Fishermen Therapy

Author: Mallory Watson

Re-posted by permission of the author.

Originally posted for The Righters on March 2, 2012. Originally posted here.

I have never liked living in Miami. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of the last two years declaring my unwavering detest of Southeast Florida. It’s hot, humid, corrupt, superficial and rushed. I moved here after a two year stint in Southern California, where – needless to say – I had fallen in love.

I fell in love with the Pacific, beach-side cliffs, farmers markets, the rainy season in February, outdoor coffee shops and tidepooling. In reminiscing through old journal entries, I remembered being in love with Southern California, my job and my boyfriend. My life, at 22, was surprisingly settled and comfortable.

I felt anxious. I was happy, but felt like I couldn’t be so happy so soon. I was 22, adventurous, not ready to stop searching for the next best thing. And so, I picked up and moved across the country for the second time to the Atlantic.

Eight months in my Miami apartment marked the longest I have had one mailing address, one bedroom, one parking space since I was 17. I am, as some have so eloquently defined our lifestyle, transient. I am no stranger to moving and starting up a new life in a new place. However, arriving in Miami I was instantly filled with regret. A firm believer in not regretting decisions, this was terrifying.

I spent the initial six months miserable. I had walked away from the life and people I loved and traded it in for what I felt was “better”. But, I knew my family was there for me. I knew the boy I had fallen so deeply for was waiting for me back west. It would be hard, but I would make it.

In January of last year, things unraveled at a rate faster than I can comprehend. Struggling to maintain my own life and happiness, I was dealt the blow of my own parents splitting apart. Again, Miami represented a place I felt alone. I resented the city that had nothing to do with my family nearly 2,000 miles away. As months went by, my world fell apart again as the person who was the constant in my life decided my presence did not compliment his life the way I wanted it to. I was heartbroken. Twice. Twice before summer had even started.

Heartbreak is painful. In those months, I felt a sadness I never knew I was capable of reaching. Those who have been there, had their emotions drug across the hot coals repeatedly, know the emptiness of disappointment. I watched the people who were supposed to be there for me fade away to places I couldn’t reach them. I was alone in Miami. It represented every poor decision I had made. I blamed it for my parent’s divorce and for failures in my own relationships. These people didn’t hurt me, my decision to move to a city that is roughly the temperature of hell was the reason for all these horrible things. Miami was, in fact, my hell. And I was living in its bowels.

Those who have suffered this miserable emotion have most likely had friends blanket them with comforts, expressing how strong you are. They will let you cry and let you do what you need to feel better in the end. I wanted to fall apart. I wanted to be a wreck and lay in bed and have no one expect me to be ok. And people respected that. They let me pity myself. That strength and confidence came from those people I loved so dearly. With them backing away, I felt insignificant and incredibly fragile.

I felt oppressed, trapped in a place that had nothing to offer me and kept me away from the place I associated with every happy emotion of my adult life.

As summer turned into fall, I was dragging my feet through my masters program. The last part of my thesis required me to interview commercial fishermen from Miami through the Florida Keys. This had become more of a burden than anything, since no fishermen will ever call you back and the mention of the word “project” or “agency” sends them into a rant and the door is slammed.

I was tired and emotionally exhausted. Now, I was facing a group of crusty fishermen who didn’t have the time of day for a graduate student. I had to agree with them. Why should they? My self-pity had placed me on a downward spiral of self-doubt and complacency. Driving to the Keys to meet with my first fishermen, I just wanted to get it all over with.

If you have never hung out at fishing docks, a trap yard or a fish house, you’re missing out. I’m also inclined to say you’re a much wiser person than I, and likely working in a more productive and effective job.

There you find the old and weathered men, their sons and friends, with scars from the ocean to tell their story. Wandering through the fish house, I could not possibly blend in. I’m a 5’4, white, 20-something female.

Fishermen are among the hardest working people I have ever had the chance to meet. Their life is dependent on a dynamic environment, holding on to the hope that our ocean will continue to provide as it always has and that we will clamor for their goods more than ever. Theirs is a race against time, against weather, against uncontrollable forces. It’s a challenge to survive against political forces, environmental agendas, and perceptions from land-locked societies.

Here I was, an outsider, attempting to break into their culture. My bruises and callouses could not compare to theirs, my perspective and experiences are incomparable. I had thirty seconds to gain their trust and interest for another thirty seconds. Time is money and I was wasting it. My personal issues and regret suddenly seemed humorous.

They challenged me. They didn’t care what I was dealing with.

You got problems? Well, get in line.

Now, what do you want cause I’ve got a boat full of lobster that’s not unloading itself.

They were intimidating. The first to speak with me stepped off his boat, shook my hand and instantly called me out for being nervous. He had noticed my uneven voice. Embarrassed, I resolved right there to push myself. Harder.

Between the crowded docks and cold fish houses, I found myself. I remembered who I was; independent of those relationships I had believed defined me. I surprised myself in my ability to walk into a fish house, where Spanish flew from wall to wall (and I don’t speak a word of it) and present myself as a friend to be trusted. I learned the ins and outs, the flow of conversation and the ways to make an inaccessible group invite you into their world.

I became the person who could challenge a stubborn fisherman, who would take his dismissal as an invitation to work harder. Somehow, I thought I lost it when I lost those external ties. I let myself believe those relationships defined me and I was incapable without them.

These fishermen did not pity me. They did not allow me to be scared or timid. They reminded me who I was capable of being and how good I was at being that person. They did more for me than a therapist would ever achieve.

My time wandering the traps yards of Miami River and the docks of the keys have brought me back to myself. They taught me that as transient as we are, as much loss and heartache as we experience on our way to finding ourselves, happiness is never out of reach. Miami was what I had let it become. It was not out to get me or destroy my life. It was there to push me, to expect more from me that I had expected of myself.

My advice to all of us who feel torn with each move or decision is this: Don’t stop in hopes  that happiness will come to you overnight. Adventuring is a way of life. It rips you apart at times, and completes you in other ways. Finding home in a place cannot be done by recreating your last one. It must be done slowly, through introductions and exploring. You are what makes a place home. Losing sight of who you are will make even the home you grew up in feel like a foreign country. Remember what defines you, what makes you happy…and find it.

For me, it just took an afternoon with a fisherman.

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