by Ross West
Dear Mrs. Doyle,
I am writing because I want to thank you. I was pretty twisted up back then and you were the only person who went out of their way to help me. After I left Ainsburg I didn’t really think much about Amy and Carl (him more interested in his Fosters beer than in being my foster dad) but I thought about you and hoped you didn’t think I was dead. I almost was, a couple of times. I got in with the wrong people and did some really stupid stuff but I didn’t know how else to live. Then I saw a flyer stapled to a telephone pole advertising the Green Navy.
I read and reread the brochures the guy at the Recruiting Center gave me and dreamed about going to sea. They won’t take you until you are 18 so I had to wait a couple of weeks and signed up on my birthday.
We have more than 200 ships in the fleet, all rigged up to scoop plastic “catch” out of the ocean. There’s so much plastic in the ocean it will take 50 years to clean up even half of it. The Navy is part of a big UN program, the Green Globe Agenda, and our crews come from countries all around the world. Everybody has to be under 25 except the captain and officers.
Remember when I was a little kid and went crazy about Galactic Marauders and you bought me those books? That’s how excited I was when I finally got on board the Nike Nereid. All the ships have corporate sponsors.
Did you know that the word nausea comes from an old Greek word that means ship? I learned that the hard way. My first week on board I got seasick so bad the ship’s doctor had to give me oxygen and I.V.s of water and pills to knock me out.
When I woke up, a girl was sitting there looking at me with green eyes that were like nothing I’d ever seen. She said they were the color of malachite, which must be the prettiest rock there is. She had long reddish brown hair and was taller than me which isn’t all that tall if you remember. Her name is Julia. When she was a kid she was in a car wreck that killed both her parents and her brother. She lost her left arm at the elbow. I watched her brush her hair and then she used her one hand to braid it. I told her I didn’t think I could do that in a million years. She smiled about that and I smiled back.
I have to go now. My shift is about to start. I’m a lowly “swabbie” but they’re teaching me how to weld and do other useful stuff. Last month we set a record for the Nereid with sixty more tons of plastic than ever before.
* * *
Dear Mrs. Doyle,
Thanks for the letter. I am happy to hear that Mr. Mumbles is still with you and purring away. A lot has happened since I wrote you. The big news is that Julia and I got together. I’ve never felt the way I feel about her. They have strict rules on board about what they call “fraternizing” in other peoples rooms but we snuck a key to one of the aft storage compartments. A couple times she was able to get some beer and we had ourselves some sweet little parties. Just us, staying up all night, talking about everything, holding each other. It was so great, then we got busted. We were put “on reprimand” for two weeks.
After that her roommate got assigned to the graveyard shift and we figured a way to fraternize in her cabin. One night we were in our little nest with a candle and some wine and having fun riding out a big storm in the Gulf of Alaska. I wanted to impress her and told her this thing I learned in one of my classes (I’m working on my GED). We learned all about the damage people have done to the environment and how its almost like we’re a cancer on the planet.
She said she knew a poem that talked about that same thing, only a little different, and got the book and read it to me. The poem’s called Busy Being Born and it’s about this couple in a car tearing down a narrow mountain road on a black rainy night. They’re trying to get to a hospital because the woman in the back seat is in labor. They drive as fast as they can, screeching around the turns, almost falling into this super deep canyon. With all that rain they can hardly see and the labor pains keep getting stronger. The baby insists on being born.
Julia said the poem is about how humans have made so many dumb mistakes, but it’s all education, all necessary and even if they did goof up, they were mostly trying to make something good happen. She said that maybe we are a cancer, but we’re also learning to be better. She is the deepest and most beautiful girl in the world, ever.
I didn’t tell you this before, but I know you’ll understand. On the outside Julia is friendly and funny and as positive as anyone I’ve ever met, but inside it’s different. Losing her arm really messed up her self-image. She had to have eleven operations to fix problems caused by her accident. Her body has a lot of scars. She was scared about us getting close and cried when she showed me. I cried because she cried, and I loved her all the more. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.
We got busted again. The Disciplinary Officer put us on reprimand for a whole month. She said we were one infraction away from getting tossed off the ship.
Being apart only made us crazier to see each other. We were only able to sneak off two more times before we got busted again.
The Disciplinary Officer called us in for a meeting and was laying out how disappointed she was and how she had no choice and all that stuff. Just then out of nowhere Julia says she’s pregnant. It was the first I heard about it, so I was shocked, super happy, and afraid all at the same time.
Turns out the Green Navy is tough on fraternizing but very supportive of swabbies having kids. When the ship docks next week in Seattle we’ll get off and be reassigned to new jobs at the onshore facility where the Navy’s plastic catch gets processed. Kind of exciting.
* * *
Dear Mrs. Doyle,
It’s four in the morning and I’m in the Maternity Ward waiting area. The plan was for me to be in the delivery room with Julia, but that got changed. In the last few months a bunch of complications developed from her previous medical conditions. I’ve been sitting here for nine hours worrying. I want so much for her, for both of them, to be all right.
It’s been a while since my last letter. We got married. We have a nice little apartment. The building has a community garden where we have a plot. Julia has been teaching me about weeding and hoeing and watering, fertilizer, all that stuff. We planted strawberries and just a couple of days ago the first one was ready to pick. We stood there in the garden, Julia so big she was about to pop, handing back and forth this very sweet very red strawberry, taking little nibbly bites and laughing. I don’t think anybody could ever be happier than we were right then.
The nurse just came by and for about the tenth time I asked her if there was any news. The first few times she tried to explain to me how some births go fast and some go slow. Now she just tells me to be patient.
Writing to you makes it like somebody’s here with me.
The work we do at the plant is really cool. We take the raw plastic and sort it, clean it, and shred it into pellets. Then we turn the pellets into roof shingles, car bodies, street paving slurry, different sizes of “lumber” for every kind of construction you can think of. Basically, we turn crap into gold.
I can see out the window the sky is starting to get light. I’m getting a little punchy.
Can you believe the politicians actually got off their butts and got this thing done? It used to be so scary when we thought the whole planet was gonna be toast. Now the Navy and all the other Green World initiatives are actually working. People are starting to understand about taking responsibility and doing things different. Finally!
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up and taking responsibility. Maybe it’s because of the baby.
There is something I need to tell you. You probably saved my life when you took me in after everything with Amy and Carl blew up so bad. I would have been on the street and at fifteen and as scrawny as I was I don’t think I would have lasted very long out there. So thank you so much for giving me a place to stay, talking with me, not judging me, helping me in every way you could.
That’s what makes this next thing so hard to say. While you were being so good to me I did two very stupid and wrong things that make me sick every time I think of them. I went through your purse a bunch of times. At first I just took a dollar, then a few, then more. The day I left I took a twenty.
I also took some of your pills.
You probably noticed.
I repaid your kindness by being a little thief. I’ve wondered if getting burned by me made you feel less willing to help other people. If it did, I didn’t just steal from you, I also hurt your heart.
I can’t really do anything about the pills except fess up and say how sorry I am that I took them. About the money, I’ve put 50 dollars in with this letter. I hope you will forgive me.
Working up my courage to write you all this has opened my eyes to something I never really saw before. All those fights I had with Amy and Carl, all the yelling and screaming, the time I got so mad I drove their car through the garage door, I was positive it was all their fault. They hated me, so I hated them right back. But it takes two to tangle. How horrible it must have been for them to live with such a pissed-off little jerk turd like I was, never knowing what trouble I would get in next, what new problems I was gonna cause. They gave me a home and took care of me the best they could. They were not perfect by a long shot, but they loved me. I get that now.
I heard they moved. Do you have their new address? I’d like to write to them. I know Amy would want to know about the baby.
The nurse just came over and said the best words anyone ever heard. “Your wife is fine. Your daughter is healthy and beautiful.” I’ll be able to see them in a few minutes.
We’ve been back at our apartment for two days now. Home and snug. I can’t believe how lucky we are.
Thanks again Mrs. Doyle, for everything.
Tommy and Julia and Hope
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