the boys are back on deck

10 July 2013 § Leave a comment

I have mere hours before returning to the sea. Our 32′ drift gillnetter, the spectacle they call the Okuma, waits patiently in the Dillingham harbor, for her third departure since April, when we arrived to fish herring in Togiak.

A week ago, my crewmate lost his pinky. ‘I think I fucked up,’ he said. ‘I lost a finger.’

‘Where’d it go!?’ I said, thinking he might be kidding. But he made direct eye contact with me, a scarce event, and he spun in a circle, in shock. His gloves hid the gore for moments after. The skipper yelled to me, keep picking! get the net on board! As he and his wife rummaged through the first aid kit, Pinky hit the hydraulic valve to bring the net up.

You warrior, I said. Go sit down. Take care of that shit.

More yelling from the skipper.

We roundhauled the net aboard, fish and all, and took off for the hospital. We had to save his finger, not a glob of mush at the bottom of a glove. The tides were right to get him to Ekuk quickly, where a setnetter flew him to Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham. When my skipper called the hospital to see how Pinky was doing, they patched him through to their surgery patient.

‘No, really,’ said Pinky, ‘the doctor is pulling the bone out right now with – wait, what’s that tool called? – something or other. I can’t feel a thing.’

Maybe I shouldn’t have called him before the fishing season. We didn’t get along from the start. I tried to get along with him, and all that came up was my attitude. Pinky was my mirror, a version of myself whom I’d despised for so much of my life, and I disrespected him time and time again. My condescending tone told him what he needed to know about me, and my arrogant behavior in Togiak as it concerned my friendship with the girl he was crushing on was, according to unwritten rules I was not them aware of, completely unacceptable. It placed a rift between us that would make our three months together feel like an eternity.

Before we laid out that set in Flounder’s Flats, he said to me, If only we could go back to town for a couple of days and recharge. His case of red ass spread faster than mine, and it brought him back to town the moment he felt ready. Perhaps the price was too high. We were just starting to get along, to quiz each other on movie quotes and share travel stories, most of which included beautiful women and exotic locations – as if that was why we traveled, ha! – and the end of the season was in sight. It was July second already, and we’d be sipping mai thais on the beach by the 20th, wads of cash crinkled in our pockets. The early salmon run had worked only in our favor, what with catching 28,000 pounds of fish in 65 knot winds on the west line. Over and over.

There’s only so much time now. Pinky’s replacements lasted a week, their grace and chemistry on the deck a miracle that made the days slide my like a slippery fish on the bloody aluminum. Inspiration from a fellow writer, Tim Clemen. ‘You know, you should have backed off in Togiak, played the wingman. You know that, right? Lay down the Cool, he told me.

I knew he was right, just like he was right when he said do what you love. If you want to write, he said, then write, and do nothing else. You’ll succeed, I guarantee it. Five years in audio engineering, five years fishing. Give writing five years of your energy, and you’ll get here, he said, looking around the spectacle they call the Okuma. It doesn’t get better, until you’re in the wheelhouse running the show. Out here, we’re boys, and always will be.

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