On the Sea: Coping With a Family Member’s Deployment

by: Patrick Gill

I want to say I was born without internal motivation, but that kind of self-defeating rhetoric is what I just started trying to fix.  That kind of internal dialogue manifesting doesn’t allow me the chance to even try to find hope.  I think I scooped out my will power when I was around 15; plopped the wet pink ball that I assume it looks like into a back pocket of jeans that I still keep — even though the ratty patches I whip-stitched on to repair their burst crotch have now torn, not to mention they haven’t fit for half a decade.  That doesn’t sound like optimism, but it means I still have a chance of finding faith in myself.

I’ve been trying to reintroduce myself to poetry as a means of improving my writing.  We broke up a while ago.  I am back to being just friends with it.  I am seeing prose right now actually, but I want to remember what I did well with poetry and see if I can bring those things to my current relationship.  I want a few word-smashing image-thick spurts in my work.  That’s not exactly a metaphor for sex, I just want to be a better writer.  I consult the digital tome for the regimented stanza’d and the free.  “On the Sea” by John Keats is bright at a 3:30 am desklamp-lit moment.  My back unrolls the C it’s cracked itself into.  After reading the lines, I think of my brother.  This is the third time already that day that I have thought of him.  I realize this thought is something I cannot lose.  No one should ever lose a brother, especially while the brother is still alive.

I highly doubt I will find another human being who has affected me as deeply as my brother, Jeff.  As the slick embodiment of powerful masculinity, the quiet wisdom and the arresting charisma; my brother was more than my childhood idol, he was the person I felt closest to.  He left for school in Portland, there was a brief rift between us due to his stint of “I only believe in non-fiction, logic and black coffee,” we came to amend this in a short time.  I think it really started to bond with him again when I started drinking black coffee too.  What didn’t help was the more time I spent in Chicago.

I didn’t exactly leave the West Coast out of resentment of it, but I left for something new, for somewhere I could feel comfortable and honest.  Enter the Metropolis of the Midwest — jewel of the plain-speaking Plains, a grey Big Shoulder City that still has a soft heart.  When I leave somewhere I have a damn hard time looking back.  I was ignorant of this for most of my time in college, my awareness of it now will not help me win back the friends I have alienated, I pray it helps me reconnect with my family.

Compiled with my horse-in-blinders mentality in relationships, is that my brother enlisted in the Navy my Freshman year of college.  I was actually the one of first people he told about his choice to join the military.  If you could believe it, this actually brought us closer together — geographically and socially.  He went through Boot Camp and his first few months of training up at the Great Lakes Naval Base, the Quarter Deck of America.  On weekends that he could, he would ride the Metra into town.  Wrapped in a black issued pea-coat, tall-boy cloaked in a paper back and clenched in his fist: tall man — a fellow sailor named Pearson, near constantly drunk by his side.  Jeff, Pearson, my roommates Bruch and Sascha and I would then proceed to shoot the breeze and drink before those of age – which I was yet to be- went out on the town.  He would crash on the couch, Pearson on the floor, on good days he wouldn’t have to wake up early for muster and we could have breakfast together.

Then came Pensacola, the beginnings of my sporadic communication; then, San Diego, even less talk until his announced engagement to his now wife, Silvia. In between this and his wedding, he was deployed to the Gulf for months.  I talked with Silvia from time to time, got updates through e-mails, never even asking myself why I wasn’t responding.  As the wedding drew closer, communication between us picked up, I was the Best Man; I had to talk, I spoke at their wedding, I was so happy to have this channel of communication.  Sadly I lost it after he was deployed for the second time.  There was more sporadic talk of where and when he was going to leave.  I lost myself in worrying, in almost not knowing the next move so I could subconsciously keep my brother in a happy tuxedo’d stasis.  Plus, I was busy, grinning and grimacing with blinders on, I didn’t think talking was within my abilities.

He is now gone on a trans-global route, made stops in the South Pacific, making it up into the Gulf again, then West.  Gone for months, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, I went without saying more than a few sentences; maybe a burst of story that I couldn’t manage to return.  It’s not that I wouldn’t talk.  I convinced myself I couldn’t; I almost presented myself as spiteful of the urgings of my family to talk to my brother.   Everyone knew how much he meant to me, somehow I was too wary to believe I could mean something to him.  They talked to me about my importance and all I could do was quake gently and nod, believing they were just releasing pity for someone who looked and sounded like he always needed it.  Luckily, I was almost always on the other side of a phone,  they could not see my distress clouding around me.  I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to, I kept telling myself I couldn’t though.  I just kept hearing pity or my resounding inability to reach out.  Right now, I can’t remember a moment where I was not moved without the push of someone’s word.  This does not mean it has never happened, this does not mean I will never act without a verbal nudge.

After reading “On the Sea,” I started writing to my brother, weekly.  I don’t know what to write, I still do it.  I want him to share in the life he helped make.  I want to offer him some source of comfort.  It’s strange because really, my correspondence is the antithesis of the poem’s interpretation. Keats leads his readers to the sea as a place of rejuvenation, splendor, and awe.  This is true, but the sea is also a place where you can drown; and rejuvenation, that can come at hands clacking and skipping down lines making more new phrases.  Splendor can be uncovered in memories.  Awe can be in the silent reflection of what is waiting on the shore.

Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know.  He is a poet, essayist and short story writer and is working on two novels.  He also frequently performs at open mics in Chicago, including the Paper Machete.  He is an alumnus of DePaul, and currently is developing LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools.  He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter.  His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.


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