Thomas Wictor

No reason to be afraid

No reason to be afraid

When I lived in Stavanger, one of my friends told me about two abandoned ocean liners moored on the island of Sølyst, near the city. You had to cross the Bybrua—a bridge—to get to them. I think this photo shows on the upper left where the liners were. That may even be them. Who knows?

One night I went there with my brother Paul, my sister Carrie, and a hot blonde girl named Susan. As I recall, we had to climb over a chain-link fence or through a hole in it, and then we went up a Jacob’s ladder to the deck of the first ship. There were no guards or anything. As Susan climbed, I shone my flashlight on her shapely, blue-jeansed butt.

“That’s not fair!” she said, giggling.

The liner was completely intact and fully fitted out. It was as though the passengers and crew had simply dematerialized. The cabins were furnished, the crews’ quarters had posters on the walls, the cooking utensils were still in the galley, and the linen closets were full.

Spookiest of all was the engine room. As Paul said, it was just like this…wherever-place in the movie Alien, complete with dripping water.

We explored every inch of the first liner. For some reason we couldn’t get to the second ship; it was somehow out of our reach. Maybe it had a better fence. I can’t remember.

In the lifeboats were survival packages of biscuits and canned water. I took one can and still have it.

It says, “Water, Drinking, Smedley’s Limited, U.Tall.” On the top is stamped “1 TALL 1, 3 JAN 1975.” When you shake it, the can feels like it’s filled with gelatine.

I also took a six-foot section of wooden railing from inside one of the hallways. It was two inches in diameter and made of some variety of super-dense wood. I used it for years as an exercise pole, swinging it like an axe over and over. It gave me immensely powerful shoulders, wrists, and hands.

We shouldn’t have gone on the ships, and we shouldn’t have stolen things from them. They were private property. On the other hand, the biscuits in the lifeboat survival packages were rotting, and the cans of water were rusty. I saved the only pristine one I could find. Still, I apologize to the owner of the liners. If you read this and want me to pay for the can of water and the section of wooden handrail, use the contact form.

Those ships haunted me. I went back by myself several times, just to experience their mystery. Why didn’t the owners at least remove the salvageable items, like the blankets, utensils, porthole covers, and brass fitting everywhere? There were all sorts of instruments in the superstructure—a compass in a gimbal, the helm, a radio, a radar screen, the throttle. The ships terrified me. When I was aboard, I had a premonition that I’d end up like them, abandoned and alone regardless of my value.

The alone-part is exactly what happened. But even though I am virtually alone, it doesn’t bother me. Tim and my own company are enough. When I was eighteen, my greatest fear was solitude. Now, I embrace it. I utterly reject Jean-Paul Sartre’s line from his play Huis-clos (No Exit): “Hell is other people.”

In fact, on his deathbed Sartre himself may have repudiated his entire life. Here’s the deathbed quote attributed to him:

I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.

If Sartre did indeed reject atheism as he lay dying, I understand. My father was so panicked before he slipped into his coma that he went in the other direction and denied belonging to a church, even though he’d gone to Catholic Mass every Sunday his entire life. The doctor in the hospice asked him if he practiced a particular religion, and Dad barked, “NO!

It was his way of denying the reality of what was happening to him. He ignored his tumor for two years and then refused to participate in our attempt to get him treatment. In his mind acknowledging any of it would make it real, so he had to deny everything, right down to his religious faith. Religion addresses the possibility of life after death. By denying that he followed a religion—i.e. had given thought to dying—Dad tried erase the very existence of death.

I was drawn to those abandoned ocean liners because I knew at eighteen that I’d end up alone, and it scared the hell out of me. Thirty years later, I’ve found that there was nothing to be afraid of. I enjoy solitude, and I enjoy the company of others. Both are great. I’m alone right now, but I may not be forever. If I remain alone, it’s fine. I like seclusion as much as I like friendship.

No deathbed conversions for me. When I die I’ll neither embrace nor repudiate. What comes next doesn’t frighten me at all.

After we went to the ships, the hot blonde Susan and I had an epic make-out session at her house one night when her parents were gone. She and her brother and I play Sixty Shots: You try to drink one shot of beer every minute for sixty minutes. After only about thirty we were all completely wasted. He lay down on the sofa and went to sleep, and Susan and I went up to the attic and made out for three hours.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I kept asking her.

“Yeah! I’m fine!” she’d say and kiss me some more.

When I saw her in downtown Stavanger the next day, she wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. She never spoke to me again.

I always wanted to ask her why that extreme reaction? I made out with her because I thought she was hot. And I do have to say that I’ve been told I’m a good kisser. Actually, a great kisser.

In the cold light of day, she may have thought I was so repulsive that she wanted to die. Maybe she can drop me a line in the contact form and tell me why she got so weirded out after three hours of kissing.

Susan, if you read this, would you mind letting me know? I mean, we’re both in our fifties now. That was a long, long time ago. My feelings won’t be hurt. I’m just curious.

I’ll bet you’re still totally hot too. From my vantage point, you looked great climbing up a Jacob’s ladder. Sorry I took advantage of you at that second, but I couldn’t resist.

This article viewed 40 times.