Chapter Five
The reality of our first dinner at sea bore no resemblance whatsoever to my romantic vision. I had seen us relaxing on deck as the Reward rocked gently at anchor in a turquoise bay. The baby Weber barbeque kettle would be smoking in the stern while we sipped our wine and watched a magical sunset. Of course, we would be tired from our day of fishing, but it would be a satisfying weariness; a great sense of accomplishment. We would gaze into each other’s eyes and share a silent certainty that we were both feeling very grateful for our life together.

The truth was that Wes had not even finished pulling the gear until almost dusk. He filleted the cod we had caught earlier and handed me two chunks of white fish that I was expected to turn into a meal. He set the Reward on course for anchorage at full speed ahead and as we began to plunge and roll about, he went into the fish hold to ice the catch from the evening bite. We had managed to pull six more fish aboard that afternoon, though none were as fat as the first one.

I stood in front of the sink and looked at the cast iron skillet that was wedged into it. It was caked with dried egg and sausage grease from Wes’ breakfast. I held the fish fillets in one hand, braced my feet on either side of the narrow aisle, and poured warm water from the tea kettle over the skillet. I put the kettle back into its secure corner of the stove, and tried to scrub the crustiness from the fry pan with one hand and an SOS pad. I gave the pump one push to rinse, but the cold water just seemed to congeal the grease and I made very little headway. To this day, I am grateful every time I turn a faucet handle and hot water pours directly from the spigot in unlimited amounts. Most folks think I am deprived because I have no dishwashing machine, while I am joyful just to put both hands in a sink full of hot and soapy dishwater.

Wes came up from below and saw my struggle. He grabbed the skillet, carried it outside, leaned over the rail when Reward rolled to port, and scoured it quickly in the rushing pressure of the passing seawater. It sizzled when he set it on the stove top to dry and it rusted as it warmed.

“Just wipe it out with a paper towel from now on,” he told me. “It will season itself. Don’t try to wash it.”

I dug the bottle of corn oil out from under the bench storage and poured some in the pan. I cranked up the stove’s carburetor and when the oil was hot, I dropped in the fish. Having two hands to work with, then, I managed to open a can of peas and dump them into a small sauce pan which I wedged in the remaining space on the two foot square stove. It took us about an hour to run to the with Wes keeping watch as the gray skies turned to darkness. We ate the soggy, tasteless fish and luke-warm peas as quickly as we could, before the food could go flying from our paper plates. Most of my peas actually did roll onto the cabin floor, but Cleo was quick to snap them up with boundless gratitude.

Now, five years later, I was rolling along that same floor, underwater and terribly afraid, as Reward was diving beneath the weight of the monster wave that I had invited in. The romantic framework that I had refused to relinquish was washing away completely. I clutched at some way of placing blame or organizing my thoughts into some reasonable acceptance of my final moments in this lifetime.

I had argued vehemently against making that final tuna trip. I wanted the extra time to get ready for crab season without the perpetual pressure that the opening day deadline always exerted. I even dreamed about taking a few days off just to play; sleeping in late and walking on the beach with Cleo. The competitive energy that raged in Wes’ deepest nature would not allow him to stay ashore when there were still tons of fish swimming nearby. If Cool Pete or Crazy Paddy brought in a few ton more than we did, he felt somehow diminished in the entire scheme of things. I could not prevail against such power as that. So there we were, awash in a monstrous Pacific Storm that was about to splinter us one way or another. The ocean comer broke over the entire cabin with full force upon our bow, driving the Reward ever deeper into the sea.

As my body floated freely in the cabin aisle, I reached that state of pure weightlessness that comes at an apex; a tipping point where a commitment is finally made. I realized that the ocean was my mother and I smiled. Seawater rushed into my mouth and I received it with complete willingness to fall back into the womb. My whole life could begin again and I was flooded with the warmth of possibilities. The visions swirled in brilliant colors through my mind, but there I was; doing everything I had already done!

How different things might have been if I had resisted the passion that drew me instantly to Norman Wesley Holck. But I fell into his arms again and gave my life over to the mission of trying to bring him joy. His tender beauty and the innocence of his intentions lured me as surely as a shiny anchovy would catch a hungry Salmon. I could feel the gravity of his need and it pulled me almost inside out with its incredible power. My attraction to him vibrated with an urgency that drove me to the edges of my sanity and made me stronger than I really was. He was like adrenaline gushing through me and enabling me to do great deeds and endure tremendous hardships in moments of dire necessity. That first night of our first Salmon trip together, I climbed up and fell into my bunk, with an exhaustion that crushed the breath out of my soul.

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