12 home from her shopping trip with Uncle Eddie. The truth is I’m avoiding being there: I don’t want to see my strong, smart shipmate turned into a fairy tale. But like every other princess, she appears on the screen, in Facebook pictures of her twirling across the deck, life-jacket cinched over sparkling bodice, tiara winking in the deck lights. Later, Dave asks if she wants to put her princess dress back on to show Auntie Tele. I paste on a smile – but it doesn’t fool her. She doesn’t answer her dad, and throughout the rest of my time on the Marilyn Marie, Carla doesn’t mention her dress to me. She shoves her brother aside to claim the spot next to me at the table, climbs into my lap with stacks of books to read, and mimics me with a bandana over her hair and stick-on tattoos on her arms, but she never asks me to play princess with her. And that feels strange. The very thing I dreaded happening, I now feel guilty that it doesn’t. Have I been so consumed with what princess culture does to girls at large that I didn’t consider what I might do to the girl right before me? I want Carla to remember all of this. Her dad hauling gear. Her mom driving the boat, feeding us, making time to play. Me, another woman, running the deck, and two girls icing halibut together. Her king, the first fish she caught and sold, the wish that she made come true. This version of herself who is curious about everything and has the courage to ask anything. But what do any of us remember from when we were five? Carla starts kindergarten this fall. None of her classmates will relate to her summer world. The things we’ve encouraged her to be proud of, the strengths we’ve celebrated, will other little girls wrinkle their noses and shun her for? How can a month fishing compete with a lifetime of princesses? Does it need to? When I finish my time aboard the Marilyn Marie, I stand on the dock to watch them pull out of the stall. Carla leans out the window, waving frantically. This is one of those times where you think you’ll be the teacher, only to later realize how much you needed the lesson. The question isn’t what Carla will remember of our time together, but what I will. Waving back, I imagine those tiny hands seizing all of life’s options as she did her king’s heart, squeezing forth every drop of possibility, grabbing fistfuls of choices I didn’t understand could coexist. Maybe Carla will be her own kind of badass, making her world a place where she can be a fisherman and a princess. Maybe she’ll show me how.
A while back I read a horoscope that advised me to be more like a turtle: to strive to feel at home wherever I am. This struck me; it’s something I’m working on. When my thoughts become sticky though, when I think too long or too hard on this notion of home, I am forced to confront the reality that turtles don’t generally fare too well in Alaska. I drove a truck for a while, a red Toyota Tacoma. It was the closest thing to a turtle shell I’ll likely ever have. My dog and I could sleep anywhere: in any driveway, at the far reaches of Canadian highways, on gravel bars along glacial rivers, outside any drinking establishment in most any Western city. It was a mobile bedroom, breakfast nook, and bar-room; a portable coffee shop, base camp, and shelter from the leaking sky. I loved that truck. I still carry its old Alaska license plates with me as I move from new house to new house, to new house again. Now I drive a little black car that gets really good
A Journal for the North Pacific Rim