My Internship on Sunrise
I wrote this about my internship over the summer. The piece was originally intended as a college essay but I ended up choosing a different topic.
I swiped the damp towel back and forth on the deck, just enough that the dried rust and mud from the anchor chain would cling to it, but not enough to make the white boat as pristine as it should be. We needed the boat to be impeccable by the time the charter guests returned from their early dinner. Erik the first mate was picking them up on the inflatable and Leah the captain was making their beds below deck.
I heard the little boat coming before I saw it. The outboard motor’s hacking coughs echoed across the still water. I dropped the towel into the aft cabin and threw on my crew shirt to look professional. I helped the little girl up onto the boat first. She must have been about ten and had a great vendetta against her younger brother, evident by her dislike of having close proximity to him. Once they were all aboard, Leah suggested the family go out for a swim before it got dark. The little girl, Charlotte, rushed to put on her polka dot swimsuit. I stood awkwardly by, wondering if I should get their towels or wait until they were done swimming to lay them out. I had almost decided to ask Leah when Charlotte ran up to me, a little out of breath, and said, “Swim with me! Please?” and tugged at my hand.
That’s not how it was supposed to work. Our other guests had politely asked my opinions and expected me to keep the drinks flowing. A week earlier, we had a family from the Upper East Side. The teenage girls had been passive and uninterested in me unless I was making them iced coffee or bringing out food. They didn’t care who was steering the boat—that is, until they heard my age. They were sprawled out on the deck, sunbathing, while their parents made small talk with Leah. I was carefully bringing the boat along the strait when Leah handed the conversation over to me, mentioning that I was a rising junior in a maritime high school.
I could see their faces freeze, their eyes widen. I could see the realization roll over them. I wasn’t significant to them, but now they knew that I could’ve been. I could’ve been their best friend or, in a different reality, I could have been the one lazily sipping juice that they had fetched for me.
The shock on their faces only lasted a second, but it dented the power dynamic on the boat. They became wary of ordering me around.
I knew this Brooklyn family was different. I knew this charter was more lax than the others. I also knew we weren’t supposed to swim unless one of the drunk passengers jumped off and started drowning.
“Please?” Charlotte repeated. She wasn’t a drowning drunk passenger but I still looked at Leah for the final verdict. She nodded.
“Okay, just let me go put on my bathing suit.”
When I emerged from the aft cabin I felt naked. It was one thing to wear a bikini in front of Erik and Leah, but these were the clients. What if they disapproved of me spending time with their kids? What if they hadn’t realized I could wear anything but khaki shorts and the navy blue crew shirt—like finding out your teacher’s first name? Charlotte was waiting impatiently at the bow of the boat. When she saw me she didn’t blink an eye, just held out her hand. She didn’t see the divide between us. She didn’t see that I was trying to be professional, that I had been hired to be professional, that there were rules and class divisions and a power dynamic. So I took her hand.
She pulled me out onto the bowsprit and, clutching my hand, jumped into the bay.
Half an hour later, we climbed up the rudder on to the boat for the last time. The sun was setting and the orange and pink streaks in the sky made up for the goosebumps that covered every inch of my skin. We all lay out on the deck, talking and laughing about nothing until the last of the color had faded from the sky.
I put my shirt and khaki shorts back on and hung up all the wet garments. I set out some fake candles and a couple cookies for the kids to have before going to bed. Then I retreated into the cluttered aft cabin, which held all the facts you don’t want to see—the dirty towels and cleaning supplies.