Friday Flash: Oh, for the life of a sailor!

I never knew my parents, no sir. But I like to think that if they knew what I was doing now, that they’d be proud of me. I don’t blame them for what they did, not any more. I used to, before I joined the Navy.

See, the way I look at it is that they were probably real poor, sir. The orphanage where they left me was right near one of the big favelas, and even a dumb Navy boy like me can see that two poor people from the ghettos wouldn’t be able to afford to care for someone born the way I was. Sure, there’s welfare now, and there was then too – but it still isn’t much. It would have been hard for them. Even if they’d been rich folk, I think it would have been hard.

It was even hard for the Sisters at the orphanage … but for all their strictness, sir, they have a lot of care in them, those Sisters. To have raised me to sixteen years of age, an abandoned street boy who couldn’t move more than his face, well, it’s enough to make me think maybe there’s something to their loving Jesus. I don’t believe in him, no sir – the things I’ve seen and been through, it’s hard to keep a belief like that. But it sure worked for those Sisters, and they sure worked for me – even with all my anger. And back then, I had a lot of anger.

Well, sir, I had no hope for much more than I already had, and that wasn’t much. Even the other kids who were my friends, I was jealous of. How could I not be? They were free, free to move where they chose with nothing more than a thought. Believe me, sir – if thought alone could have moved me then, it would have, because I thought a whole lot about moving. Sometimes I’d be watching from the shade as a smaller kid get jumped in the yard, and I’d envy him the ability to feel the kicks, and to flinch away from them. I got beaten a few times too, but it’s no fun beating a kid who doesn’t feel it, and who couldn’t fight back. Lonely times, sir. Angry times.

So I was pretty rude to the recruiting officer when he came. “How’d you like to join the Navy, son?” he asked. I laughed, and called him a real bad curse-word like the Sisters would punish us for. But he just took it, and asked me again. So I asked him what use the Navy could have for a cripple, and he told me that I shouldn’t call myself a cripple, I was just ‘physically disadvantaged’. I laughed again, told him that was about right, and asked him what good a physically disadvantaged kid would be on a ship. “We don’t want to send you to sea, boy,” he said. “How’d you like to go to space?”

Well, I’d never laughed so much in all my life, sir. So hard I cried, and I’d not cried since I was maybe five or six years old. I knew about the Government’s space program, working with the Ecuadorians to help build and defend the elevator. I’d seen los astros, the big strong heroes in the videos. Every kid dreamed of being picked – even the ones who could move. I thought he was mocking me, sir.

But once he explained what they wanted to do, I wasn’t laughing any more. I was dead serious, just like him. He’d shown me a door, sir, a way out of a life with no future. A door into space.

It was funny, sir, the way the Sisters tried to talk me out of it. They’d always said they hoped I’d find a way to make my mark on the world, to be happy, but when I told them what I was going to do, they told me Jesus would have thought it was a bad thing. They told the officer that, too, telling him the Navy were bad people, and that Jesus wouldn’t think well of them for doing it to me either. But he wasn’t bothered, and I was going to be a Navy man, so I decided to act like him and be decisive, too. I listened to their arguments and pleas, and then I signed the papers anyway – the pen gripped so hard in my teeth I nearly broke it – and I let the recruiting officer’s junior carry me to the APC outside.

So that’s how I came to join the Navy, sir, and I tell you I’ve never looked back. Because now I’m freer than all those kids I was in the orphanage with, in some ways. Sure, I can’t kick a football, or turn cartwheels in the dust at siesta time like they did. I can’t stretch out my arm and grab a banana, or shake a hand – and I’ll never know what that’s like. But they’ll never know what it’s like for me, either, sir – what it’s like to feel every system and control surface responding as I glide into a matched orbit, to laser debris with a brief thought. I’ll never shake hands with a man, but I’ve docked with my fellow sailors high above the blue ball of the Earth, sir, and pulled into ports most folk will never get to see outside their screens. I can see further than any normal man, fly faster.

I was made for space, sir. The Navy made me for space.

[For those with a curiosity about origins, this came from reading a few lines from an old sailor’s song I found in a book at work; the refrain went something like “Oh, I was made for the sea, my love / the Navy made me for the sea.” It’s a totally unoriginal idea, but I thought I’d try it anyway and see how it came out.]

5 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Oh, for the life of a sailor!”

  1. I really enjoyed this one, Paul. I think you got the voice just right, with the bitterness and anger seeming genuine but still clearly a part of the narrator’s past, not his present. I also love the idea, and it’s a great riff on the shanty you quoted.

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