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Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 6.2 (2004) 15-24
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There is a great scar on the surface of the globe.
This scar or depression holds the Pacific Ocean.
The fishing boat pulls away from the dock in Pearl Harbor. Although it is still dark outside, it is the darkness of first light, a shallow darkness really, grainy like an old movie. We motor quietly past the sleeping frigates and destroyers, their sides rising in steep walls from the harbor, decks and guns indiscernible above us, but there. A few sailors, returning from leave in Waikiki or the CPO club, nod and wave as our fishing boat passes. Having checked in with the officer on deck, they move up the gangplank and disappear into the vast belly of the ship. We pass the empty drydock and the submarine base where boats float like slugs, trailing oil along the surface of the water in ribbons of slime.
Motoring up the channel, I am surrounded by the familiars of my 12-year-old world. These ships and boats are, for me, what trees and ditches must be for other children. They are what occupy the space of my childhood, the outline of home. Like any child, I do not question my surroundings. It is what is. Many of the subs I can identify, like dolls, by name, and those I cannot, I know by class. A few—the Indy, the Tunny, the Aspro—are familiar both inside and out. Captained by the fathers of my friends, their interiors are known. I have washed my face in the tiny metal sink that crowds the far corner of the stateroom, run my hands along the ladder rails, rifled through the video collections, and slid the narrow halls as the submarine dives and surfaces, demonstrating its prowess to the dependents during cruises. Among my prized possessions is a picture of me aboard one of the subs, signed by the captain, proof that I am a part of this world. [End Page 15]
Such intimacy has taken work on my part. The daughter of a naval lawyer rather than a line officer, I grew up feeling outside the "real" navy. My friends' fathers would leave for six months at a time, often unable to say where they were going or what they were doing, leaving their beds and families in the dead of night to sleep for months at the bottom of the sea. This was the type of hardship a military family was to endure. It was hardship you earned, hardship you sought. The longest period my dad would ever leave would be a week to negotiate treaties in Palau or the Middle East. The brevity of his trips, not to mention the fact that he flew over rather than "went to" sea, left me feeling inadequate. I memorized the members of the Fast Attack class of subs to make up for the privilege of having my dad come home at night.
At the back of the boat from where the fishing lines will eventually be reeled out, I sit and watch the subs grow smaller and smaller as we continue to push up the channel. Unlike those times I have stood with my friends to welcome their fathers home from sea or to see them off, this time I am the one leaving the shore. The boats lie bow to stern in sleeping rows along the dock. Soon only the outlines of their sails can be seen, creating rows of skinny crosses in the growing light, hugging the waters at the mouth of the harbor.
Both my brothers love the water; "fish," my mother calls them. They play in the surf for hours on end, lips blue, skin pickled, faces made pink by the sun. It is as if they had never left the womb. But not me. While I have grown up at its edges, I have seldom been comfortable in the ocean. Waves and undertows scare me, rip currents are hard to predict, and boats...