Flotsam & Jetsam & Lagan & Derelict & The Pets

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Start your story with the narrator or a character saying “I remember…”... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction American Contemporary

I remember his death as if it had occurred only yesterday. Everything pretty much changed in my life the day after my dog killed himself.


Months before it happened, and the warning signs were clearly visible, we could see he was not his old tail wagging, tongue lolling, happy-go-lucky self. He was so unhappy. So what did we do? All we did was say things like “Good dog! Good dog! Who’s a good dog?” to him and completely ignored, or just really didn’t want to see, all the obvious symptoms that accompany extreme canine depression. Then one day he just ran out into the road as heavy traffic whizzed by. And Rags, that was his name, hitched a free ride to doggy heaven, which was ironic considering Rags didn’t even have any thumbs and appeared to be agnostic. The troubled animal took the fast lane to the other side. “Good dog! Good dog! Who’s a gooooooooooooooood dog?” wasn’t what Rags needed to hear as in his last days he stared up hopelessly upon the dank and dark well walls of melancholia. He just wanted someone to listen to his wordless cry for help, and unfortunately, no one did. Looking back now it’s clear that my poor pet was yet just another shipwreck afloat on the tempestuous sea of life.


Ah, the seas of life. By universally accepted maritime laws a wreck at sea is defined legally as an entity or property belonging to no apparent owner. For a number of reasons, wrecks may occur accidentally or deliberately. With shipwrecks, when the laws of salvage are applied, the causality of how they happened is of course taken into account. Also factored into the legal equation is what remains after a wreck. If these remains have no apparent owner they are considered to be abandoned. Legally, abandonment is deemed when sine spe recuperandi, or no hope of recovery, has been determined. Based upon this determination these remains may be voluntarily salvaged. Any individual who salvages these remnants is entitled to lay legal claim to them.


Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict are terms for types of shipwreck. Flotsam is the wreckage or cargo found floating on the water surface as a result of an accident. Unless a claim to ownership is made, anyone who recovers flotsam owns them. Jetsam refers to when the items found were intentionally cast into the waters and are deemed to be the property of the one discovering them. Lagan is an article intentionally thrown overboard and which has sunk below the water surface to the bottom but is bound to a floating object like a buoy or objects trapped within the sunken ship. The finder of lagan is compelled to return this submerged stuff to the rightful owner. Like lagan, derelict are immersed items abandoned with no anticipation of reclaiming them, and since derelict is the epitome of sine spe recuperandi, their return is not required.


Living organisms, like ships, are merely vessels. Both may hold, contain, carry or transport life, cart cargo, or bear baggage. The similarities are so plentiful between ships and the living, we’ve incorporated them within our language: friendships, fellowships, kinships, partnerships, and relationships for example. We’ve even coined phases about ships and humans, such as: “passing like two ships in the night”, “that ship has sailed”, “like jumping off a sinking ship”, “I feel like a ship that’s run aground” when discussing the status of certain aspects of relationships. It’s only fair to reason if you have ships you’re bound to have shipwrecks, and if people are so akin to ships, then we can be shipwrecks. Believe me; I have come across quite a few in the span of my long, long lifetime.


The living shipwrecks I’ve encountered throughout life also may be divided into the categories of flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict. Some had been abandoned intentionally or accidentally, and with no apparent owner. Others drifted afloat above the waves to await recovery by those who may find them. Then there were those who had sunk helplessly beneath the depths of their lives, with or without a marker beckoning responders to the rescue. Whereas the laws of admiralty may define and draw clear legal lines based on what’s found, how it was lost or abandoned, and who may then lay claim upon it, ironically, these lines are often blurred in the matter of relationships between life forms. As far as I am aware, there are no Official Rules of Life manuals for reference. It’s all pretty much improvised, impromptu, played by ear, and made up as we go along.  


Someone should really write a manual titled The Official Rules of Life and lay down some definitive guidelines about what is and what is not allowed in our day-to-day relationships. At least in admiralty or maritime law, someone had the vision and foresight to do just that when it came to the salvaging of shipwrecks. As with my three ex-wives, I’d have to cop the same plea when it came to the pets who have shared their lives with me. I’ve nary a memory of why, how, or even an ‘if’ when it comes to the questions of if I had chosen them, or they chose me. The same may be said of the many people whom I’ve acquainted either casually or intimately with over the years.


Some of the organic flotsam I’ve come across floating upon the surface of the sea of life appeared to belong to no one. In this category of creatures, I would not hesitate to include myself. With each passing day, I believe I meet more and more individuals like me who are unattached to anyone else. Unhindered by personal ties, and no longer buying into the fairytale that one must find their soul mate, then fall into loving relationships where the two incomplete halves incorporate to bind and attach in completion of each other so as to form the missing whole. They no longer rely on the approval of others to come to their own conclusions to solidify their opinions. Maybe we’re the ones who eventually found ourselves floating alone, after some fateful accident, on the surface of the sea of life just like flotsam. What makes us different from the others is that we acknowledge that whether we sink or swim the decision is entirely up to us. We embrace that realization like a lifesaving buoy and then contently bobbed atop the waves.


The jetsam is intentionally thrown overboard, for whatever reason, into the sea of life which I’ve encountered certainly belonged to someone at some time. Those in this category would include jilted friends and lovers on the rebound. The ones who needed to be liked and loved if they wanted to feel whole but were cast over the railing of their relationships and left overboard in the sea of life. These are the ones I’m most wary of because often when you get close to them they’ll latch onto you in desperation and drag you beneath the surface. For they feel unless someone else makes them their property they’ll be without worth. While they may deserve our pity they are not entitled to turn we who drift like flotsam, we who swim or sink like fish, into their personal life preservers.


The living lagan we find at the bottom of the sea of life was tagged at some time by someone who must have wanted to maintain the right to reclaim them somewhere in the future. Those in this category would include lovers who had either never completely severed the ties binding them to another, or to the illusion they were free to do as they please with little regard for the feelings of others. Like ghosts from Davy Jones’ locker they have relinquished the option of sinking or swimming and are forced to lifelessly haunt the rest of us with their sometimes destructive actions. This group is mainly comprised of the insecure, the insensitive, the unkind, and the coldhearted. In other words, they’re the Assholes of the organic ocean. If you ever stumble across one of these then leave these problematic varmints to their rightful owner.


The derelict I’ve bumped into were either sunken or floating, abandoned for good and forever by those who never cared to reunite with them again. Those in this category would include my pets. Throughout childhood, my parents usually went with dogs instead of cats or more exotic choices for creatures. After leaving my parents’ home, and then sharing living space with the various women in my life, their pets of choice tended to be felines. I like cats. They’re much lower maintenance than dogs and leave you alone most times, usually are quiet, and typically rarely ever drool. We must of course include in this category some unfortunate human beings such as the homeless. As with pets, they need our care and concern. If you’re able to help them you should do what you can, because as far as I can tell it’s one of the better ways of being more than just who we are.


Saturday, March 16th, 2019, I hung another year on the line of life and turned 65. Happy birthday Stevie B! I’m looking forward to swimming and keeping my head above water for another year. Officially I’m now a senior citizen. For $12.00 I became a member of the American Association of Retired People (AARP) on my birthday. Even though I have no plans to retire from the job I love doing and have done for the past half-century of my life. I merely joined AARP for their discounted rates on medical insurance. You can call it my own little birthday gift to me.


Anyone around me who knew that I’ve turned 65, which are very few, usually asks if I’m planning to retire now. To this, I reply with an unequivocal “No”. If you recall what I wrote in some of my earlier work, retirement was one of the things I believed caused my father’s early death. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. What I do know for sure is that he found no happiness in retirement. I tell the few who inquire that I plan to work until I keel over dead at my desk, at which point then add I hope they turn my desk into my coffin and bury my deceased body in it. That is a joke since I really don’t care what happens to my remains once I die, and like my dead dog Rags, I’m rather an agnostic son of a bitch (sorry mom, no disrespect intended toward you in any form or fashion). Hey, for all I care you can chop me up and feed me to all the little fishes swimming, or sinking, in the briny sea of life.


I was there, and I saw what happened when Rags ran out into the street that day. I cried as he died. What changed after his death, and I’m not sure really why, is that I’ve never again cried when losing someone close to me. Not my father, mother, brother, sister, wives, friends, or anyone else. Not a single tear—not a doggone tear for anyone. Not even a sob for myself at any time or anywhere since that day.  


Many people claim everyone has to be somewhere. One day I hope we can figure out what lies in-between somewhere and nowhere. Until then, let me say this to all of you, my persistent readers and fellow seafaring travelers, “Thank you and bon voyage my friends, love one another and salvage whatever you can in your lives, because even good dogs get the blues!”


Puppy Poem #7: Requiem For Rags

Puppies are fur covered babies

Whose welfare they must depend

On those around who raise them

That’s how it all begins

Puppies grow with age

Then they grow in size

Become our friends and protectors

Consoling with snuggles when we cry

Together we grow older

Aging by each other’s side

Nothing stays the same forever

All that lives must die

Puppy dogs are like wishes

Like a wish that really comes true

And if I had one wish to wish upon

It’d be to take just one more walk with you…


April 02, 2022 16:23

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28 comments

Tanja Riley
18:14 Apr 13, 2022

I enjoyed this story very much! It hooked me from the start. The first sentence(s) are a contract with the reader, one in which you say "I'll be telling you this kind of story." And you delivered. A very well thought out piece, loved the metaphors throughout and the poem at the end

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Stevie B
18:25 Apr 13, 2022

Tanja, thanks for reading, enjoying and heartfelt comment. I do my best to serve my readers as well as I can.

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Riel Rosehill
20:03 Apr 10, 2022

Hi Stevie, I just saw your story on the recommended list - I see why. It's beautifully written. I have a lost a few dogs (and other pets and people) throughout my life too, and it never gets easier. I really like your poem at the end, and I also thought this line was beautiful: "If you’re able to help them you should do what you can, because as far as I can tell it’s one of the better ways of being more than just who we are." The ship and shipwreck motifs were a nice creative touch too! Thank you for sharing this.

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Stevie B
22:04 Apr 10, 2022

Riel, when I read comments such as yours they raise hope in that perhaps I've finally managed to convey what I've been trying to communicate all along. Thank you very much!

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J.C. Lovero
16:23 Apr 10, 2022

Hi Stevie, Such a beautiful piece. I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on ships, underlining the word throughout the story, and the comparisons to different types of people we meet throughout our lives. And, dogs have such a special place in my heart. My brother has two little pups who are effectively my puppy nephews, and I love them more than most humans in my life. That’s saying something. Such an honor to read your work.

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Stevie B
18:32 Apr 10, 2022

J.C., such an honor to read your comment. Thank you for reading and enjoying.

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Michał Przywara
18:50 Apr 09, 2022

My condolences about Rags. This piece is a fascinating read. The opening is strong, and the shift to maritime law surprising. I like how you developed the metaphor though. Every step builds on the last, and when you got to describing how it related to people, I was looking forward to learning about each categorization. Naturally, I got to thinking where I might fall. I hope flotsam. Life seems to be a constant struggle for independence, if only because dependence (on a person, on a group, on a substance, whatever) is just so damn alluring....

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Stevie B
19:16 Apr 09, 2022

Michal, thank you for reading, enjoying, and leaving such a deeply textured comment. Now you've really got me thinking...

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Mike Panasitti
15:51 Jun 20, 2022

Great narrative about shipwrecks, their metaphorical nuances, and the loss of beloved pets. Who would've ever thought of combining the two in a story but Stevie B!

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Stevie B
17:22 Jun 20, 2022

Mike, thanks very much. In a way, everything's connected...

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Shirley Smith
22:28 Apr 11, 2022

Great writer!

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Stevie B
22:33 Apr 11, 2022

Great comment. Thank you for reading and enjoying.

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Soup .
19:07 Apr 11, 2022

This is absolutely beautiful, I felt all the emotions like that had happened to me. I love how you write. It flows so perfectly together. Thank you for sharing this story.

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Stevie B
19:50 Apr 11, 2022

Soup, you're quite welcome. Thank you for reading, enjoying, and commenting.

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Dhwani Jain
10:36 Apr 09, 2022

How are you doing?

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Stevie B
11:10 Apr 09, 2022

Can't complain.

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Dhwani Jain
11:24 Apr 09, 2022

Nice

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L.M. Lydon
13:54 Apr 07, 2022

I really like the analogy between admiralty laws and life: what a thought-provoking meditation!

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Stevie B
14:25 Apr 07, 2022

Tank you L.M. Personally, it really floats my boat...

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Becca Ward
12:16 Apr 05, 2022

Death is something I’m experiencing myself at present—the impending death of a loved one, and the potential death of another loved one due to addiction. I liked your extended metaphor: people’s worldviews afloat in the sea of life, which will take them all regardless. How then, do we make life more meaningful, so our death is less frantic? Your comment on the dog needing a listening ear was powerful. We don’t sit and listen enough. What happens when people come to die and they’ve never learned to listen? Are they jetsam?

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Stevie B
12:28 Apr 05, 2022

Becca, thank you for reading, enjoying, and especially your well thought out comment. One of the best life hacks I've adopted, is "Talk less - listen more". Concerning those who pass before learning to listen, well, they are indeed jetsam, as they're certainly remained deaf to the needs of others throughout their selfish lives and into the silence of death.

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Becca Ward
13:02 Apr 05, 2022

Indeed!

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13:10 Apr 03, 2022

Really enjoyed the part about flotsam and jetsam, and the analogy to people and all the ___ships. Also coincidentally my mini poodle one day ten years ago for no obvious reason made a runner down two flights of stairs and a dash into a busy road and onto doggie heaven. Was so sudden and confusing I relate to your experience.

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Stevie B
13:53 Apr 03, 2022

Scott, thank you. Sounds like the ASPCA should consider opening a suicide prevention for pets hotline ASAP.

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Ian Barrett
16:56 Apr 02, 2022

Another gem Stevie. Powerful stuff. I feel I have a similar mindset on life and I related to this, hanging on every paragraph. I really enjoy your stories and views on life. Can't wait for the next one.

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Stevie B
18:04 Apr 02, 2022

Ian, thank you. To me life has always been the struggle the grow up, get old, and get over ourselves.

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Shirley Smith
22:28 Apr 11, 2022

Stevie B, wow great story and beautiful poem. I love poetry, You certainly got a gift, a true poet. This story was sad but you brought out so many points that pinched me and that I can related too. I enjoyed reading it, thank you.

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Stevie B
16:48 Apr 02, 2022

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hope this one makes you remember to think...

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