A year ago almost to the day, Sara gave in to the voices in her head and attempted suicide. Thankfully it was not successful, she was medically cleared from the ER within 24 hours. However it would be another 11 days before the psych hospital would let her come home. Life has not been easy for her during the last year, as she has struggled with paranoia, complications with medication, and a husband who just couldn’t take it anymore.
I know she has done the best she can, and can’t stress enough how good of a mom she can be. She has managed to look after Day during their time together, organize play dates, buy him clothes for school, and cook better meals than I ever could. I tried to help her out around the house, showing her how to restring the weed whacker, start a mower with a bad carburetor, use a pressure washer, and a dozen other things I used to do. But over time my visits became more stressful, until eventually they became just dropping off our son. Eventually we were not able to talk anymore.
Last week she started to slip. On Tuesday I found out Day wasn’t going to school. When I called the house she was distraught. She asked if I thought she was the devil. Day asked if I could come over and bring food, I said yes. Sara asked if I was coming over to remarry her. I hung up the phone, got some groceries, headed over, fixed a lunch plate for Day, talked to Sara. She asked if I forgave her for her sins, that she needed to unlock heaven’s gate. I told her not to worry, we were all ok, and thought it would be a good idea for Day to come back with me for a while. They both agreed. I called my lawyer, who called the guardian ad litem. Sara’s lawyer was notified, and called right away. It only took a couple of minutes before she determined a medical check was needed, then called 911.
Today Sara is back in the same hospital she was in a year ago. I’m not authorized to get any first hand information about her directly from any medical staff. I am in contact with her family though, and helping to organize her mom coming out to stay a while. Her mom received a call from Sara today. Her mom thinks she should stay there a little while.
We’ve never been what you would call a religious couple, but tonight before I go to bed, I’ll be putting my hands together and call up something our broken family can use right now – faith.
Once parked, I got out of the truck and walked up to the foredeck. I knew others were watching me, warm and safe and tucked away in their cars. It was freezing last night, and still freezing this morning, but the sun was out and with no wind I could almost imagine feeling warm. I pulled out my phone and caught random photos of whatever caught my eye: the boat, something I think is called a hawsehole, and the shadow of the safety net. I wonder how strong the net is. Twin diesel engines cranked out 6000 horsepower beneath my feet but it was hard to tell we were even under way, there was just a faint low drone of humming and the slightest of vibrations. We glided along – effortless.
Peace, sun, water, cold. I breathed it all in until I was ready to tuck my own self away, warm and safe, back in the vehicle. Time to change gears, back to work mode. Today the truck was pulling double duty as a mobile office, equipped with a laptop, phone, notebook, construction drawings, and coffee. I was ready to transition from island time to mainland time, to join the rest of the worker bees in the greater Seattle area. I had to go to the other side for a site walk.
52 miles and two and a half hours later I arrived at one of our cell towers. It’s on city property, in the back parking lot of a fire station. The city planner had requested a meeting to run through one of our upcoming projects. She was concerned about damage to the property, obstructing fire crew access to the adjacent building, and the use of a crane we were going to need for our work. She was skeptical about the project in general.
I called in a rep from our engineering firm, a rep from the company that actually owns the tower, the manager from the construction company that would be doing the actual work, along with his foreman. Together we walked through each of the city planner’s concerns, coming up with solutions on site to address some issues we knew of in advance and some we didn’t. It was a successful meeting, and I enjoyed talking shop with everyone and working with the city planner. Although she was strict I know she was just looking out for the best interest of the fire department property. She thanked me personally for pulling everyone together for the site walk, which took me a bit by surprise and made me feel good – it had been my responsibility to make today happen.
I wanted to write a post last night but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it anyway. I had to write a long email instead, and about half way through noticed my hand was shaking.
Friday night we had a big wind storm, with wind gusts over 60 miles per hour. The power went out around dinnertime. It was my weekend with Day. We found a restaurant with a generator to supply back-up power, so we ate out. He had chicken strips and I had fish and chips. He had a kid’s menu and a cup of crayons. He turned the menu over and we took turns drawing pictures of sheep, castles, battle weapons, and a chicken surfing on a wave. He had the best attitude during the whole dinner/storm/power outage and I told him so. We were looking forward to Saturday so we could go up to the arcade in Oak Harbor, but it wasn’t to be so easy.
I woke up to texts, missed calls and voicemails from Sara. The wind had damaged the roof on the family home, blown some shingle panels right off. It was pouring down rain and she didn’t know what to do. I asked her to start an insurance claim, and grab some tarps and sandbags. Day and I loaded up and headed over. We set a plan into action: I had him cut lengths of cord, Sara filled up the sand bags, and I tied everything together and hoisted it all up a ladder to the roof. Sara came up and helped me as I walked the tarp up the steep part of the roof to put it and the bags into position. It took a long time and we both got completely soaked. It was not safe up there, with the rain it was impossible to stand up without sliding all the way down. Sara had to stand firm to keep me from falling off the edge of the roof. We worked it out though, got everything in position and came down off the roof. It felt great having the 3 of us together working out a problem. It was important to leave on a good note, so I tried to round up Day and go, but I just couldn’t get away fast enough.
Sara asked if we could talk and I said sure. She said the GAL (guardian ad litem – court ordered person who does an investigation and makes a recommendation as to the best solution for a child of parents going through a divorce) was very one sided, and that the report was inaccurate. I watched as Sara’s face turned. Her eyes flashed and her face started to twitch. Without me saying a word she started accusing me again of some very serious things, which she said she had proof of and knew people who would back her up. I asked what proof and which people but she said she was keeping that information a secret to protect them. I had heard this kind of stuff before and just wanted to leave but she wasn’t done. At some point I spoke up. I pointed out that I wasn’t interested in bringing up negative things about her to the GAL. I just don’t see her that way, and don’t remember our marriage as the horrible event she makes it out to be. I think in general she is a good person with a lot to offer the world, and I want to hang on to the good memories, forgive the bad and move on with our lives. Day and I left. We made the most of our time together but I was rattled. I hadn’t seen Sara this way in a long time.
Sunday my boy and I read, ate ham and toast, and played finger football at the kitchen counter. Later we played racquetball and went swimming. As 4pm drew near we gathered his things and headed back to Sara’s for the drop off. I wanted to ask for extra time so he and I could watch the superbowl together, but there’s no way she and I can work something like that out now. I brought his stuff in the house, said bye and turned to leave. She noticed I had a fitbit on, and I knew what was coming. A friend of mine gave me and Day two older fitbits. I synched them up, so we can see how many steps the other person has taken. We try to see who can get to 10,000 steps first. Sara thinks I synched them up for a different reason. She followed me outside and it was on. I tried to leave and she blocked my way. She started reading poetry from her phone. I said I didn’t have to listen to this and she wasn’t allowed to block me from getting in my truck to leave. She was furious and out of control, yelling the worst of accusations. Some are very serious, some are strange and I don’t recognize where they’re coming from. I had heard most of them before, so now they’ve lost their impact and shock effect. In my head I drowned out her voice, stood back and just watched. Her face was contorting wildly and I recognized it from one of the nightmares I had when she was in the hospital. My overall feeling was just sadness.
After a few minutes of me not engaging she started to calm down, throwing out a strange one I hadn’t heard before: she said I had called her sister “militant” 18 years ago. I was curious and said I didn’t remember saying that and I don’t have anything against her sister. She asked me to name her sister, I did. She asked me to name her half sisters, I did. She asked me to list where each of her sisters lived. I think I know but didn’t want to get it wrong, and told her so. She was calming down. I said I thought her sisters and mom were good people. She raised her voice and said I couldn’t keep her from seeing her family. I said I wouldn’t. She was still mad but I could see this episode was over. I got in the truck and left. I felt like calling the police to do a welfare check, but that would scare Day. I also knew if the police saw her in that condition they would call for medical, and it would be possible they would take her to the ER, and I know what they have the power to recommend. Instead I visited both next door neighbors, told them no details but made sure they still had my phone number, and to call me anytime if they felt like it. I was worried about Day and didn’t know what else to do. I don’t want her to do anything to him. I don’t want her to do anything to herself, and I don’t want her to be taken away again. I don’t want to keep fighting this battle. I call my best friend and tell him everything, trying to fight back the tears. He helps me keep it together.
I had always wanted a specific kind of sailboat, a Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20. They’re short and strong, straight forward no nonsense (maybe just a little), graced with bold curvy lines that embody optimism and adventure. That’s how I like to think of the boat, it’s how I like to think of myself. Apparently others like it too. In summer people walking around the docks sometimes come over to say hi, to ask about the boat, to tell me their own stories about Flickas or similar boats, and some ask if they can come aboard and take a peek below, especially if I’m in the middle of a project.
The project I’m working on now is fixing up the overhead, or ceiling. I thought I was making some progress a few weeks ago, thought I had finally worked out the design in my head, and was bold enough to begin the prep work, including the installation of wooden furring strips which would act as the supporting framework. But at the time I was getting frustrated with not having the right materials, and was short on time, which is a sure sign of trouble. When the strips were done I didn’t feel good about it, left the boat and mulled it over for 3 weeks. The main problem was the strips just didn’t have enough give, and I couldn’t stand the idea of straightening out that beautiful overhead curvature. So Saturday morning I went back to the boat, with a fresh set of materials and a brand new game plan.
A few years ago when I bought the boat, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and absolutely clueless about what I had done. There were warning signs that probably should have had me running for the hills, including loose shrouds and water stains on the interior paneling. No problem I thought, I’ll just sand out the stains! The stains went deep into the wood. I’ll just bleach them out! But the wood was soft. I pried off the soft wood and the wood beneath that wood was rotten. The damage was extensive, and beyond my skills to tackle on my own. So along came Steve, the most jubilant, optimistic, can-do liveaboard in the whole marina, eager to offer his advice. Where should I start I asked, what materials should I use, how long will this take me? What should I do? His usual smile evaporated as he popped his head below and quickly scanned the interior. “Give it away to some crackhead” was what he said with no hint of his comment being a joke. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately who knows I didn’t listen to him, and over the last 3 years have systematically removed, repaired or replaced, and resealed just about every part on this sailboat. The restoration is coming along slowly but it’s satisfying in a very deep way. There’s a certain amount of momentum going now, and I’m glad I didn’t take Steve’s advice and get rid of the boat.
Unfortunately the crackheads have apparently taken a liking to it anyway. About a year ago I would come out to work on the boat and would just have the strangest feeling, like someone had been right where I was sitting, there inside the boat. I had never kept the hatch locked because apparently I’m stupid like that, so my concern was a real possibility. I started to go all CSI and was determined to figure out if someone was coming aboard, and the most miniscule clues soon emerged. Sometimes a seat cover would be wrinkled when I knew I hadn’t used it, things like that. One day I was just sitting there, wondering if maybe I was imagining all this. I looked out the companionway and realized that the house battery’s solar charging panel was totally gone along with the cable. Since the cable connects to the battery, that was the proof that someone had been there, inside.
Ever since then she’s kept locked up when I’m gone, but I guess someone is persistent. Saturday morning upon arrival I checked the lock, and knew immediately someone again had been there. I close the hatch a certain way to keep rain out but also let air in, and the hatch was out of position. I think someone is unscrewing the latch that holds the lock. Today I went back and saw the same thing. Nothing is missing this time, there’s nothing on board worth much anyway. I think someone just goes there some nights to get out of the cold, and now they try to put things back very carefully.
I’m back home now, after a long day of fun work, eating a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-basil soup. I might have a glass of wine later but for now it’s milk. It’s windy and raining outside. Someone might be aboard my little boat right now but it just seems so minor compared with the rest of my life these days. The guardian ad litem report came back last week, which will have a ton of influence over the final parenting plan, which will decide how much I get to see my son as he grows up. The details are sealed by the court, but I can say that the report was exhaustively thorough, that my ex wife does not love me anymore and maybe never really did, but despite all her efforts, the recommendation is for a 50/50 parenting plan, which is what I’ve been asking for since the beginning. It’s like I won something I never thought I would have to fight for, and lost something I never knew I didn’t have. I try to think about it philosophically, like the idea of having anything is an illusion at best, but that doesn’t cut it tonight. I’m so happy.
It’s been a good few days. It was my weekend with Day which always helps. I got to watch him an extra couple of days last week because Sara was sick and she asked me to. My boy and I got to play at the local arcade, we ferried over to the mainland to watch a movie, and got to play hookie from school and work because it snowed, which is pretty rare here at sea level. When it snows on the island it tends to dump a lot then melt quickly, so it’s best to make the most of it. Sledding is something we look forward to every winter. My boy rides down the hill on my back, the same way I used to ride with my Dad.
A few days ago we had to swing by Sara’s to pick up his snow gear. I never really know what to expect when we see each other. It can be very unpredictable, and my heart goes into self-preservation mode as we enter the driveway. The trees look bigger. The grass is long. I try not to look to the left to see the grave I dug for our family dog. Once inside I pick up the cat that runs down the stairs when he hears my voice. Day and I picked him out as a kitten, now he’s 20 pounds of muscle and claws. He’s a shredder of furniture and people, but I hold him the same way I held him as a kitten. Somehow he remembers, closes his eyes, and purrs away. I miss him. Sara and I talk uneasily about snow boots, dental insurance, and how the goldfish need help. Last year I made a home outside for some of them which had outgrown the aquarium inside, but Sara is worried they’re getting too cold and I worry they’re being neglected.
I offer to buy more clothes, to take Day to the dentist, to bring the outside goldfish back to my new place to take care of them here. I struggle to do as much as I can without feeling taken advantage of, which is hard. It’s my nature to offer everything I have to give. The visit is tense but pleasant, constructive and brief. Before long we’re headed out, me dodging potholes in the gravel road, Day in the backseat holding a bowl of fish in his lap, water sloshing all over his lap, both of us laughing. The fish are panic stricken I’m sure but somehow make it back safely. They have to wait for hours in their little bowl until the water temperature steadies out to the same between the bowl and their new tank. I watch them and sense their unease, confined and unsure of the future – I know how they feel.
It’s Monday now, Day is back with his Mom. He and I had the best time possible, for more time than usual, but it doesn’t seem to help at the moment. I miss him terribly. I sit here and write, drinking red wine and eating my dinner of sauteed onions, peppers and chicken, mixed with leftover macaroni and cheese. I’m thankful for time with him, and some new found peaceful time for myself. I’m thankful for this blog, which helps me organize my thoughts and emotions. These clumsy words and various photos plucked from my phone twist and turn themselves into posts which help me make some kind of sense of the past, steady my nerves of the present, and offer an encouraging way forward. I look over at my two fish buddies, Shibuki and Mohawk. They stare at me, they look away. They see everything, they see nothing. I know how they feel.
This is a forecast that grabbed my attention. Not optimal by any means but it promised to be a good show. So Saturday I grabbed my board, wetsuit, gloves and booties and threw everything into the back of the truck and headed north, hoping the wind would back off. No such luck. 4o degrees outside and the pouring rain turned to hail, pelting the side of the truck as I approached the coast. There’s a part of the island that looks northwest up the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, wide open to any north Pacific storm that decides to coming barreling down. Half a dozen spots dot this small section of coast where it’s possible to stare straight into the teeth of nature’s fury and hunt waves.
The forecast called for 40 mph winds which I hoped would back off with the incoming tide, instead it was blowing closer to 50 and gusting well higher than that. It was hard to stand still. Sea foam was whipping through the sky and sea water was surging through the parking lot. My front half was soaked and my backside dry. I still wanted to do my due diligence and check my secret spot but there was no trail by the beach, the ocean was pounding the base of the cliffs, grabbing massive logs and old growth stumps, sucking them back out to sea with frightening ease.
I checked another spot that can handle the wind, but the current was pushing 10 knots and the debris was just plain dangerous, no waves for me today. Instead I climbed up a ridge where the wind was funneling up even faster, knelt down and closed my eyes. The hail stopped and the sun came out, the wind blistering my face. It felt like torture, it felt sublime. I was getting my ass kicked and loving every second. My ego was obliterated, there didn’t seem to be any division between what was happening outside my body and inside. The noise was deafening, it was impossible to think. The wind was ripping the pain out, blowing my tears away..
The holidays are over, I’m back at work, it’s a whole new year. When I was a kid I thought about how far away 2020 seemed to be. I knew then that by now I’d be 47 years old, which to a kid is ancient. To make it worse my dad, who is from Tennessee and is as country as country gets, uses 47 to describe anything that means “a lot of” – like “son c’mere quick, there must be 47 turkeys down at the pond!” or “hell no I’m not drivin’ to Nashville, I swear everyday they put in 47 new stoplights!” etc etc. Well 2020 is here and 47 is here. To kids I probably do seem ancient, but I still feel healthy and strong, maybe just a bit more cautious than I used to be.
When I hear other guys around my age talk, it’s often about where they are at this point in their lives, like they never thought they’d be doing this or doing that, or thought they’d have more money, a bigger house, more kids, less kids, whatever. I never really thought about it that way though. I’ve always enjoyed being right where I’m at, appreciating the people and moments around me, flowing with the current of life without expectation. Like they say the past is gone and the future never gets here, the only time is now. With that perspective the magic of life reveals itself in waves, beauty is appreciated, the mundane becomes extraordinary, each moment is a gift.
I hope one day I can look back at this divorce that I’m going through as some kind of gift, but in general it has felt more like a kick in the stomach. It’s been hard, but I try to keep a positive attitude and not let myself get too down about it. One thing that’s interesting is that it has forced me to go through all my crap. Most everything of monetary value will go to my soon to be ex wife, but I still have a good amount of personal things that have stacked up over the years, which tends to happen if you’re sentimental like me. Cards, photos, gifts, souvenirs – what to keep, what to throw away? I go through it all and relive every memory. I want to hang on to it, I want to throw everything away and start new. In the end most of it gets tossed, but I save some of the best things I have, especially the photos, enough to fill a small plastic tub but no more.
It feels good to let things go. The older I get the less things I want. People mean more, experience means more. Material possessions can become a prison. These are the easiest to get rid of. But I think even sentimental possessions can become emotional baggage. What are these old cards and photos? I wonder if these memories are the building blocks of my identity, or if it’s the other way around. Who am I? A construction manager? A traveler, a teacher, mountaineer, sailor, surfer, husband, father? Am I a big fat loser who works too hard and just lives in the past? These days it seems like the answer is just another one of those magical moments that is always gradually revealing itself, like a blooming flower or a sunrise. The answer is I’m just me, someone who loves and takes care of my son and those around me the best I can. I guess I’ll always have passions, but they don’t define me. Little by little I let go of the old, making room for the new.
I dropped Day off at school yesterday morning and I’m feeling kind of low. This weekend will be his time with Sara. I miss him constantly but am able to function better these days, and besides I have stuff to do, like trying to simplify my life, and tending to an old boat that hopefully hasn’t snapped her dock lines in all the wind we’ve been having lately. I guess in a way I’m kind of looking forward to my time this weekend. My time, my chance to play my new role as a man with no role, my chance to live life without an identity imposed by others, or even myself. Happy new year to you and to me..
The other day I saw this momma and her fawn outside my bedroom window. I thought it was interesting because they were on the opposite sides of a fence. It’s only a couple of feet tall, but I wonder if that bothers her. It’s easy to see to see she’s keeping a close eye on her baby.
When you’re separated from someone you love, is it easier to deal with if you’re close or far away? I like being close. Even though I’m only allowed to see my son every other weekend plus Wednesdays, it’s better to know he’s nearby, close enough where I could actually run to his side in about 40 minutes. I’ve seen him before in the car as Sara and I pass each other on the highway, I’ve seen him in the grocery store. I guess those are some of the awkward moments parents have to deal with when we split up.
Because Sara and I don’t agree on a parenting plan, a guardian ad litem has been appointed by the court to figure out what’s in our son’s best interest. It’s a long and thorough process, involving multiple interviews with each other, family, friends, acquaintances, school teachers and staff. It’s weird because Sara is fighting me and this process every step of the way, yet my opinion is that she is a good mom and should have equal time with our son also. It’s taken 3 months for this investigation to run its course, and the report will include a recommendation that will have a big impact on our lives for years to come. In general I’ve been a nervous wreck but do my best to answer all the questions as best and truthfully as I can.
We’re starting to get some preliminary feedback which is encouraging to me. Unfortunately it’s triggered a new round of accusations by Sara, which are severe, desperate, and upsetting. Some of them are not true, some are a strange twisted way of remembering things. To me it’s more of a lashing out, sad mainly because I have good memories of our married life, and think of myself as a devoted husband and father, who gave everything I had to give for my family.
I think Sara’s mental illness has played a large part in our problems. I can’t totally blame it for our divorce, for that we both have contributed our fair share. It’s just made it so much more complicated, like some sort of nightmarish carnival fun house with distorted mirrors, a black maze of the mind where every path leads to a dead end. When I took the NAMI family to family course, which is an intensive educational support group for family members of loved ones with mental illness, I asked the teacher why someone with problems would attack the very one who is closest to them and tries to help them the most. The answer was that this is very common, because the afflicted one struggles so hard every day to appear normal and fine to everyone else. It’s the loved one that bears the burden of the attacks, because the loved one is the trusted one, the one who will support, stay with, protect, and accept the other regardless of the behavior. This thought always makes me cry.
It’s been a long week, and tonight the big plan is to drink red wine, eat doritos and watch Portlandia. I’m ready to turn my brain off. It’s hard though, tomorrow will be the first birthday my son has ever had without his dad around.