Gillian D.W. Byrd was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California and is a senior at Brigham Young University studying English and editing. She hopes to have a career in editing and publishing. She ... [+]

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
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I have a quiet father. Not quiet like a rock, but quiet like a book. He is particular with his words, as if they were stepping stones. He is collected, not scattered. Firm, not flaky. Resolute, not complacent. He relies on his few strong words to support him and convey his thoughts. He never speaks unless it is more beautiful than silence. He seems to have his longest silent conversations with the sea.
He is a boat captain, although he refuses all titles. No "Captain Walch," "Captain Willie," or, heaven forbid,"Cappy." He's just Wilson; he is who he is.
I was five years old when we rented a boat. Her name was "Hotel California," after the Eagles song. She was 40 feet long, had a mast that reached as high as a giraffe's neck, and these sails that stretched like giant white handkerchiefs.
Many of my memories of the boat have since faded. I only remember the moments that really counted in shaping my young brain, like the time I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard my father sneeze upstairs. I later found out that he was keeping watch the whole night to ensure that we stayed on course. He sat there, silent, stoic, strong. After nine months of sailing as a family, we reluctantly returned home for work and school. Dad's determination to return to the water never wavered.
Growing up, my father sunburned on a farm instead of tanning on a beach. Luxury was never an option for him. His jobs have regularly involved hard manual labor. His main construction job would require him to get in his truck and drive an hour to work where he'd sweat and groan and lift and pull, over and over, to complete each apartment. His body was running on empty for years; the "check engine" light in his eyes and in the lines on his face never turned off.
One day, when I had a particularly hard day at school and he had a particularly hard day at work, we walked to the beach together. It was the perfect time of day, when the overcast clouds hadn't burned off yet. The sky and the water faded together into a breathtaking light gray. As we sat there I tried to spark a conversation, recounting my day. My hands moved as I spoke. Frantic movements, abrupt movements, flighty movements, trying to convey everything. I looked over and realized that my words were met with silence.
He wasn't listening to me, his eyes were closed. In that silence lived the roar of the waves. I was intruding on this wordless conversation between him and the sea. They were old friends. His reverence could only be compared to prayer. It was like a standing appointment for a time in which they would meet again.
After 14 years of waiting and saving, that appointment finally came. When he got this boat, he named her "Kokua," meaning "the action of Aloha." She was a 51 footer, a catamaran with good bones and sun bleached decks. The splinters could be ignored. I thought her mast could pierce the fabric of the sky.
He bought it in Florida but he needed help sailing it out of the dangerous path of hurricanes, so we decided to move it up to South Carolina. Our crew consisted of four people: my father, mother, brother, and me. It was our first night at sea and it was my turn to take watch while the others slept. It was five hours deep into the blackest night I had ever seen. The lights of the city were hundreds of miles to the left and too far away to interrupt the never-ending void. This did not discourage the full moon, however. I snuck up to the deck for my shift when I saw my father sitting at the helm. He was just sitting with his calloused hands firmly holding the wheel. He was looking past the bow, across the blackened abyss like he could still see the horizon. I joined him without saying a word. I had since learned how to approach a captain when he's communing with the sea. We just sat there and felt as the dark swells inhaled and exhaled. The boat dipped so low, then rose so high. It was like being on the tongue of some vast monster from epic poetry. This ambiguous force can both destroy and give life, but the unpredictability of it all suddenly struck this fear in me. As I gripped the railing next to my seat, I looked to my father. His serenity confused me, so I asked what kept him so calm. He explained the physics of a two hauled boat. Flipping and sinking aren't possible. Where I saw it as a tongue, he saw it as a father's knee bouncing his child to soothe her.
I could see his face with the help of the moonlight; he had a slight smile that was almost undetectable in the dark. I told him I was happy to keep watch if he wanted to sleep, but he just shrugged. We sat there together, our breathing synchronized with the water as we rose and sank. He was just listening. I was just listening. Nothing we could say was more beautiful than this perfect silence.