It was time. My things were packed. I had everything that I would need for my two weeks aboard the T/S State of Michigan: maritime academy uniforms, work boots, sunscreen lotion, swimming trunks, water survival and marine engineering textbooks, notebooks — the whole checklist. Yet, the most important item I packed was not in any checklist — it was a picture frame that I prepared with April earlier that evening.
We spent the whole day together. We went out for brunch, and then went to a store to look for picture frames and backgrounds. We came to my house afterwards, and picked four pictures each for our frames. On our way to Walgreen’s to print the pictures, as I helped her transfer from the wheelchair into my car, I hugged her as if it was the last time I ever would. I held her between my arms while touching her hair and kissing her neck. I shed a few tears as I kissed her neck, thinking that leaving her to go to school in Traverse City didn’t sound like such a smart idea anymore. But I sucked it up, and after we finished hugging, we went to print our pictures.
When we got back to Hope Network, we made time for diner while I finished preparing the picture frames. I left her on her nightstand, facing her bed, to remind her of how happy she makes me every night before she goes to bed. I brought mine back to bring it aboard the ship (and later in my room at NMC). We made a very short video to say goodbye. I think it had more silent moments of starring into each other’s eyes and quiet kisses than an actual script. We didn’t say much. We didn’t have much to say, other than how much we loved each other, and how much harder life was about to become.
When I left Hope Network, I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t help but think of her smile, her cotton-candy lips, her time-trapping eyes and her ever-growing, radiant heart. I couldn’t stop myself from crying, and I just let it all out, whining like a baby in this dark parking lot. I walked to my car in tears, and I opened my heart to God. I cried out to him, asking him to take really good care of her. “God, please look after her,” I prayed. “Make sure she’s all right, and heal her soon! And please God, o please God, let me come back safe to her: allow me to see my love, and allow her to still love me when I come back from this viscous voyage.”