The Institution

There was a time when I lived a different life.

We were isolated from the world, living in our small space.Playing by the rules of this particular place and time. Where the smallest item, luxury, sample of information, each indulgence; became currency.
Homesick, some of us just plain sick, we would retire to our bunks every night.
Some of us shared cells with a friend, some with a stranger, some with a lover.
Dressed in our uniform, daily, nightly, we lived by a rhythm that was created by man and by law.

5pm and our duties ended.
6pm dinner was ready. Stand in line, snaking around the corner and doubling back again. You pray the meat that you can smell will still be there when you get to the front of the line.
Walter is three places ahead of you, it’s unlikely that he will leave any proteins at all.
And then, as if an answer to your prayers, another tray of meat is brought through the sliding doors and the buffet is refilled.

Eyes are watching you, they see you reach for a plate, stretch out to serve some mash potatoes. Not too much, now. You reach for the tongs, and grab a grey, glistening slice of beef. Some vegetables. No bread. No sauce.
You find your seat, there is a rhythm to it. Most of us have our designated seat. The captain always takes the same seat, the authority emboldens him to sit with his back to the door. It allows him to see all of the other seats in the mess, and his arrogance, his audacity, says I dare you. I dare you to strike me before everyone here.
No one dares.
I find my secondary seat, my regular one has been taken. Where we sit depends on who sits before us. If Ryan sits there, then Matthew sits there. If the Filipinos start a table here, the Nepalese will start a table on the other side of the room.
We eat, while maintaining a light hearted conversation, each of us with our ear cocked for the next alarm. No one lingers, we eat as a function. Food is not an indulgence here.

I clear my plate. I stand up, sliding my chair back. I am careful to push my chair back into its correct position. Walking to the scullery, I avoid the captain’s glare. I know he was watching my plate, and although he didn’t register it exactly, he was monitoring. He is always monitoring.

I scrape my plate over the rubbish bin. Squeeze the hose trigger to rinse the plate into the deep stainless steel sink. I am careful to stack the dishwasher correctly, in a way that would not offend nor attract any attention.

There is correct way to do things here, and we all comply. The elders will not hesitate to speak up, to correct you. The silence of the others, the sideways looks, the nervous biting of their bottom lips is an outward display of your inner shame.

You stack the dishwasher from the back to the front, forks with forks.
The same way everyone else does.

 

 

Today I had the kind of day I always dreamed of.
I used to lie asleep in my bunk, feeling the slow, nauseating figure of 8 movement of the swell beneath my bed, as we slowly moved towards the next destination. An infinity of sea sickness. At a solid 12 knots.
One of the first apps I ever used, was one that played the sound of the rain for 90 minutes until you fell asleep. You see, down there, in your cabin, you can’t hear the rain. You can’t even smell the rain.
I would lay in my bunk, on my left hand side, and dream of my bed in Bathurst Road, and imagine the smell of the rain, see the branches of the trees moving across the window. The engine vibrations and the swirling of the floor beneath me would fade away. If I tried hard, I could eventually hear the sound of Cape Doves and smell the ocean coming to me on the Atlantic Fog.

 

Today, I didn’t have to imagine.

I woke up in my own bed, under my own roof. The rain was falling outside. Later, it would rain down hard on the corrugated roof, drowning out all other sounds, but for now it was soft and constant.

My window was wide open, and it was maybe 12 degrees in here. Maxine, the cat, clambered out of the window. She hasn’t quite gotten the hang of the graceful exit just yet.

I had a slow morning, I connected with a few friends. I was allowed  the opportunity to help them in small ways, it felt good. I scrubbed my bathroom, no not quite like how I used to, but pretty clean. It smells like Handy Andy and Jik. It was beautiful.

Me and Jess had instant coffee  – me a strong one with brown sugar, her a weak one with white.

We chatted, and the while she cleaned in the kitchen I tidied up a bit and and read my new old book. A new old book is a book I bought a long time ago, but haven’t read until just this very minute. I had forgotten the charm of real books, and thank you Kindle for teaching me to appreciate reading someone else’s words in the typeface they chose, to feel the texture of the paper, the weight of their labour in my hands.

We visited the hardware store. I picked a colour in a greyish-sage green. It was perfect.
We came home, more coffee. While I painted, my sister supervised the gas installation technician. Thank god for her.

Later, I would cook myself a simple dinner of pasta, broccoli and tomato.
Tipsy on 2007 Cape Ruby Port, I would flick through old photographs.
Half happy, half sad at my life now a long distance behind me.
I look at my youthful smile, and feel nothing but wonder, the she and I are the same person.

Her dreams have been realized today.
I hope she knows, and feels some resolution.
This is for you, 2010.
Dreams do come true.



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