Day 17 – Maritime Confrontation

billy-redd-199438

Image source: Unsplash.com

Maritime Confrontation

“Be careful,” my Workcenter Supervisor cautioned me before removing the cover to the seawater strainer. Training had begun on what was to be a monthly task in maintaining the ship radar’s heat-exchanger. Steve was stepping me through the process for the first time, cautioning me against the possibility of a poisonous sea snake popping out the strainer, biting me, liquifying my heart, making my blood boil, and writing a swastika on my lifeless forehead. (I may have imagined a few sea snake tendencies.) After I undid the last bolt, Steve slowly removed the lid. “Oh cool!” he exclaimed. “A tiny crab! Look, Barry!” On-cue, out popped a four-inch crab, claws brandished aggressively.

Fear is my lifelong companion. I don’t overcome it as much as I learn to live with it. My earliest memories involve being afraid. Of the dark. Of being different. Of being the same. Afraid of being teased for being afraid. Of the inevitable violence married to racism. Of getting my ass whupped over bad report cards. Afraid of dad beating mom. Of mom nearly killing dad. Of dad leaving and never coming back. Of mom nearly killing me. Of nearly being killed in gang-fight crossfire. Of mom nearly killing my brother. Of possibly being killed during nearly every pointless police shakedown for “fitting the description”. Afraid of failing. Of not trying. Of not being strong enough for Navy boot camp. Of drowning. Afraid of possibly becoming an addict like dad. Of possibly being a schizophrenic like mom. Of failing my wife and kids. Afraid of being exposed as a pointless muthaphucka with nothing substantial in my soul worth sharing.

But none of my fears prepared me for squaring off against a four-inch crab angrily defending his new saltwater strainer home.

“Aw HELLLLLLL naw!!!” I wailed, wheeling around, tearing through the hatch, through the junior-officer jungle, my slipstream waking the ensigns, narrowly avoiding turning my division officer into a speedbump, out the exit hatch, trying to control my rapid breathing, hearing my bemused Div-O ask Steve, “What the fuck was that all about?!?” which, after a beat, was followed by uproarious laughter.

The navy trained me to rely on my training when confronting fear, but my hilarious fight-or-flight antics must’ve hit Steve square in his empathy chip. He never even tried to assign me strainer duty again after that. And hell naw, I sure as shit never brought it up.

And crabs are delicious. Except for when they’re alive. And bite-sized.

the sea gently rocks

I breathe in her promises

centered and focused

** *

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: The only thing we have to fear… hosted by Toni Spencer (kanzensakura, hayesspencer). Drop by and check out everyone’s contributions to this prompt.

 

Elegy of Laughing Duets

rainyroad

Image source: Unsplash.com

Elegy of Laughing Duets

The officer smirked, trying not to laugh. After admonishing dad for speeding, he walked back to his vehicle with a funny story for his coworkers; a tale of my dad slyly lying about the urgency of momma’s baby, due to deliver my brother two months from now, and of momma over-selling the shit out of her non-labor, as I, a terrified six-year-old, observed in saucer-eyed, horrified silence.

We must’ve been quite the sight; dad explaining his urgency to the cop with a softness that matched the long shadows just after the sun dipped below the spring-sprinkled horizon; momma – unprompted, on-cue, and with a scenery-chewing overacting exhibition to make Shatner wince – unsuccessfully selling the urgency dad had just lied about with the authenticity of a wildlife film narrator; me in the back seat, wide-eyed and instinctively quiet, taking it all in; the patrolman’s flashlight, an impromptu stage spotlight for our three-person routine (four if you’re counting my brother, but the cop didn’t buy it, so let’s just go with the trio.)

After a beat of silence, our eyes finally adjusted from the shock of the cop’s harsh halogen giving way to soft shades of amber, dad shook his head, a grin growing on his darkened face. He looked back at me. “You cool, B.J.?”

I nodded, and squeaked out a, “Yeah.”

“Yeaaaaah?” he repeated, mimicking me.

“I mean… yes,” I corrected myself with a smile, relieved that dad sounded like dad again.

We didn’t have a term for code-switching back then. It just felt like Dad was bilingual and was training me to be too. I knew that whenever he broke out the Wildlife Film Narrator voice that shit just got real. He always used it when white people were involved, and always when those white people were in positions of authority.

I instinctively knew to get my shit together whenever he used it.

If anyone heard his everyday-people vernacular, they’d have a hard time reconciling the fact that both voices were his. When dad was being dad, he always reminded me of Shaft-meets-Sho’nuff-the-Shogun-of-Harlem; brassy, cocky, and cool-as-hell. I admired both voices, knowing that Sho’nuff was dad’s native tongue. Both were authentic in a way; Sho’nuff was my dad, the Film Narrator was the long shadow cast by dad.

Momma code-switched too, but it never sounded as jarring as when dad did it. Mom’s tone was always a hairsbreadth lower than frantic; it was like she was barely holding things together in her head. But momma always sounded like momma, even when she was performing. Her professional voice reminded me of how folks talked on Dynasty before someone dipped in diamonds got their face slapped; unnecessarily British and whatnot.

Dad shot an incredulous glare at momma. “Really, Terri?” he crooned sarcastically, firmly back in Shogun form. “Nooo, officerrr… I’m not in dayyyneger of laaabor, but it HUUUUUURRRTS!” Dad mimicked momma’s impromptu histrionics perfectly.

“Oh hush, Barry! I was just tryin’ to help,” mom shot back between giggles. “You didn’t get the ticket, did you?”

Together, their gallows-laughter was the greatest musical duet I’ve ever heard. My parents loved comedy. Our bad days were terrible, but our good days could wring sunshine from a rainy evening dusk just like it did that spring evening. Dad’s laugh sounded like a chorus of good-humored seagulls. Mom’s laugh was carbonated; starting low, and then bubbling higher, eventually meeting dad’s seagulls high in the atmosphere. Though I’ll never hear either of their laughs again, it just occurred to me that they are always with me. Whenever I’m trying to make people laugh, all I’m really doing is trying to recapture this moment, if only for a moment.

sunset ignites clouds

terrain perfumed by rainclouds

inhale deep, smiling

219665_10151062581934621_241850607_o

All four of us! (Mom is pregnant with my younger brother in this photo.)

** *

Written for NaPoWriMo’s day 3 prompt, an elegy. I was also inspired by dVerse’s Haibun Monday: The Shadow Knows, hosted by Hayesspencer. I didn’t share it on dVerse though, as this isn’t a traditional Japanese Haibun. I did enjoy writing it though. There were some laughs and tears during the writing process.

Want to see how traditional Haibun are supposed to be crafted? Go here.