August 1980

I had lost what must have been hours standing at my usual perch, looking over the rail on the back of the ship, watching the wake. I was transfixed by thhypnotic swirling of the trail of white-blue water churned up by the giant propellers. The ocean reveals its own rainbow of blues, turning dark as night as you venture into the seemingly bottomless depths, the color highlighted by streaks of orange where the the sun rises and sets on either side of the day.  I can always tell where I am by the color of the sea. In the Crayola box of all blues, the water of my home base in New York’s Port Authority would be simply called Steely-Cold-Greenish-Grey-Blue. The color of the waters in my favorite destinations in the Caribbean Sea would have fanciful magical names like Aqua-Dolphin-Blueberry-Pie.  But the middle of the ocean is always Midnight-Blackish-Blue, even when you are crossing the equator at Noon, when the sun is at its strongest peak.

I was suddenly jarred back to reality hearing my name called, but thinking it was my imagination, because I was alone. I turned around when I heard my name again, this time noticing the loud speaker fixed to the bulkhead. I was being paged. I rushed inside, and went directly to the purser’s desk, knowing that a shipboard page meant urgent, and usually bad news.

The officer said they had received several calls for me from New York, and that an operator was waiting to patch through a ship to shore return call. I went into the tiny room that fit a single wood chair, and picked the telephone handset off the hook, and noticed there was no way to dial out. But the shipboard communications officer quickly spoke, asking me to stand by. The open line sounded both sonic and surreal, as if the voices between land and sea literally traveled underwater through some sort of Jules Vern invention.   

When the call went through, my greatest fears were realized, and my knees went weak. It was my boyfriend, Lou, who was so mad that I went on this cruise vacation without him that he wasn’t even speaking to me when I left. In that eerie, slow motion deep drawn out cadence of a ship to shore call, I heard the words I dreaded most, “Will you marry me?” Inside my head, I was shouting out my one word response over and over, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Out loud, I calmly answered the only way I could, “Yes.”

Although there was no physical cord connecting the receiver on my end to the phone in his upstate New York apartment, I could almost feel the line wrap around my body and yank me right back to him at home.

Home is a relative concept. I feel most at home out here in the middle of nowhere on a ship at sea.  Lou often plays the Billy Joel song, “You’re My Home”, making very clear the point that he feels he has nobody else to depend on, and that I define home to him. How can I say “No” to his marriage proposal when I am his home? To me, the epitome of “home-home” is my mother’s best effort at a home cooked dinner: Shake-and-Bake pork chops, freeze dried instant mashed potatoes, canned corn, and Mott’s applesauce.  I would take her packaged pork chop dinner over any gourmet meal, anytime.

Having grown up in a multi-generation Long Island Italian household, Lou has a better reference for the taste of a legitimate good home cooked meal.  With just a brief glance, you can tell he’s Italian; he reeks of it. With the richness of his long lineage of Mediterranean blood, his eyes are darker than the deepest parts of the ocean…black, without any hint of blue or even a tinge of brown in the flecks. His piercing eyes dig deeply into anyone they gaze upon, probing for their ulterior motives. Even when he is laughing, his presence is overpowering and intimidating. He calls them “horsey teeth”, but when he smiles, his oversized ivories bare themselves more like the big bad wolf than as Mr. Ed. Quite often, when he is deep in thought, I see his lips moving, his eyebrows speaking a language of their own, and his head nodding or shaking, sometimes in agreement, but more often in some sort of silent debate with himself. I mentioned this tendency to him once, but will never bring it up again. 

So now, I guess we are getting married. Lou said to not tell anyone for awhile. That works for me. I just turned 18 last week. Nobody is going to think this is a good idea.

 

2 Thoughts.

  1. Jo,
    Do you think that being the daughter of a strong willed father and a submissive mother made you blind to your attraction to a controlling and abusive male figure???

    • The short answer is “Yes.”
      I’ve included a lot of details about my relationship with my parents and my observations about their interactions, because I have no doubt that we are all strongly impacted by those closest to us while growing up. At the time, I was pretty oblivious, and would have said that Lou was nothing like my dad, and that I was nothing like my mom. However, looking back, I can see there are many ways in which I was conditioned by both my mother and my father that influenced my instinctive attractions, my choices, my acceptance of what I considered “normal”, and how I responded to situations. I think they both had passive aggressive manipulative tendencies that I subconsciously either emulated or rejected by taking an equally dysfunctional extreme position.

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