The little boat had gotten entangled with a bigger boat and she had been very much afraid. She had tried and tried to cut the lines but the skipper of the bigger boat had always kept a close eye on her. She and her little oars had been dragged hard through the bigger boat’s wake until she almost drowned. But she had been a smart little boat. She had come to learn human nature so she kept her little oars drawn down inside close to her heart, and she had waited. She waited until the skipper of the bigger boats had been lulled into complacency by her submissiveness.
It culminated one dark night with a fateful decision. Her little oars were ready to move on to boats of their own picking. She knew she wouldn’t be able to be left alone with the bigger boat. Once her little oars were on their way, there would be nothing for the little boat to fight for, except herself, and she’d lost most of herself by throwing bits and pieces into the motor blades of the bigger boat to distract him from her oars.
She reached up and cut the lines. Quietly, fearfully, and with much screaming from the bigger boat, the little boat drifted away. She drew her lines in and coiled them tightly in her bottom. She watched the currents and tides and kept herself floating between the bigger boat when he went after her little oars. She plied the waters that way never believing anyone would want her or help her, or even notice that a little boat was fighting for her very survival.
Then one day a tugboat noticed. He wasn’t as large or as grand as the bigger boat that tormented her so, but he was strong. Tugboats can pull many times their weight and have such raw power that other boats fear a run in with one. The tugboat cautiously approached the little boat and asked her if he could help her; just help a little. On the edge of exhaustion, the little boat loosened her lines enough for the mighty tugboat to pull her out of harm’s way. Then gently he gave her back her line.
In this way the little boat learned to trust the tugboat and the tugboat fell in love with the little boat. He stayed alongside her, keeping himself between her and the big boat, letting his powerful engine roar with rage if the big boat tried to interfere with the little boat’s life. He protected her and her little oars, often pulling her to go see them in their new boats, to sit and listen to their stories of where they were going and the entire world they were seeing.
The tugboat liked seeing the little boat smile. He knew it had been a long time since she had been able to feel safe. He wanted to give her the simple life for her that she had always dreamed of and he wanted to be a part of her life forever.
In turn the little boat fell deeply in love with the tugboat. She loved his strong hull and his powerful voice that was never loud towards her. She loved looking up into his wheelhouse windows and seeing his beautiful soul. She got him to tell her stories of his life and, just as he’d helped her, she helped him breathe slowly and deeply. She helped him understand that though he’d had some ugly jobs in the past, he was a hero to those he’d saved from the awful storms of life.
One night, as a full moon cast it’s silvery light over the little boat as she snuggled close to the hull of her handsome tugboat, she heard his engine cough. He coughed again, and again. Try as she might the little boat couldn’t get the tugboat to stop making the awful sounds. She bumped his side over and over but his engine was failing. Sounding a mayday over and over, and over and over until she was hoarse, the little boat kept trying to revive her strong handsome tugboat, to no avail.
When the Coast Guard got there, all they could do was tow him in. He was gone from her. His engine could not be rebuilt. There was too much damage. He’d worked so hard all his life doing bad, dirty jobs that had taken their toll on him. And now the little boat was adrift on a sea of inconsolable sorrow.
She called out to her daughter who was living on a boat in a different place. It was a landlocked place where so much seemed strange. The little boat allowed herself to be trailered there so she could at least be close to her daughter oar. She was so sad and lonely. She tried going to a group where other little boats had lost their mates but she wasn't important enough to warrant keeping up with. She felt like a failure.
The little boat tried and tried to get involved but, landlocked as she was, it was hard for her to get around. She tried talking but no one was listening. She tried being a part of things but even if she got there, no one really talked to her. The little boat never felt like she fit in. She wasn’t as young as some of the other boats. Her oars were grown up and out on their own so her life wasn’t comparable. But she also wasn’t as old as some of the boats in another group. No, the little boat didn’t fit in anywhere.
She made things for all the other boats that asked her to and she thought she was onto something. But as the weeks passed, the little boat felt even less and less important. As the boats picked up what she made for them, they turned their backs and never called her again. They had what they wanted. For them, there was no reason to ever really speak to the little boat again. They had used her services, paid her. Now they didn’t have any reason to speak to her. They were all so busy with their friends and their work and the activities that they were involved in.
Once the little boat was asked to come to a party but she felt uncomfortable. It was on a day that she was missing her tugboat very much and she was crying a lot. The boat that asked her became offended and never called her again. The boat said that it was her own fault for giving in to her grief over her tugboat. It made the little boat sadder that she wasn’t allowed to feel sad for so great a tug.
Other boats were casually cruel to the little boat. Most likely they didn’t realize it because for every little hurt they did to her, they blamed their grief for forgetting her, or being late, or for not speaking to her. It was confusing that their hurtful behavior was excusable while her fear at being in a new place filled with strangers added to her deep depression over witnessing her tugboat’s life being torn from her was not acceptable.
Once she wrote to the important boat that facilitated the group meetings. She called her three times and left messages begging her to call back. But the important boat didn’t bother. The little boat was saddened.
She watched the important boat pursue contact with the other boats, was privy to inside knowledge that the important boat actively reached out to the others, even met with them outside the group for private grief counseling, but could not find it in herself to reach out to the little boat. Was she wrong in her belief? The little boat was in no position to judge. She was too tired. She was too sad. It was hard for her to see the reality of anything anymore, except the reality that she was alone with no visitors except her little oars who worriedly came by as often as they could.
One other boat did call occasionally but she called for herself. She needed to talk and the little boat was a very good listener. Other than that, she was very, very alone.
So the little boat stopped going to the group meetings. She beached herself beside an ocean in her mind and she lay there. She let the rough grasses grow up around her until she was quite covered. If anyone happened by and spotted her, she smiled her small little smile but it never reached her eyes. Never.
She dreamed of her tug on two occasions, night and day. She lay there and waited for the full moon to rise up over the horizon of her pretend ocean. She’d watch it with a silence that was like watching a cloister take Communion. Her little hull gleamed dully white, like old bone, in the moonlight. Her heart ached for she had weathered badly being so exposed. She sometimes wondered what her wonderful, handsome tug would think about what had become of her.
Besides quitting the widow’s group, the little boat also quit going out unless it was absolutely necessary. When she left, she carried with her, hung on her bow, a precious glass pendant of blue as deep as the darkest night and capped with silver made to look like a moon and star. Inside it she carried a small bit of the ashes that her beautiful tugboat had become. She was never gone from her imaginary beach for long because to be gone would mean to be away from her dreams of him.
So she’d hurry back and nestle herself down into the pretend sand and let the grasses flow over her to hide her. She sometimes smiled to herself about that because really, no one was looking for her. She didn’t matter to anyone except to her little oars who knew she was forever changed and did all they could to help her find a small amount of peace. But the only one who could revive the little boat was gone. So she lay with her dreams of him, her sadness over his tragic death, and her aloneness that she resigned herself.
It seemed to her that her empty berth at the meetings went unnoticed because no one checked to see if she was okay. She had been born an insignificant little boat and only her oars and her magnificent tug had ever seen any value in her.
But in that thought there was some solace. Her oars were wonderful and were living honorable lives. And to have been loved by such a strong, handsome, and legendary tugboat was more than she had ever expected from this life she had been made for.
And then it hit her. Maybe to be there for him, to be the consort of that incredible tugboat, was what she’d been designed for. It was what she had gone through hell for, to be with him. It was her blessing to be the one there for him at his end, telling him over and over every day they were together how much she loved him and how proud she was of him. It was the love in her voice he heard as he died. It was her hull against his that he felt when all the feeling in this life stopped for him. She had been built to be with the tug whose life was mythic and who had, more than anyone, needed the love and devotion of an insignificant little boat.