Fær på sjøen
Going fishing is called, in dialect, “fær på sjøen.” It was something boys in Norway did when society couldn’t hold them anymore. I took it for granted I should be allowed to do it too. After a summer fishing cod on F/T Havbryn right out of high school I got my uncle to put in a word for me with the company he worked for off the coast of Alaska. I spoke with them once on the phone and flew to Seattle a few days after the new year in 2001.
I reported for duty at the American Seafoods headquarters in a downtown skyscraper. At that time I hadn’t yet spent any time on my own in a large American city. Things were so exotic to me that almost ten years later I still remember innocuous details and mistakes I made speaking to people. Who knows what they made of me, a dark-haired girl about five feet tall, shipping out for the “A” season alongside gigantic Samoan men, bearded Americans, and a huge assortment of South Americans. On the F/T Ocean Rover we were around one hundred crew, a dozen officers, and half a dozen support staff, mostly galley workers. They called it “steaming” as we sailed from Seattle past Canada to Alaska and then out along the Aleutian chain. I had already met Jay at “crew-up,” the big information session where they tried to scare away anyone having second thoughts. He sat down across from me and I looked into the clearest green eyes I had ever seen. I remember just the eyes, nothing else about him. Dwelling on it, I have thought about what my aunt, an anaesthesiology nurse, told me once about deeply sedated people—when you look into their pupils they’re so dilated you feel as if you are looking them straight in the brains.
Utilitarian situations, like factories and boats, don’t get enough credit for being beautiful. Our galley was beautiful and spare, everything purpose-built that functioned exactly the way it was intended was beautiful, even the machines for killing fish and slicing them up. When I went ice-skating as a kid, going into a pirouette I always loved the feeling of being inside the vortex and staying there, keeping the spin going, being strong and knowing how to position myself. On the boat, I had the same feeling of bending my limbs instinctively to keep up a force I knew how to live inside. When Jay knocked on the side of my bunk to wake me for my cleaning shift, before fishing even began, as we were still cruising along the Canadian coast, I reached out from under my covers and took his cold hand. There it was. It was as if a contract had been signed. Nothing we did after that felt any more intimate, just further into the same thing.