So, dear Friend, I will trust this matter to your kindness and will now conclude by assuring you that whether this appeal succeeds or not that the greenest spot in our memory is connected with you, and that we never forget that we are still Soldiers of Liberty.
– Letter from James Wilson to John Devoy, 1873
My fingers gripped the Catalpa’s ropes as I hauled my body onto its large deck. Please know that freedom was far from established at this point. In fact, now that I think about it, I cannot identify a specific point during the course of the escape in which freedom had become actualized for us. Though we’d legally arrived in international waters, we’d yet to face the threat of fire from the Georgette, who arrived at the Catalpa on our heels. We’d yet to raise the American flag and dare her to fire on it. We’d yet to call her bluff and float away on a gust of God-sent wind. We’d yet to argue our course and timetable, to argue with each other, the crew, and the very hands that had pulled us up out of the ground. We’d yet to truly face the decay of aging on our tired bodies, to listen to the diagnoses of shocked doctors as they jotted in their notepads things like prolonged dysentery, neglected fractures, and heart disease. We’d yet to face the psychological and social ramifications of our imprisonment and torture, to watch one of our own, Hogan, in mad disarray, throw two revolvers down in front of Devoy (the stateside orchestrator of the entire expedition) and suggest a shoot off—all over a matter of finances.
But as I stepped onto that deck, feeling the grandeur of its potential, I felt a little freer than before. And do you want to know what freedom tastes like at first? When you are dry-heaving over the side of a large boat, shivering and stumbling out of shock and chill simultaneously, doubled over from a numbing shot of pain through the chest, and hungry, freedom doesn’t taste like it first sounds. No it tastes dry, like paper, and bitter, like ink. But it’s not about how it tastes; it’s about what it says. Some people suffer, knowing that they are suffering for the cause of freedom, even if they only taste the bitter edge of escape.
This has been part of a historical fiction series I’ve had the pleasure of sharing with you for the past several weeks. If you missed the others, start here. Join me back here next week for a fresh story!