The mast is up, the boom is on, mainsail bent on, mainsheet rigged to the 4-way fiddle block. Anchor shackled to the 5/16″ chain. All the while Day fished for little perch off the dock. He was using a little silver spoon but the magic was in the bait that was on the hook – mussel meat. He would catch a fish every couple of minutes, then I would stop messing with the boat, reach under the dock and pull out a handful of the stinky shellfish. It drives fish crazy, and it makes your hands smell for days. For lunch we split a leftover sandwich and ate Reese’s peanut butter cups that were given to us on IOU from the mini mart lady. It had been foggy all day but the sun was coming out. This was one of the best times I can remember, a wave of happiness.
The next day an email from my attorney let me know that Sara’s response to the divorce filing was in, and I should take a look at it right away. My heart beat faster, hands shook, and head ached as I read the response. She was asking for custody of Day, offering me visitation every other weekend plus a partial day on Wednesdays. She cited the living conditions on the boat as a reason – no running water, must use the marina restrooms, dangerous. My eyes blurred as another bottom dropped out of our relationship. The decision was immediate, my response was cut and dry – I was off the boat.
Flashback to three summers ago. The 14 year old dog that we had raised from a puppy lay collapsed in the yard unable to move, stricken by painful siezures. He was a large rottweiler/lab mix and I couldn’t pick him up anymore. I was there with him for a day and a half with a blanket over us at night and me shading him from the sun during the day until the vet could arrive, the vet that I had called to come out and euthanize the most favorite dog I ever had. I held his head in my lap as the life faded from his eyes. It took two of us to lift him into a wheelbarrow and then the rest of the day for me to bury him by the garden. Things started to slip from then on – sold my Sprinter, sold my truck, quit triathlon, broke my hand surfing, let my business fade. Sara was getting worse. But there was still light inside, there was one good thing left in my life, my son. I had to do whatever I could to maximize the chances of sharing equal time with our him.
The next day my boat was stripped clean, I took all the liveaboard stuff out, left all the sailboat stuff in. I don’t really understand it yet but it actually felt kind of good. The boat had become just a floating home, stuffed with so much crap it would have been a hazard to sail. I swear she seemed relieved of the clutter, like waking up from a deep sleep. One last cart load, one more look back, things were about to change.
I chose a place to rent close to Day’s school, looked at it once, applied, was accepted, and signed the lease an hour before I had to write a response to Sara’s response. By the next Monday I was in a court room, the only person in the gallery, listening to two lawyers present their cases to a judge I had never known, never heard of, never seen. This judge would make a ruling that would affect three lives forever, two of whom were not even present. The parenting plan was the most important aspect, and it was obvious the judge seemed very intent on getting all the information she could before delivering her verdict for temporary orders – one week on, one week off.
It’s my week off now, which means I just work 40 hours a week and wonder what to do with a small unfurnished cottage in Langley, Washington that I have no connection to, wonder what to do with the rest of my life. I lie on the floor and hear birds in the meadow outside as I close my eyes. In a way I am trapped and in another way my future is wide open. I wonder who I’ll become as my previous identity – husband, family man, provider – is stripped away. I let go of trying to control things anymore. I start to let go of worrying about things beyond that control, and take comfort in knowing I have time to share with my son.
2/16 – It’s Saturday. Looks like Sara is going to be in bed all day so I take Day to a movie. When we come out I turn my phone back on and pause in the theater lobby, standing there watching as text messages and voicemails compete over notifying me of the news. Most of them are from my neighbor Dan, and they are all borderline frantic. “Call me right away, I’m here with Sara, call me right away, something’s wrong with her, she’s not making any sense, I think she needs to go to the hospital..” I call him right away and find out she took a bunch of sleeping pills and isn’t feeling well. I agree with Dan and ask him to drive her asap to the emergency room which he does. It’s a couple of hours before I can make it back to the island, arrange for someone to watch Day, and drive up to the ER. I’m quickly admitted and shown in to see Sara in a bed, in a hospital gown, hooked up to an IV and monitors. I rush to her side and quickly become confused. She’s not sad, not crying. She glances at me for a moment then looks straight ahead. I know that look but it takes a second to register – she’s furious. In a low seething voice she begins to speak: “Who cooked this up?” “They got my dad, me, and my mom will be next.” “Day says you showed him a picture of me with a large hole in my chest.” “I’m in the news. This will go down as a thwarted Valentine’s Day massacre.” “People are saying mean things about me on facebook then deleting it.” “First they’ll zap me, then send me to a different hospital but won’t admit me, then I’ll be gone.” At some point over the next few hours I hear that after she took all the pills, the voices in her head told her to go outside and stand in the rain and smoke a cigarette, then she would be shot in the teeth, so that she could blow a trumpet that would signal the start of Armageddon. I hear hospital machines making beeping noises, I hear other patients moaning. I hear nurses and doctors saying words like psychotic and suicide.
At some point late in the night I have to leave to pick up Day, and it’s a long lonely dark ride home. I look at my phone and suddenly realize I’ve overlooked the first voicemail of the day, and it’s from Sara. I melt inside as I hear her soft voice say four words then hang up. “You’re right, I’m sorry.”