meant to ruin your day, but I’ve learned to laugh at the effort. Ketchup, Sriracha, mustard, Texas Pete, Worcestershire Sauce, A1, Heinz 57, Cholula, and honey are your lifelines. When they run out, you run out, it’s that simple.
They always like to watch us scrub shit and collect hydraulic oil under our fingernails after we’ve filled our guts. Flashlights in hand and stupid questions abound. The goats are always there to butcher any joy that last meal gave us. When I finally climb into my cold, coffin rack, I feel the oil stuck behind my ears soak and stain the canvas pillow as I rest my head. The showers are broke and that chill is still sitting at the bottom of my spine. I feel like a rat who just crawled out from the bottom of a trash can. I place that book I never read under my pillow, roll into the side of the wall, back towards the curtain, take one deep breath, and close my eyes. I pray. Not to any Gods or luck or whatever, just for no fucking drills this time. Please no drills, or worse the real thing.
“Costas! Costas! … First Wake Up!” Fuck you, you piece of shit, leave me alone. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes. Asshole messenger probably switched up the logs again, fucking new guys. “Costas, Second Wake Up!” I swear to God, dude, get the fuck out of my face. I lay there staring up, not at the book I don’t read, just at the top of the rack which is only about 7 inches from my face. I hear everybody that’s supposed to take the watch climb out of their racks and curse the messenger in their ways, too. I know I’m supposed to get up, but I’m gonna have this moment of peace, before that fucker comes back for the last time. I’m glad I didn’t dream of standing watch again. “Costas! Third Wake Up! Final Wake Up!”... Yup, I’m up.
Chow tastes both better and worse when you only get 3 minutes to wolf it down. I’ve become a bell-tapper. Always up there ready to go the exact minute I have to be, no sooner, no later. I grew up in a family that obsessed over coffee. My Puerto Rican father talked about the days when his family used to own a coffee plantation near Ponce, well before he or even my grandfather was born, but the legacy was something he didn’t talk lightly about. I had my coffee rituals, too, though I think if I ever told my father about them, he’d think I was mocking the family. One packet of Swiss Miss, one bottle of 5 hour energy, 2 French Vanilla creamers, half a second of vanilla ice cream from the mixer, one tablespoon of coffee grounds, and filled to the brim with whatever hot, nasty, burnt coffee was available on the mess deck. My trusty thermos was like a witch’s cauldron, it got me through the night.
The midwatch fucks everything up. It took all my normal, manageable days back home, shook them up a bit and flipped them upside down. The perfect days for the challenger. One-Eight contacts all in excess of 20,000 yards, merchant lane southeast by northwest, trawler field bearing 030, no immediate threats. Sounds good. “Keep your eyes peeled boys, it’s the boring ass times like these when you get fucked” my Sup says sitting up on his tabletop-turned-throne behind us. “Costas! Last and Final Wake Up! You’re Late!” Motherfucker, what do you mean? Shit. Again, the realization hits me like a sudden death knockout punch, I was dreaming. Dreaming of the ordinary, the daily, the endless, dreaming of my entire day passing before me. I knew it felt quicker than usual. Fuck. And now I’m not a bell-tapper, I’m fucking late. The worst. I have to try to hide my face as I eat with the offgoing section, if they notice me, I’m screwed. In my dream I was doing alright. Everything was smooth that was my first clue. And no drills. I’ve got it coming now.