The Southbound trip- the Reposition, as it's called, when the ship goes back to her home harbor- is when the whole season snapped into place for me. We went everywhere, from Glacier Bay to Gloomy Knob, Lamplough and Bay of Pillars to the ice fields of La Conte and the Salish Sea. The crew gathered closer, and we spent more time with each other, any time we could, but especially late at night, after the ship was asleep. We had a dance party in the galley as the ship rolled through the huge waves of Dixon Crossing, we filmed a movie- all of us- we were let lose in Ketchikan and Petersburg to spend time with each other out of uniform, away from work and the passengers.
We got by on less sleep and more vitamins, B-12s and adrenal pills, nicotine vapor sucked from electronic cigarettes. The energy was somehow both manic and sustained- we kept it up the whole trip, bouncing around the ship like bunnies, prone to loud, tearful fits of laughter, never flagging. The rumors of gale warnings and big seas for our open crossings kept us fueled by excitement, the miles rolling beneath us bolstered us, each one taking us closer to home.
I had just enough time- if I hurried- to change costumes and be presentable. I ran down to my room, peeled off the wet guiding clothes, buttoned my uniform and tucked it into the dress pants, switched the extra tuffs for the nice shoes, dried my hair with a towel. Then, still at a run, through the watertight doors that have to be unbolted and then sealed shut behind you, up two flights of stairs to lounge.
The lounge was full of people drinking cocktails and playing card games as I prepared it for the presentation, pulling down the screen and closing all the blinds. Just as I hooked up the computer and was about to begin, the Captain radioed me to get down to a guest's cabin immediately.
Someone asked if I could still give the presentation- everybody was still sitting up there, waiting to see it.
It felt like a movie; I pulled the stethoscope from around my neck, peeled off blue exam gloves and reached for the microphone. I was soaring on adrenaline, proud of myself for having done right by my instructors and used my medical training correctively. I did no harm! I crowed to myself, first rule of EMTs! I actually helped somebody who was very sick. The presentation went perfectly, the questions finished up one minute before dinner, dinner was called, and my day was essentially over.
I wrote honestly about how much I struggled with everything at the beginning of the season, so I know you'll believe me when I say that I got very good at my job. I took great pride and delight in it.
Tuesday, two days after we arrive home. The ship is docked in the port of Seattle, next to the quiet, empty Wilderness Explorer and great steel crabbing boats and fishing vessels of Deadliest Catch fame. The guests are gone, the crew party is over, the laborious tasks of washing and packing and putting all the expedition gear into storage is gone. Down on the main deck, someone is hammering iron covers over the ships windows, preparing it for its rough journey down south to Baja.
Effort, he reads. Melina did not show much effort onboard. If she had showed more effort, she would have been a more complete team member.
It goes something like that.
The guy has considered me worthless since the beginning. Back then, when I didn't know my port from starboard, I very nearly let him convince me that I was. But, due to a great many people, friends and strangers and crew members and their tireless encouragement, and their own candid stories of struggle and perserverence, I stayed on. Gradually, I grew much, much stronger and much better at my job. I took interest, then entertainment, then pure curiosity in the outright condesension of the guy. I took notes- today he walked out of the room as I was speaking. Today was my mid-season review, he stood up when it was my turn to talk- "I'm distracted-" he said, and walked out.
This shitty end of season review is no surprise, nothing I hadn't seen coming.
He continues reading about my lack of effort, my needed extra direction, my need to channel my creativity into something more 'relevant.' My mind is half listening, half wandering. I think, very calmly, very collectively, about what reaction I should have when he was finished.
There are two stories being told here. And in this version of the story I'm worthless and stupid and I just don't believe it.
I don't believe it, and I don't care.
The second the guy is done reading I pick up the pen, sign my name and stand up. "Do you want to chat about any of this?" He asks, obviously confused, expecting a fight. I say no. Because there is no point, absolutely no point in spending one more instant with this person, someone who seemed to find no value in everything I take pride in. Signing that document means nothing to me. It is not an admittance to laziness, not a resignation, neither defeat nor triumph. It is nothing.
And then I leave. I put my bag over my shoulder and run down the gangway to the other side of the dock, to the bar for a final beer with my crew mates, the best of the fleet, my treasure. The sun hovers low to the West and the windows of the boats bobbing at the dock glint gold, sparkling, like an entire city lit up at night.