Monday, October 10, 2011
The docks creak as the boat pulls away, easing into the harbor. I'm sleepy awake—a short night's slumber, an early morning, two non-drowsy Dramamine—and I feel a little woozy.
Around me, fellow passengers eat breakfast from trays and the air smells smoky sweet, essence of bacon and maple syrup. Families file outside to watch as we glide into the open sweet water sea of Lake Michigan. People dot the breakwater and piers, waving to the big ship as it cruises west for the last time this season.
The Michigan dunes are impressionistic autumnal. The lake rolls with small waves, and the ship lumbers along, at a slow 16 miles per hour.
I am sad.
The falling leaves, the last day of sailing, both signs of the coming winter. My mom, now out of sight, driving back down the lake, farther away form me. My cell phone spins and roams, still connecting but not for long.
A group of Great Lakes Maritime Academy students gather in the lounge downstairs, and a young man with piercing eyes stares my way.
I sit in the upper aft deck, where small round tables fill an airy enclosed room. I can face forward, which is west, which is the direction of my chosen home, where my fiance waits for me.
A toddler with long blond hair and a pink sweatshirt grapples with a glittery Rubik cube. She sits on her grandma's lap; her mom types a college paper on her laptop, a classic composition notebook at her side.
The boat is full.
A stack of papers fills my clipboard and my purple pen is uncapped and poised to critique my students' words.
Old people, young people sport sea bands to prevent motion sickness, and drink coffee. The ruffle of cards being shuffled, and the banter of multi-person games surround me.
My cell phone sits next to me, as I hope to catch the moment when we slip between time zones. The phone is confused, switching back and forth, and time eludes me.
Our here in the middle of the lake, I am somewhere and nowhere. I am home.
The boat bustles with conversation and activity. A dedicated stream of people perambulates the outdoor deck, eyes shining in the bright morning sun, hair winging back in the light breeze. My cell signal is lost, and I settle in, deeper, into myself.
The 410 foot ship plies the water, frothing the dark aquamarine depths into a deep V and enfolding whirls. One hour away from docking, and the shore of Wisconsin begins to rise on the horizon, shadowy and ill-defined.
A father and young daughter eat soft pretzels. A Grandma walks briskly around the boat. On the fore deck, books claim chaise lounges and, inexplicably, a Canadian flag flutters from the bow.
Back in the aft lounge, a brother cajoles his sister to smile for the camera, "Bree! Say cheese!" while a large family eats pizza and plays cards. Behind me, a woman meticulously pores over bound lab reports.
People move, shift, pack up, and disappear into the boat, but I stay rooted, a stack of papers, now graded, a slim volume of short stories beckoning like candy.
As we glide into the harbor, I scan the shore for my neighborhood, my workplace. As we pull closer to shore, poised to back into the dock, I circle around to the port side and scan the shore for a familiar figure, tall, dressed in short sleeves and jeans, lifting a Nikon, and walking with a gait I recognize from a distance.
The captain blows the horn a few extra times, and the dock replies. Soon, she will depart for one more trip across the Lake and then settle in for winter.
I gather my bags, walk down the stairs, head into the bright sun, and a warm hug.