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  • It's nature's way of telling you something's wrong
    It's nature's way of telling you in a song
    It's nature's way of receiving you
    It's nature's way of retrieving you
    It's nature's way of telling you
    Something's wrong
    Lyrics from:

    Written by Randy California for the Rock Band “Spirit”

    This outstanding but haunting rock song by Spirit surely haunted me during my 10 days of leave before the 7 month long Mediterranean Cruise, scheduled to leave the port of Norfolk, Va, on July 7th, 3 days after the nation’s bicentennial celebration. I had spent the previous year consuming increasing amounts of alcohol and drugs on a regular basis. It was to the point that shipmates marveled that I made it out of some ports alive.

    I really thought I had it all under control, though. I was always on top of things in the Engine Room on the ship. In fact, I was one of the over-achievers, one of the up-and-coming leaders of the Engineering Department. I’d read up and studied all of the manuals and operating procedures, and was on the verge of getting my E-5 stripe, making me a Second-Class Petty Officer, and was considered one of the Engine Room leaders. I had learned how to play the Navy game well, and I was even thinking about making a career of it, now that I’d learned how to play it. It wasn’t a bad gig, really. That ship had decent chow, went to interesting ports, there was always plenty of drugs available, thanks to my buddy Ramon. I could party hearty and fit right in, and I did. I managed to have a few flings with some ladies, though I was increasingly hoping to win back the heart of my old flame in Connecticut, Martha.

    My circle of trusted friends on the ship had really diminished, though. I’d become a lot more quiet and introspective, as my consumptions had grown. I’d gotten heavy into the whole Carlos Casenada and Don Juan trip, which Ray and I discussed at length while we got high as kites.

    It wasn’t until that 10 day leave before the cruise that I realized how strung out I had become. I didn’t see it as being “strung out” at the time. It just felt like these panic attacks in my gut. I went water skiing on the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh with my brother and his wife’s family, and as I sat there in the water with my skis, waiting for the boat to come back to get me, I had a premonition that sent a chill through my very soul. It was an overwhelming sense of being alone, and being stranded. It scared the hell out of me. I was still acting like everything was cool with everyone around me, but inside, I was freaking the hell out. I did not know why. Like the words of the song, I thought that it must be nature’s way of telling me – something’s wrong. I wasn’t seeing any link to the drinking or the drugs, though. I could handle all of that. This was something deeper.

    I went to sick bay on the ship a couple times before the ship put out to sea, to see if they could do anything for me. They said I would probably have to wait until we got back from the Med. Seven months! They must have had a lot of guys coming in with phantom illnesses, hoping to get off the ship before the cruise. That wasn’t my gig, though. I really wanted to get help for these new anxiety attacks I was having. These documented visits, and their disregard of my reported condition, would later be the basis for my service-connected disability, when I wound up in the V.A. Hospital to be treated for depression after my discharge from the Navy.

    The fact that my buddy Ramon was still on the ship as we pulled out was the one reassuring aspect in my world at that moment. Ray took care of me. As long as he was around, I felt kind of protected from whatever it was that I was afraid of. I really didn’t know what that was - just a free-floating anxiety, that would at times overwhelm me. I’d developed an unhealthy dependence on him, and it really was based, as much as anything, on the fact that he always could score the best drugs, and they would always take the edge off of this newfound anxiety I was experiencing.

    Then, they came for Ray and took him away on a little boat, just before we cleared the harbor for the open sea. Just like that, Ray was gone! I felt completely screwed. That feeling I’d had on the Monongahela River returned, ten-fold. Holy shit, what would I do? I managed o.k. for the trip across the Atlantic – I still had some of my stash, and as soon as we made our first port, Tangier, Morocco, I went out and got completely blotto. I tried to find someone I could score something from, and got sold a little black rock-like substance that was supposed to be opium or something, down by the wharf, but whatever it was, it didn’t do a whole lot for me. I just didn’t know how to do this sort of thing.

    I eventually gravitated towards Dave, who appeared to be a real burn-out of a guy, but also a really nice guy. I used to avoid him, as I saw him as a cautionary tale. He seemed like he must have been doing drugs from an early age, and was pretty well played out. I would learn that that was more appearances than reality. He turned out to be a very bright guy who was just terribly introverted, talked slow and had some kind of a speech impediment, and doing drugs on top of all of that just made him appear to be more of a burnout than he actually was. I was really more burned out than he was. Dave had managed to score some dynamite hashish in Tangier, and was very generous with his stash. We got to be great friends on that cruise. The hash was just about the only drug, besides alcohol, that I would consume for those 7 months. It wasn’t quite the same as the great variety of highs and drugs that I’d grown accustomed to with Ramon. I was dying without all of that.

    I turned to reading books to get through it. I became an obsessive reader. I read all the time, wherever I went. I had a book stashed on my person that I would sneak off into corners to read. I read 75 books during that 7 month cruise, including a number of good sized books – Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 3 or 4 Michener novels, several Leon Uris books, I just read all the time. I withdrew quite a bit into myself, and became more and more fearful of life. It was like being on a floating prison for 7 months, in the state that I was in. We made port stops in Gibraltor, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Italy, and Sicily. At one point during the cruise, I had a moment where I just snapped. After that, I was bound and determined to figure out a way to get off of that ship. I was afraid of what I might do in that state of mind. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced, when I snapped. There was such a powerful feeling of rage that I felt like I could probably kill someone in that state of mind, if I felt sufficiently justified to do so. That scared me more than anything.

    After the seven long months at sea, in which I had gained 30 pounds and felt fat and lethargic and quite old for my 22 years, when we came back to Norfolk, I went on a 2 month liquid diet, lost 40 pounds, and eventually went AWOL, to get off the ship. Another three months after that, I was out of the Navy with an honorable discharge. Just like that. But, that’s a whole other story.

    This song still haunted me after I got out. Nature was still telling me, in many subtle and not-so-sublte ways, that something was seriously wrong. I still was not right. It seemed that, just when I was feeling these things the strongest, this song would be playing somewhere, and just underscore that feeling.
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