“Keeping time,
A marvelous asset,
Free from the entrapment of a timepiece of any kind;
Forever yours, if you so choose.
When dreary, feeling what once was,
Rewards still remain,
Always they’re within the time kept;
Forever yours, if you choose!”

– HK

…Was it that long ago?
Four thousand men and some women and children remained gathered beneath me below decks; some asleep, others trying to rest while accepting, being far too weary to accomplish any form of rest as the ship which carried us across the Pacific Ocean, raising and lowering from stem to stern without abatement through the darkest of nights.
Early that morning we were warned of the incoming storm, which was predicted to hit us no later than dusk. The prediction was accurate. That afternoon, the ship’s hands went about their business of “battening down the hatches,” as they referred to it. What it boiled down to was protecting passengers from being swept overboard during the constant swells that endlessly displayed Nature in total command.
The sailors dutifully stretched safety lines from one end of the ship to the other, on both the port and starboard sides. As the late afternoon came upon us, the storm gathered strength.
Once again the voice came over the loudspeaker, “This is your Captain. All hands below decks until further notice.”  
Orders of that nature only applied to hands that didn’t have a working reason to be on deck. Yours truly had a working reason; I was in charge of a guard detail.
The army dutifully works in some strange ways. Why would we need guards on deck in the middle of the night? We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – did they think the enemy was going to come onboard at the height of a fierce storm? Besides, we had no declared enemies at that moment in time.
Ours was a troop ship on its way back to the United States from the Far East command sector. Onboard were officers and non-commissioned officers, many accompanied by their dependents. Those with dependents were treated to better conditions than the rest of us who, for want of a better description, were crammed like sardines in a can. But no matter the better living conditions aboard ship, Nature had its own charming way of being the great equalizer. Seasickness doesn’t know any bounds. Throwing up is throwing up whether you’re in a stateroom or in the boiler room.
Our job as guards was to ensure that all passengers remained below decks as ordered. As the storm increased in intensity, it became apparent we were not going to have any trouble with the passengers sneaking up on deck. The ocean was a scary body to behold.  In retrospect, it still brings back the sight of a seasick guy or gal trying to throw up over the rail of a wind-swept, pitching deck. It couldn’t have been a fun experience for the individual who was having their innards thrown back at them as they sought relief from the horrible feeling of incessant rocking to and fro, up and down.
Being alone above decks provided documentation as testament of how humble the humblest of us truly are. My thoughts this day of how it was are as clear for me as they were so many years ago.
Come on Harv, you’re being a little dramatic aren’t you?
…Only this line holds me from being gone forever. This rope is as strong as any rope ever made; you’d have to throw yourself overboard in order to be swept away.
Whatever, I’m still going to take a look.
Oh my God, this is fucking scary. That water is moving really fast and as the ship goes up, it’s like we’re going airborne.
…Like I’m on top of a building.
…This sound is unbelievable.
The swooshing and gulping of the vacuum created as the front of the vessel left the sea and then slapped down – all the time rocking back and forth as the wind picked up without mercy tossing everything in its way aside like a cardboard box in the wind – stunned and intrigued.
How could I possibly be sweating? Make that sweating like a pig.
The excitement kept building…
Leaning forward, the wind holding me erect as I attempt to get closer to the railing that separates me from the sea. The rope tightens around my arm and wrist.
Then – there it is – just a glimpse allowed by an almost starless night.
Fear and excitement stimulated beyond comprehension.
I pulled back from the rail, knowing this experience would be mine forever. I looked down at the right arm of my rain slicker. My right arm had become suddenly very warm, with reason; the rope had ripped a jagged wedge into my forearm. I was able to wrap my T-shirt around the damage and somehow got the blood to stop.
Stepping back into a corner enclosure by a stairwell, I reached into a breast pocket and found my cigarettes. I remember smiling stupidly over how lucky I was to have dry cigarettes. I placed one in my mouth and lit it as I moved back from the door well. One puff later and a huge swell washed across the ship. I was left soaked to the skin with a burned out wet clump of tobacco stuck to my face. Instinctively, I brushed away the tobacco that had smeared across my face. Using both hands to clear the mess was a bad mistake.
The next swell was a qualified wave, lifting me as a toy from my feet and slamming me to the hard deck. Then, I felt myself without control being rushed by the water towards the ship’s railing. There wasn’t time for fear. Both arms raised and lowered frantically searching for the safety line as I moved out of control towards the inevitable Deep Six.
Then, the surrealistic moment of my young life was captured – to remain mine forever.
My body came to an abrupt stop – not by my own doing but rather the braking of Nature’s force was caused by the inefficiency of a deck hand who had carelessly secured a lifeboat to its mooring. There I was, slammed up against the inside wall of a Navy lifeboat that had been wedged by the wind and sea against the opening in the very railing I was there to protect the passengers from.
I said my thank you to a higher power!
The storm broke at 4 AM. Again, it was time for the loudspeaker to come on apprising us of the current weather conditions. A new storm was on its way and would hit us within the hour. Again, the weatherman was correct.
It took fifteen days to cross the Pacific Ocean during that storm-filled trip. Eleven of those days the ship’s entire component of sailors and passengers were confined to quarters below decks.
I keep my memories mostly sealed from others. When I’m the holder of my own timeless serenity then, without effort, a solemnity takes over as effortlessly as any true breath of freshness. How else could anyone ever describe what is mine?
So many days and years have endlessly tolled and though free from sound, much of the memory has been scratched away.
Which arm was it – left or right?
Was the night as dark as my words allowed?
It doesn’t take much to stimulate what was once a fleeting moment into a presence, mine alone to keep. Then, thinking always to myself of the treasure of being my singular timekeeper – without a wristwatch or a clock on the wall. Being able to recall for as long as humanly possible and enjoy the recapturing of a solitary instant is when only one word will do…

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