4. The Starry Eyes

My dreams of fulfilling my purpose, of being part of something greater than myself are coming true, and it overshadows everything else. Until it doesn’t.

In San Diego, where I am now, most of Shoup’s crew is stationed at a training facility where we use mock ships to learn how to fight fires and to patch holes in pipes and bulkheads and escape flooding spaces while thousands of gallons of water rush onto our heads.

I am a sponge for learning everything I can to prepare for life onboard the ship. The thought of finally getting there fills me with electricity.

My dreams of fulfilling my purpose, of being part of something greater than myself, are coming true, and it overshadows everything else.

Until it doesn’t.

close up of blurry lights indigo and pink

I am either in total denial of the evil around me, or the alcohol clouds my judgment so much that I just can’t recognize it.

Believe me when I tell you it starts with our Commanding Officer.

There are no such things as bad apples, only bad barrels, and he is cultivating a dank one. He is so distracted by the limelight that young, new captains like him get from the Navy and media, that we joke about his whereabouts, saying that you can find him in the mirror.

Wherever he is, he isn’t paying attention to us.

Young sailors, male and female, are sleeping with their bosses, the crew is in a constant state of spring break partying, and sexual harassment has become so much the norm throughout and between our ranks that my efforts to protect myself from it are met with more of it.

Untrusting of everyone at the training command, I see the base chaplain who, after I tell him about the climate, puts his hand on my knee and tells me to grow thicker skin.

The lewdness is insidious. I see a girl tip back a new bottle of Jack Daniels at a Friday afternoon picnic and nearly finish it as she sits on my boyfriend’s lap, and it doesn’t faze me.

A few months later, scandal topples the whole circus in a huge case of sexual misconduct.

It’s been so toxic for so long that when all of it goes down, it’s not shocking, it’s inevitable. 

close up of storm clouds pink and orange and indigo over dark sky

After the sentencing, thank God the Navy starts watching us; our skipper has to shape up.

Now that we’ve finished building the ship at the Navy Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, we sail her through the Panama Canal to Seattle, Washington, and I finally get to try my sea legs. 

Though the pressure that I put on myself to be the perfect sailor will almost kill me. 

It’s been that way for me as long as I can remember: Dad said over and over again that I was a mistake, and even if it was in jest, it got in my head and stayed there.

I wanted so badly to earn my place, my right in this world, that I put unattainable expectations on myself that took over my mind, yelling at me to get it right, aching to celebrate a victory, and doing anything to avoid the shame of defeat.

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