The awkward and anticlimactic meet-up with Eve, the love of my life, just as I was leaving Fairbanks, possibly never to see her again, but after we had already spent a tearful night clutching one another, devastated to suddenly realize our beautiful relationship was over, professing our love for each other even as we were painfully closing the book, and then to bump into each other by chance the very next morning – that was foreshadowing. She ended up coming down to Kenai a couple of weeks later after Corey talked his parents into offering her a job on their commercial fishing site. She and I could be together for the summer.
In the lead-up to the opening of fish season there was lots of work to be done. The guys did the cutting, welding, and grinding of metal, the painting, the hanging of nets, tying of knots, and other work with rope, the lubing of forklift parts and the hauling around of tote-loads of gear with said forklifts.
The gals did the meal preparation, the laundry, the cleaning, and the chit-chatting, and Eve thought this was total fucking bullshit.
She also was not accustomed to all the prayer, both scheduled, as before meals, and impromptu outbursts of praise for Jesus, God, and the Lord. This was a very churchy lot. I had grown up among them, so I barely noticed it, but she had grown up in a hotbed of secular humanism and/or not giving a damn about religion. The prayer and praise put her off quite a bit. One Sunday as we were returning home from church my mom chummily asked her, So Eve, what denomination is your family? She responded in the same chummy tone, I’m pretty much an atheist. Frosty silence filled the car. I was pretty much an atheist too by this time in my life, but I never would have said it out loud to my mom, or any of my friends’ parents. I was amazed at her candidness, full of admiration, and a little bit scared.
One day there was an episode at fish camp HQ. Just before lunch, Eve had seen Corey’s little brother, Chip outside murdering squirrels with a .22 rifle. She was aghast. Apparently she sensed a sharp contradiction between all of the churchy love stuff and the wanton slaughtering of innocent creatures. Eve had a question, and she gasped it to everyone in the dining room: Why? Everyone in the dining room seemed taken aback by her reaction, as if wiping out squirrels were about as everyday an activity as brushing your teeth. I’ll admit, I hadn’t given it any thought until she brought it up.
Well you see, Corey’s mom, Rae-Dawn ventured gingerly, They get in the house and we can’t get them out. They are a nuisance. Eve countered, But do you have to kill them?! Can’t you just close the windows? Well we like to keep it cool in here, Rae-Dawn retorted. Our foreman Barry chimed in, Plus they breed like crazy. That seemed like it would close the matter, but Eve was not letting it go: So they just have to die?! She waited for a response, but everyone just looked at each other and at her until she turned and left the dining room, beginning to cry. The rest of us sat down to a quiet and uncomfortable lunch.
I especially felt bad, and conflicted. I knew she was right from a moral perspective, yet I had done nothing to support her. Some boyfriend I was. On the other hand, I also had not seen the whole thing coming. Maybe if we had huddled a bit before lunch, worked out a battle plan to challenge these rubes and their hypocritical, murderous ways… But I was just as blindsided as everyone else. And speaking of that, who just shows up as a guest in somebody else’s world and starts ragging on the way they do things, anyway? The nerve. I got quite a few “what’s wrong with your girlfriend” looks during lunch, that’s for sure.
It was getting pretty obvious that Eve didn’t fit in with these people. And it made me realize that I was one of these people, by association at least, and that had me torn. I had already been out of the country for a year in Europe, then spent a year up north. In my mind I was just popping through lame-ass Kenai to make some money before heading off to another cool place. And now here she was, a reminder that I was more anchored to this place than I thought. I mean, it was so great that we got to be together for a while longer, but, while it was just us and our little world up in Fairbanks, down here in Kenai we were constantly having to interact with people that, frankly, we never would have spoken to in Fairbanks. Because of work, and living at home, we didn’t really have that much “us” time anyway. Our relationship was in limbo, and we, especially she, was not digging the social scene.
As a matter of fact, Eve didn’t really seem to fit in with Kenai in general. She was a Fairbanks gal, a denizen of the interior, not the coast. She was at home among rolling hills, rivers and wide river valleys, not craggy mountains, the abrupt bluff and dark gray sand of the Inlet. I had acclimated just fine to Fairbanks – preferred it to Kenai, in fact – but it wasn’t going so well in reverse. There was a noticeable lack of the magic between us in Kenai that had sustained us in Fairbanks.
Before the salmon run hit in July our job was like a typical 9-to-5 with weekends off. On one of those days Eve and I took a walk on the beach, looking for agates and acting like a normal couple. We walked a couple of hundred yards before a strange sight came into view. When we got a little closer I realized it was a dead Beluga whale – with no head. It was all mottled yellow and green and black, and bloated up as big as a bus, and it looked like the head had been twisted clean off. I had lived there my whole life and never seeing anything as weird or startling as that. Up in Fairbanks we had waxed romantically about symbolism all the time, and here on this beach with a decapitated white whale right in front of us, those bells should have been going off like mad. But we just said, Whoa, cool! and moved closer.
Three kids on bikes passed us up and I called out to them, Hey go poke that thing with a stick!, thinking it would be hilarious to watch the carcass blow up all over them. They disappeared over the berm on the other side of the whale, and we waited for a little while but nothing happened. We moved forward, a little disappointed, until the wind shifted and a towering stench knocked us back in the other direction.
On fish days Eve was happy to be on the beach doing hands-on work picking the nets and washing the fish, but she still was not allowed to go out in the skiff with Corey and me, or drive a tractor or any other cool stuff. She went back to Fairbanks early, before the salmon run hit full force and we were working around the clock. Our goodbyes this time were dry eyed. We were sad to part yet again, but equally looking forward to new adventures in Seattle and Portland, and we were still confident we could keep the flame going, even with a little distance between us.
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