The Wall

It’s 2 a.m. and you’ve hit the wall. No, it’s not actually 2 a.m., and the only physical wall nearby is the steel bulkhead of your bunk, behind which the Knudsen sonar’s been chirping like a demonic budgie every three seconds for the past two weeks. But you’ve got to be up in five hours for another 12-hour midnight shift, and your next day off isn’t until the end of the next month.

You knew this was coming; in fact, you’re surprised you haven’t hit it earlier. Back at the South Pole, you tended to hit the wall about once a week, and that was even with shorter days and Sunday off. But you could tell it was coming: coming up on the end of yesterday – your yesterday – when you were almost giddy, talking just a little too loud, just a little too fast, and you couldn’t make yourself slow down. You could feel it coming. You remembered being what, nine years old, riding your bike down the big hill at Southmoor Park, when you forgot how to stop, and all you could do was hang on and brace yourself for the inevitable: that crack in the pavement, that bit of gravel that was going to throw you headlong against the hard side of gravity.

And it was always something small that made the bottom finally drop out. Yesterday it was an offhand comment in Dry Lab, when it clicked: you thought you were being helpful there and you realized that you were really just in the way, and that they were really just trying to be polite about it. From there, the tumble was a long way down.

You made it through dinner (thank god for folks like Tom and Sara), and wandered the halls for a bit, ending up on the bridge for a last grasp at keeping things together. Maybe there’d be penguins, or another whale; Evelyn sighted a minke two days ago, and folks were still buzzing about it. Yeah, something like that would stop the fall, hold you for a little longer. But there was nothing, and you knew what you needed to do: lean into it and wait.

It hits at 2 a.m. your time, just as dinner’s getting started for folks on day shift. You’ve managed to get a few hours sleep – sleep always helps – but now you’re wide awake in your bunk, frazzled, dead tired and drained, knowing you’re back on in six hours. And the pinging of the damned Knudsen is louder than Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart.

But it’s okay; just as you knew the wall was inevitable, you know you’re going to get through it. You know how to get through it – you learned, back at Pole. The trick was to let yourself embrace the fall: curl up under the covers and have yourself a good little cry. Put Alanis on the headphones, that always gets it going; singing along quietly helps too. Lay there on the bottom and let your expectations and judgments slip away. By the time she’s singing “Thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you, thank you silence”, you’re a river, flowing downhill. You surrender to acceptance, to the Tao of the moment, taking water’s part and going wherever you’re pulled. You are formless, without will, and indestructible.

You feel sleep settling in, and you try to remember to take the headphones off before you slip completely under – they’ll be a tangled mess in the morning if you don’t. Yeah, you’re going to be fine. You always are. Because sometimes the only way out is through, and you’ve been through, through this wall, and through everything else, plenty of times before.

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