I’d had four crushes already and my heart had been on a rollercoaster ride for some time, ever since I first fell in love at the age of 18 and a half. Although I had survived that, the experience had left me with an inkling that my heart was less than wise in choosing whom it fell in love with. I was becoming suspicious of its ways and so was not expecting a fifth performance.
I got a job in Florida on a cruise ship as an Assistant Purser — basically an onboard office job. There, working for the Ship’s Doctor, was the Nurse. She was a beautiful Filipina with short, black hair and big, deep, soulful eyes. She was pretty and soft-spoken, with a heart of gold. All the crew loved her because she took care of them so well and always stuck up for their interests. “She has a big heart,” explained the Doctor.
I think we met at the Pursers’ Desk. The Nurse often had to show up there to tell the Chief Purser about sick passengers or perhaps to request an updated passenger list. I said hi and we talked briefly and that was that — at least at first.
It was fun talking to the Nurse. I began to feel excited about her coming and when she arrived, I made the most of the opportunity, speaking to her as often as I could. Other staff in my department started to notice. There was a large contingent of Filipinos onboard, around 60, with four girls in my office. They made good-natured jokes about my “love”, which I played down as much as possible.
“It’s nothing,” I explained. “She’s just fun to talk to. She’s so nice!” I remarked. “Besides, she’s not interested, so nothing’s going to happen, right?”
“I see,” smiled one of the other Filipinas.
I was right — nothing much happened for a long time. During that time, her contract finished and she went home to Iloilo in the Philippines. It was then that I missed her, so when she returned, I was overjoyed. I spoke of this joy with the other staff, who thought it was funny.
“Oliver loves the Nurse,” they joked.
“Nooo, don’t say that!” I exclaimed.
“Then why do you talk about her so much?”
“Er, well — do I?” I asked.
“Yes, you do,” they remarked. “At least once a day.”
Bummer, did I? Well, I guess I did but it was non-romantic related, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, she showed up at the desk pretty often, so there were work issues around concerning her. So it was OK to talk about work, right?
I didn’t want the others to think too much about this. I was afraid to look stupid, so I began to run through a few things I could say to her when she came. I wanted to say something interesting, so I spent time in bed late at night thinking of cool lines to say.
In real life, things didn’t quite work out as planned; she would come in to use the photocopier but either she was there for just a couple of minutes or someone else was talking to her or I had to deal with a passenger or some other thing happened that got in the way. Then my lines came out awkwardly and she maybe faked a smile or looked away; when this happened, I felt torn and hoped that I hadn’t offended her. I would get extremely worried if she looked displeased but that would vanish if she turned back to me and smiled her fabulous smile, her big, dark eyes twinkling. I felt exhilarated when this happened, like all my efforts had been rewarded. My heart filled with hope, I was delighted at the result and felt happy to be alive and to have her as a friend.
One day somebody told me that she had been seen getting off the ship while it was docked in Key West. When I finished my ship, I realised I was free, too, so I got off and wandered around outside. I had a nice afternoon walking along Duval Street and chilling when I decided to pop into a supermarket to get some stuff I needed. In there I met a Deck Officer. He was tall and handsome, with a short beard. I knew from the Crew List that he was Colombian. I said hi and he introduced himself as the Nurse’s boyfriend.
I felt a tearing, ripping feeling in my heart, which worried me, but I initially ignored it, as I paid for my groceries. However, once I got outside, it increased rather as I walked down the street. “Now, come on,” I said to my heart. “Behave yourself — you’ve had this before already. We’re just friends. She can have a boyfriend if she wants. It’s not my business. We can still be friends. Nothing needs to change. It doesn’t matter.” I forced down the feeling because I needed to get back to the ship. When I got there, I showered and got changed because I was going out with another guy to sing karaoke at Rick’s Bar opposite Sloppy Joe’s. I was determined to have a good time, so I drank rather a lot there and had an excellent night.
However, the next day, as the ship returned to Canaveral, I woke up dehydrated, with a hangover. I wasn’t in the best shape as I put on my uniform and went up to the Pursers’ Desk. On the way up, I suddenly remembered the Nurse. I was surprised as the tearing feeling dramatically returned to my heart. A lump in my throat began to arise and I had a hard time climbing the stairs. I saw the guy I had drank with the night before at the Desk. I tried to say hi but it came out sounding strangled.
“Are you OK?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah — I mean, er, no, I’m not! I’m sorry, I -” I suddenly realised I was going to cry, so I turned around and rapidly ran back downstairs again, not wanting him to see me. I raced through the corridors back to my cabin, hurriedly closing the door and sat down on the floor.
Well, I cried and I cried and I cried. I cried for FOUR HOURS — great, huge, sobbing, heart-wrenching tears came out of me. I was very loud. However, I felt something strange and new come over me — a kind of cleansing, streaming, pure kind of feeling entered my heart. It comforted me and I began to feel normal again. I got it all out.
Later, I turned up for my shift. The Chief Purser immediately called me into her office. “Oliver, what’s wrong?”
So I told her the whole story. Well, that particular cruise to the Bahamas and Key West was the last of my contract and I was going on holiday for 2 months, including 20 days in Vietnam and another 20 days in the Philippines. I disembarked the ship the next day and after some delay, flew to Ho Chi Minh City and onto Da Nang, where I met a Vietnam Veteran who was also Third Purser. We stayed in the same hotel.
The next day, the housekeepers came into my room to clean it. They were Thoa and Nga. Nga was already married but Thoa was single. My heart was still streaming and pure from the crying I had done just four days earlier, 10,000 miles away.
Little did I know then that my heart had learned its lesson. It was now ready to accept love from someone else — and it did. Thoa became my first girlfriend; and now — she’s my wife!
Previously published on Medium.
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 10, 2019
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