Oh yeah? And who gives a shit if I stand out here in the freezing water?
You want to know who I am?
I'll tell you what I am.
I'm Popeye the Sailor man. I live in a moving van. I used to fish the Florida Keys.
I've got pretty short legs, so I can't run very fast or far. So I fight. Or I fought. I fought for my entire life.
Not that I wanted to, but hey, when your family is poor and you have to fish to put food on the table and you go out onto the sea knowing any day could be your last, you either fight the elements or you die.
Horace Beck, that old crab, told me that I oughta thank the sea for providing me food the whole year. Hah! He's the one who wrote the whole book about the sea, and he expects me to thank her? The sea tries to kill me every time I go out.
I'm not kidding. Whenever I went out, there was some storm, or a gigantic fish (who knew they were still around?) that tried to swamp me, or I sprung a leak, or fog rolled in and a huge ship rolled right toward me. It got so nobody would go out with me. Hell, even Bluto used to fish with me, and he stayed when everyone else said no, and finally he gave up. Said Olive must have been right after all. So by the time I was old enough to need some help fishing, I was all alone, in my little dory, gathering what remained of the fish catches of old.
They aren't as big as they used to be. Not since those young'uns with their motorized boats and their purse nets and their fancy electronics went and scooped up most of the fish here. I bet if I had decided to follow them, weherever they went, they'd have fished out that place as well. Hell, they already depleted Somalia, and that place had great fishing. I can't go there unless I want to join up with the pirates and risk sinking them, and they don't deserve that. I could try to join up with the fellows who fish illegally in Somalia's waters, but I bet some of them are young jerks who're trying to feed their families like me, and I wonder if even they deserve to drown.
I'd rather let the sea decide. And she decided to kill me, not them.
What Olive said about the premonition was that the sea wanted me in the depths. Down in the place where no sunlight ever goes. She said the sea would have me there, one day. Said the sea told her it would wear me down, no matter how long it would take. I said, how do you know exactly what someone said in a dream? She said it was a premonition dream, and those are easy to remember. She said the sea's exact words were "I want him in the depths." So I said, why don't I just become a pearl diver? And Olive said the premonition showed her the lightless depths where monstrous fish swim.
She didn't have a premonition about getting swept overboard. Not that she told me, at any rate. Maybe I shouldn't have taken her out fishing with me. But, I could swear that as she went under, I heard her laughing. And she vanished quickly, before I could even throw a line.
The storms have only gotten worse since then.
Why did I decide it was a good idea to become a fisherman in the first place? I was still young. I coulda been a doctor. Or a lawyer. Ah, who am I kidding? I wasn't rich enough to go to doctor school or lawyer academy. My family didn't have books at home. We had a shack on the beach and a real Grand Banks dory, and that was from a time when my grandpappy was rich enough to pay for both, before the depletion of the grand Banks forced him down to the Keys. So what else could I do but fish? Fishing is my family legacy. Fishing is food. Fishing is money from inland wimps who come to the Keys to say how pretty the sea is. Fishing was enough money to turn the shack into a small house, eventually.
My path was clear. What wasn't clear was the sea, when Dad and I went out the first time. Fog rolled in. Sailors don't like fog. Easy to get lost. Imagine being in a place where the floor is flat and featureless and you can't see more than ten feet in front of you. Imagine being in an infinite room in the dark with only a candle to light your way. It's like that. It's why ships have foghorns and lights, so they don't run into each other.
So of course here comes this gigantic ship, must have been a hundred feet long, running full tilt, no foghorn, no lights, running right towards me. I grabbed the oars and hauled ass, and wouldn't you know it, the thing veered towards us. Fortunately it was too big to turn fast enough, and all it did was throw water into the boat as it passed by. Still, it was enough water to make our fish catch float, and half of it washed over the sides, and we were bailing a good long while before we rode high enough to get back home.
Learning to sail was hell. The innocents-in-war-zone kind of hell. You either learn to survive right quick, or you die. Be it a man with a rifle or a gigantic wave, you either learn how to escape from danger, or you're lost. Be it a scramble for food or a storm, you either fight to survive or you agree to die. You learn to read the signs, to see where the storm is coming from, and sometimes the storm comes out of nowhere and there's nothing you can do but hold on.
Dad held on long enough to teach me the ropes. But he didn't have his line tied right, one day, and the sea took him.
It was only then that the other sailors began to call me cursed. They began to veer away from me. Which was fine by me, because it meant there was more fish for me. As word of my curse spread, the other sailors got farther and farther away, and there were always fish for me around my island. I got so many fish that I couldn't handle all of hem, and Bluto said he'd fish with me if we split the profits. And we got as much fish as we wanted, and sold what we could, and ate the rest, and those were good years.
And then he up and abandoned me. Said he couldn't handle the storms. Said everyone was right to call me cursed. Said I belonged with Olive in the briny depths. So I slugged him. That was a merry bar fight, and I've never been back.
And after a while, I had to quit the sea, because I was getting old and tired. There's only so much this old body can take, and I don't feel as strong as I used to.
So I sold my dory to a fishing museum, and retired.
And one day, a storm came up and washed my little house into the sea.
That's what i get for building on sand, I guess. I moved inland. Wouldn't you know it, my house was right by a big river, and a flash flood came up and washed my house into the river. So I moved away from the river, and a hundred-year-flood came up and swamped my new house.
By that point, I was running out of money. So I did what all good sailors do when they get sick of the sea, and I stuck an oar on the side of my RV, and I drove with the oar inland, figuring I'd stop when someone asked me what that thing on my RV was. Only, I'm not Odysseus, and this isn't ancient Greece, and every jackass with half an education knows what an oar is, so I wound up in the middle of Ohio before I found someone dumb enough to ask about it.
And in any case, the moment i figured I'd settle in Ohio, it started to rain.
I decided I'd had it with settling. I'd roam around in my RV and never settle. Maybe pick up some money doing odd jobs, enough to pay for gas. Give a few lectures at colleges about fishing and the sea, play the Horace Beck for the inland crowds, tell my story. It worked for a while. Enough to pay for gas.
But always, the moment I thought about settling somehwere, it rained, and I knew I couldn't settle, and I knew I couldn't keep roaming, and I knew I couldn't go back to the sea. Hell, I parked in the middle of Death Valley and it rained. No respect, no respite for me.
This went on for a few years, and all the while, I wondered what, exactly, was in the lightless depths that the sea wanted me to see. Was it the crazy monsters everyone calls fish? The bones of whales? Starfish? Volcanic vents? Everyone says there isn't much down there because it's too cold and dark, but what do they know? There's something down there that sent a dream to Olive and dragged her down and made storms chase me. Something thrives in that darkness. Something that reaches its limbs up to the sea above and to the sky, and grabs the storms and hauls them my way. Something took a shine to me, or else decided it didn't like me. Little old me. What did I do, besides beat every storm that came my way? What did I do, besides survive seventy years on a sea that usally catches men by the time they're fifty? What could I do in the deep anyway? That's not my place. My place is between the wind and the waves. I'm no SCUBA diver.
Then again, there's only one way to find out, isn't there? And I've had a good run. Might as well see what the sea has in store for me.
So here I stand on the shore, and the waves are getting higher, and higher. Maybe they'll reach up and snag me. Maybe the rain will make me slip. Maybe the wind will blow me into the sea. Who knows? the sea will have its way. I've fought all my life, but now the sea will have its way at last. I thought, as a sailor, I was supposed to stay on top of the waves, and never let myself sink. I thought I was a sailor. I thought I was supposed to stay a sailor and fight the sea my whole life. But I ran away from that, didn't I? Jumped in a moving van and tried to forget it all. Became an ex-sailor.
And yet, here I am again at the sea. What am I, then? Just a lonely old man in the surf? A scrappy survivor whose heart has finally broken? A damn fool? Just another drop in the sea?
I am what I am, whatever that is right now.
It's getting windier. You'd better go.