I liked it when we were at sea and the deck of the ship dipped close to the swell, and the rocking let you sleep like an infant, no matter who you had wronged.
I liked it when, on moonlit nights, the flying fish would erupt from the waves, their wings like hammered silver, so many that their bodies littered the deck at dawn.
And other things:
The taste of salt spray on the tongue when the bow cut through a jade-green sea; the boatswain’s pipe ringing down the passageways; the order for sweepers; the wash of a swab on a deck; the flash of color when the signals hauled up the halyards.
I liked going to GQ, feeling that we were ready to fight anything: hundred of boots hitting the deck, running up and sliding down ladders, pulling on headphones, the whole ship flexing its muscles, and me, writing backward in the dark tracking missiles on a sheet of glass.
I liked the voice of a five-inch gun, its fantastic crash just after the warning of a silly little buzzer, the two sounds as different as could be. I liked the clang of the shell casings on the deck, and the acrid smell of burnt powder.
I liked leaving port—putting the whole world behind except that steel box of my brothers, those people who shared every peril and a common fate. I liked coming home; not just to some other place but to the pier and town where we started, because being there meant we fulfilled our promise.
I liked being a little bit drunk, enough to make an evening ten thousand miles from home seem nearly good enough. I liked being really drunk when it took that to make me forget that it wasn’t Christmas in Japan, or Hong Kong, or that I hadn’t seen my girl in almost a year.
I liked that they called me ‘Mack’ because my last name was too hard.
I liked to put on dress blues for watch, even at midnight or four in the morning. I liked shining my shoes until they glowed.
I passed liking into love when our ship slipped into Cook Inlet, passing mountains like heaps of snow-capped coal, the ship swarmed by terns and gulls— all like the mountains, in stark black and white. I felt the same about going beneath the Golden Gate, and into Pearl Harbor.
I liked the long hours, the hard work, the ‘tough-shit’ atmosphere—because I knew that I was pulling my weight, and that made me feel good about myself.
I more than liked the Chiefs, old men at thirty, who seemed to know everything on earth; quiet men who could make a whole division sprint with two words, and to whom everyone, including the officers, deferred as if they were gods on earth.
I liked it when my time was done, but I was wrong to think I could leave it. All those things and a thousand more return in dreams, at stop lights, in flashes of recognition when I smell the ocean. A good part of me will always be there, on those ships, with those men, living by bells in four-hour watches, alive in a very different world.