After being booted out of the Nuclear Power Program, I was assigned to a conventional steam powered ship to serve out the rest of my enlistment. At first it was very hard, getting use to life aboard a ship, being surrounded by people that reminded me of my father for long periods of time and also the treatment by my fellow shipmates for cheating. I was someone not to be trusted.
But as time went on, things started to become better for me. Standing watch and working on the machinery gave me a purpose. My shipmates started having respect for me instead of disgust because I was a hard worker. I was still very stress and anxious, but it was something I could live with as I counted the days down to my discharge. But that was to end when I was relieved on my watch to go see the chaplain.
As i walked to the chaplain’s office, I knew that it was about my father dying. He was very ill when I enlisted with lung cancer from smoking all of his life. Sure enough my thoughts where confirmed when the chaplain did tell me that. I didn’t have much time to think about as I was granted emergency leave to attend his funeral and hurriedly packed some clothes to get on a helo going back to the mainland. I had to take a bus from the base back home. During the 12 hours on the bus, it started sinking in what my father’s death meant to me.
I wasn’t feeling the normal emotions people felt over someone’s death. I was happy, overjoyed and most of all relaxed. I did realize that I had to act the part when I got off the bus. People would be expecting me to be sad and mourn the loss of my father. To them what happen to my father was a tragedy. To me it was poetic justice. Payback for what he put me though when I was a kid.
During the time I was home attending his funeral and helping mom, I was able to keep the act going. To everyone I was the person mourning the loss of their father, while hiding what I really felt. But it was started to become hard at the end as a nagging question came into my mind. What did my true feelings say about me.
To me, death of a person affects me greatly. I will not go into the reasons here. So feeling happy and in some ways pleasure over my father’s death made me wonder about myself and what I might be becoming. When I returned to the ship it started to affect my work. All I can think about was I becoming my father? If I could be happy and take pleasure from his death would I become someone that would feel the same abusing and killing other people? The thought that I might become that person horrified me.
My shipmates started noticing my erratic behavior and ask me if there was something wrong. I wanted to tell them, but I couldn’t. What kind of person would they think of me if I told them what I truly felt over my father’s death. Assuming they could get past that, they wouldn’t believe why I felt that way. Past experience was proof of that. Better not to say anything and find other ways to deal with what I felt.
There was two things that helped. Sleeping when the ship was out to sea when I was not on watch. When I was on shore leave, I would drink. Drinking was the best. It quieted the voices in my mind and gave me a break. But eventually it didn’t help anymore. So only thing left was suicide.
Better to kill myself before I became like my father. So when the ship was docked near Los Angles, I left the ship to do that. I booked a motel room for the weekend, bought sleeping pills and alcohol to do it then went to Disneyland. That day I spent at Disneyland the voices where gone and I was happy again. Not because of Disneyland but because I was going to do something to prevent myself from becoming like my father. Better to kill myself than subject someone to what I went through with my father.
After Disneyland, I went back to the motel room. Starting drinking and taking the sleeping pills. It is hard to describe what happen after taking the sleeping pills. I am not sure if I was awake or dreaming. But time did seem to slow down to a crawl. At some point the dreams if that was they where stopped or I actually feel asleep, but I can recall opening my eyes and realizing that to my horror it was morning and I was still alive.
I put some clothes on and left the hotel room. I started walking the streets. Not caring where I was going, just lost in my thoughts. Thoughts about how I was such a failure that I couldn’t even kill myself with a box of sleeping pills. If I couldn’t kill myself would I now end up becoming my father after all. At some point I came to a park and that was where my life would change.
I wanted to be by myself and away from anyone seeing me. So I started walking through the trees in the park and came to this clearing in the woods. In that clearing, there was a picnic bench. So I sat down on the bench and started sobbing. While I was sobbing I became aware of a bright light and that there was someone with me.
It wasn’t so much what this person was saying to me that mattered, but what I felt with their words. That I started to believe that my life was worth living and that I wouldn’t become like my father. I didn’t know what my life would become but just that it would be worth living. The light faded and I was alone again. I walked out of the park back to my hotel room to pack and return to the ship.
My life didn’t become better right away. It was more like a very slow process. Like trying to climb out of a deep pit using my bare hands. There was time I felt like giving up again and wanted to commit suicide. But when it came time to actual do it, I would stop as I recalled that time on the park bench and the light. Eventually suicide even though it was still there as a choice for my problems lost its strength and could be easily dismissed. The same with drinking.
Eventually over time I stayed sober and my life improved in very small bits. I reached a point where I could reconcile my feelings about my father’s death and no longer be bother by them. That it was not a sign that I would become like my father. Three decades later from that time on the park bench, I am in a marriage that has lasted for almost twenty years now. I feel like that my life has purpose and meaning and so glad that I did fail at killing myself. One of the few times I was happy that I did fail.
During those decades thinking back to when I was on that park bench was what gave me strength to face whatever I was struggling with at the time. It help do what I needed to do. For that I am so grateful and happy.
There is a question that I don’t have an answer. In an attempt to answer that question, I have wrote versions of this story on blogs I have done and to talk to people in IRL about it. People have told me what they think happen in the clearing on the park bench. That I never did wake up and was dreaming. That it was an angel that was helping me. But I think the answer that most satisfies me now is no answer.
That there are some things in life that cannot be explain or need an answer. The answer is irrelevant. Whatever it was or what really happen in the clearing is such a case. What matters is that it gave me strength to live life. Hope that I could make something positive with my life. That was the answer I needed at the time. The only answer that matters to me.