We had several long stretches at sea — at one point, 110 days without a port call. At times, it was hard not to feel like a castaway. The monotony was sometimes unbearable, and I tried to find variation in my pattern of life: new gym routines, new books, new work projects. My best friend on the ship had been deployed several times and warned me that the holidays would be hard to endure.
I stayed in bed for a few extra minutes and closed my eyes. I imagined that, instead of the cooks clad in their navy-blue uniforms, it was my mother who had rolled the thin layers of pie dough and stretched it across the pan, while the pumpkin filling settled in a mixing bowl nearby. As I stepped down my bunk ladder, I dreamed my foot would hit the plush, carpeted floor of my childhood room. I imagined tiptoeing down the long hallway to find my grandfather sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, and my grandmother stuffing the turkey. I imagined my brother was there, too, long before drug addiction took over his life.
Instead of baking pies back home, my mother was enduring painful chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Instead of watching cartoons, my brother was looking for his next high.
I had to get on with my day, and I worked for several hours through the morning and afternoon. In my mind, I was somewhere between home and the briny water on the horizon. I knew that even if I were at home, those facts about my family members wouldn't change. I was honored to serve my country, and I could not imagine doing anything else at this point in my career. I suppose I was just longing for a way to feel at home.
When it was finally time for Thanksgiving dinner, I considered just escaping to my room and skipping the meal altogether.
My fellow sailors and marines were my lifeline on that first deployment, as well as the ones that followed.