Excerpt from: Lessons in Despondency
“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility
for one’s own life – is the source from which self-
– Joan Didion
The warm morning sun awakened the captain but he wasn’t quick to open his eyes. He had been having a good dream, one of him chasing he sons, both of them, down the beach and up the seawall, Sara and Jaime standing at the top, to the ship that was waiting to take them all into the black. In the dream Leigh was the same age as he is today but Noah was about ten years old, which, of course, wasn’t possible but we can’t help what we dream.
He fought to keep the dream fresh, wanting to go back into it, but, for all his efforts, it began to fade. Finally he opened his eyes and looked around him. It took a minute to remember where he was, and who he was. Both came crashing back as the combadge on the stand next to the bed buzzed shrilly.
He thought about ignoring it but knew he couldn’t. He wondered if it would be Jared or if he had asked Kassie to com him again to check in on him. He thought he might just tell him what he thought of the cowardly act but couldn’t, since he had been being just exactly that for the last few months – refusing to face reality.
He reached for the pin, punched the tiny skull and said, “Go.”
“Sorry for disturbing you so early, Captain Bryce. Jared and Eve are wondering if you’ll be returning to the ship today, they were hoping to get in some off-ship time,” said Dylan.
“Let them know to go ahead, as long as the ship is secured,” said Iain. He knew he hadn’t actually answered his, or their, question.
“Uh… alright, sir, I will let them know,” said Dylan.
“I’ll have my combadge close if you have need of me, Master Nason. Anything else?” asked the captain, essentially telling him he wasn’t intending on answering the question either.
“No, Captain, nothing else right now.”
Iain honestly didn’t know if he was going to return to the ship, at that particular moment he didn’t even want to get out of the bed. His eyes went to the doors that opened to the beach and just watched the surf moving up and down it for a while. His eyes shifted to the sails of a fishing boat on the horizon. He wondered if the pirates of old, the ones who sailed the watery seas, back and forth between the continents of Earth, had it any easier than he did.
He threw off the sheets, sat on the edge of the bed then pulled on the same pants he had worn the day before. He walked to the doors, opened them, stepped onto the deck and let the warm, damp, sea air wash over him.
The captain walked down the steps to the beach and began to walk up it, in the opposite direction of the sandbar where he ship was. He had close to a mile of beach ahead of him and all the time in the world to just walk it.
He did this for close to two hours, stopping every few feet and looking at the water. He watched pods of dolphins playing in the waves, birds searching for fish, saw a huge whale jump way out in the distance and a sailboat moving with the waves.
None of these things made him feel any better, or stopped the thoughts running rampart in his head.
He climbed a sand dune along the edge of the beach and laid back on it for the next few hours, letting the sun bake his skin.
It was getting dark by the time he finally stood, brushed the sand off himself, shook his hair out and started back to the house.
He went back in the doors off the bedroom, peeled the slacks off as he went through to the bathroom, turned on the shower and climbed in again. He wasn’t able to use as hot of water as he had wanted because he had a bit of a sunburn on his chest and the front of his arms and the skin on his back was pitted from laying for so long in the sand. Finally, not especially feeling like that particular form of pain, he shut off the water and grabbed the waiting towel.
He stepped back into the bedroom, ready to climb back under the sheets and go back to unconscious oblivion. He jumped and caught his breath when he found he wasn’t alone.
“Just once I would like to step into my bedroom and not find someone sitting in wait for me,” snapped the captain.
Leigh only sniggered a little to that.
“Well?” asked Iain, “unless you are planning to tuck me in speak what’s on your mind already and get out.”
“I’m wondering when you’re going to get your head out of your ass,” said Leigh plainly.
Iain wasn’t sure he had heard his son right at first. He guffawed and said, “You do realize I can have you flogged for what you just said to me?”
“I am not talking to you as a grunt right now, Dad.”
“I wouldn’t take that from a son either, Leigh.”
“Master Way is scared to death to say anything to you and no one else seems ready to step up, so I am it. Do to me what you will.”
“Look, Kid, you’ve been lucky enough to only see bits and pieces of my mess. I got a right lot of shit going on right now. I don’t need you, or anyone else, telling me how to make it better ‘cause there ain’t nothing that is going to.”
“Wallowing in self pity certainly won’t.”
“Think what you like, Leigh, I really don’t give two shits,” said Iain as he grabbed the pants he had peeled off and began to pull them back on.
“You keep saying that but I know better, Dad. You’ve always looked for other peoples’ approval, you can’t function without it.”
“I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.”
“If you didn’t care you would have never written the letters to your crew and me when you thought you were going to die, or come to your own funeral service.”
“I went to the funeral because I wanted to make sure you all were all right, Leigh. I was not looking to count how many were crying about me being gone.”
Leigh continued on as if not hearing him, “Miss Tyler was brought on board so you could show people why we do what we do but did you ever notice who is front and center of near every scene? You. Tell me that wasn’t so the people would have an image of Iain Bryce when they said your name?”
“You don’t know nothing, Kid,” said Iain as he sank onto the bed.
“I am the exact same way. I never got any real attention growing up so I did, and still do, everything I can to get it now. Mother never wanted anything to do with me and I thought you didn’t either so I was always looking for ways to make it known I exist.”
“It’s not my fault you didn’t have the childhood you deserved, Leigh. I didn’t know about you, remember?” snapped Iain, sick of feeling bad for that.
“I’m not blaming you for that, Dad.”
“Yet you right like bringing it up every chance you get?”
“I know you don’t think you can be a good father because of what you had as one… and that you are trying to be one… I do understand.”
“You understand? When you get fucking beaten to within an inch of your goddamn life, dozens of times, by your father, spend a year living on garbage to survive, then spend three years in a fucking hellhole of a prison having to keep other inmates from raping you, or worse, for trying to keep your father from killing you then you can fucking tell me you understand who and what I am, Leigh.”
“You say I should stop bringing up my childhood but you like to dwell on yours, don’t you?”
“Yeah, like you said, we’re right fucking just alike, you and I.”
“Uncle Ryar told me a lot of lies about you, but there was one thing he said that I always kept coming back to. The one thing that I think frightened him about you. He said you were very strong. I am beginning to think maybe that was just another of his lies.”
“There is always a bit of lie in every truth,” said Iain dejectedly.
“So, you are just giving up then? I thought you weren’t a quitter?”
“We’re all of us quitters, Kid; it’s just a matter of finding what is the final straw.”
“You gonna let everyone aboard the ship know or are you just going to disappear again, Dad? Do you want me to tell them anything for you or do you have a letter already written?”
“I didn’t want to fucking disappear then, Leigh,” growled Iain.
“You certainly enjoyed it, though; this is a damn nice house.”
“This was like a prison for me.”
“One you could have left at anytime.”
“Go, now, Leigh. I’m not going to fucking do this with you,” said Iain, shaking his head fiercely and pointing at the door.
“Why? Are you getting really mad now? Master Cable said you always start swearing when you are really mad, Dad. Do you feel like you’re going to hit something? You want the door casing to the bathroom or the entrance? Or maybe, try something different for a change,” said Leigh as he stood up and stepped before his father, “Why don’t you try something that will fight back for a change, huh?”
Iain seriously thought about pushing his son out of his face. He wanted very badly to punch him at that moment. He got an image in his mind of himself saying nearly the same things to his father the day he had beaten him to within an inch of his life. He was screaming at the man for the years of abuse he had given his mother, who hadn’t ever fought back, and all the years of abuse he had taken and never tried to defend himself, until the final fateful battle.
“I don’t want to do this, Leigh.”
“What? Face your problems?”
“You don’t know… you can’t understand.”
“So tell me, Dad, make me understand,” said Leigh quickly, “Scream and shout, jump up and down, throw something, hit something, do whatever it takes.”
Iain didn’t say anything.
Leigh wasn’t ready to give up though; he shoved his father’s shoulder then, “Well?”
Iain stumbled back onto the bed and sat stunned that his son had laid hands on him. He stood up and pushed him back several feet then balled up his fist as if ready to hit him.
Leigh didn’t back down, he stepped up to within inches of his father’s face and said, “Go ahead. Do it as my father or the captain or just as a man, but do it!”
“Get out!” said Iain, pushing his son back a few feet again; he was not going to do this. “Get the fuck out, NOW, Kid!”
“Why, getting mad?” asked Leigh, not backing down, getting right back in his face.
“Leigh,” said Iain menacingly, “This is not going to end well.”
“You will not drive me away, Dad, no matter what you do. We need our captain back.”
“You need me? You need me? When do I get what I fucking need, Leigh?” shouted Iain. “You’re nothing but a fucking leech! You and the rest of them on that goddamned fucking ship! You are… all of you are nothing but fucking leeches, bleeding me fucking dry. I don’t need any of you. Especially not you. GET OUT!”
Leigh did step back from the venom in those words but he knew he was getting close to the edge of his father’s issue now. “And?”
“And? And? I am fucking sick and tired of it all, Leigh. I have done this for twenty four years and I got nothing, NOTHING, to show for it except a bunch of fucking scars. I don’t want any more scars… I don’t want any more pain… I don’t want… I don’t fucking want…”
“What do you want, Dad?”
“What, Dad? WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
“I WANT JAIME BACK, I WANT SARA AND MY… and my… I want to be a part of my son’s life, Leigh. Both of them. I WANT MY CREW BACK,” said Iain as he sank back onto the bed and dropped his head into his hands.
“So? What do you need to do to get that?”
“I don’t know,” said Iain through his hands. “I don’t fucking know.”
“Until you do you will never be better, and you will cease to matter,” said Leigh, then he walked out of the room leaving his father reeling.
Iain thought about what his older son said for several hours after he left. Leigh was right, he did need to get his shit together but he truly didn’t know how to do that.
He’d told Jaime once he was nothing without him by his side and he was quickly proving that statement true. He didn’t especially like who he was without him but the man wasn’t going to be there anymore and he really wasn’t ready to let himself ‘cease to matter’ as Leigh had said.
He climbed onto the bed and closed his eyes, fighting back the tears waiting to spill out.