By Sue James
He hated the waiting. The slow movement of time from one minute to the next, the contracting of his stomach muscles, the dryness in his mouth, the lingering headache that intensified as he strove to distract his thoughts from the negative pictures that were determined to form in his imagination.
“But you’re so good at waiting,” others had told him. “You’re so calm and patient. People would never guess that you’re stressed or anxious. You hide it so well.”
That’s probably because I’ve had so much practise, was the wry comment that normally ran through his mind in response to such comments although he never voiced it. He normally just shrugged and grinned, casually dismissing the words, unwilling to enter into a debate that might result in a heated or emotional exchange.
As his gaze swept around the control room, taking in the tense faces of the duty watch he wondered if his early life had been some sort of preparation for the mental agony he was experiencing now.
He’d been just ten years old when he’d waited in vain for his parents and younger brother to visit him in the hospital. Lonely and in pain he remembered that he had cried and repeatedly nagged at the nurses anxious to know why he had seemingly been abandoned in that scary, antiseptic world. Everybody kept telling him not to worry, that everything would be fine but it wasn’t fine and he knew that he had been right to worry when his grown up sister arrived from half-way across the country to tell him that his parents and brother weren’t ever going to visit him. That he would never see them again.
Anxious and insecure he was nevertheless sensitive enough to notice that his sister got upset if she thought he was worrying so he learnt quickly to mask his anxieties, to appear calm and in control, apparently unbothered when she took trips without him even though his whole being ached at the thought she might not return to him; that he might be abandoned for a second time.
As he grew older his fears lessened as he learnt to deal rationally with childhood anxieties. But still there was waiting...long periods of time apprehensively anticipating exam results, notification that he had succeeded in gaining a place at Annapolis, the birth of his sister’s children. However, at least those periods of waiting had ended with joyful celebration.
He wasn’t so sure that this current nerve wracking wait would end happily. It had already come close to ending in total disaster…a disaster that would have put an end to the waiting for ever.
He felt a warm flush creeping up his neck as he inwardly cursed his earlier stupidity in falling for the enemy’s trick. Deep down he knew that Curley was right when he said that they couldn’t afford to ignore the message they had received but he had felt so foolish, so incompetent when he realized that they had headed straight into a trap. Sitting helplessly on the bottom as a continuous barrage of depth charges exploded around them in a terrifying cacophony of sound had been almost mind- numbing. Knowing that they could be destroyed at any moment and that the responsibility was his and his alone he had felt physically sick as he realized that he had let everybody down.
Not that he allowed such pessimistic thoughts to dominate. Driven by his training and discipline he had remained cool and in control and thankfully the enemy had fallen for his little ruse and left them for dead but not before they had inflicted substantial damage.
A nail biting race against time had ensued to get the stricken sub moving again to make the original rendezvous and here they were again waiting…waiting…waiting.
It was the not knowing that gnawed at his insides. Were they coming? Had they all got away? Was anybody hurt? Was the latest message they had received to rendezvous here genuine? Or was it another trap? He felt so helpless just waiting…waiting…waiting. If only he could do something to help but all he could do was wait and pray and he was beginning to tire of it.
He rubbed a sweaty palm over his face fighting off the sudden feeling of exhaustion that seeped into his bones. Shaking his blond head he stepped away from his perch at the plot table and walked slowly around the control room, checking duty stations, exchanging reassuring words with the men who looked to him for leadership, for reassurance that their shipmates would return.
He knew how they felt. They had friends out there the same as he did and they didn’t know if they were dead or alive. That was the worst thing about the waiting. It was bad enough when you were just waiting for colleagues but when you were waiting for friends, waiting for your best friend, waiting for the man who was your brother in all but blood it was damn hard.
Returning to his perch by the plot table he suppressed a grimace of frustration as he allowed his thoughts to focus on his best friend. Lee had always been something of a daredevil. Always ready to push himself to the limits of his physical endurance, risking life and limb for his country. It hadn’t encroached too much on Chip’s consciousness all the time they had been serving separately, writing the occasional letter, meeting up maybe once or twice a year. It had been easy then to close his mind to his friend’s almost reckless endeavours.
It wasn’t so easy now. In fact it was damn near impossible. It was just a few months since Lee had taken over as Seaview’s captain and his executive officer was already beginning to lose count of the number of times he had spent long agonizing minutes or hours waiting for his captain to return to the submarine he was so proud to command.
The waiting had begun almost immediately, Chip reflected now when Lee had risked his life on his first mission in command to rescue two men stranded out on the ice…defying an imminent explosion to bring them both back alive. And it had continued ever since because that was the nature of the work they did; it was the nature of the man he was proud to call his friend to risk life and limb and it was, apparently, his calling to keep things running smoothly on board and suppress his own anxiety as he waited to see if his friend would come back unscathed.
“Mr Morton!” A voice tinged with barely suppressed excitement broke into his reverie and he looked towards the periscope island where Curley stood with a broad grin on his round, craggy face.
“Landing party heading this way!”
A surge of relief lifted his spirits as he moved towards the periscope and fixed his own gaze on the rubber dinghy moving rapidly across the sea above them. Giving the order to surface he allowed a sigh of relief to escape as he acknowledged that the waiting was finally over.
Until the next time.