Build, Destroy, Rebuild, Heal

10/3/19 Thursday

On the second and final sunny day of the week, I went to the boat. I need to start finishing out the ceiling, I need to add fuel stabilizer to the tank and run it through the motor, prep the dock lines for winter storms, and half a dozen other things. I brought a truck load of tools and supplies to do most of this but instead I just sit there on the starboard settee, doing nothing, looking around. Not much has changed here since I moved off the boat. Everything that I didn’t take with me then is still here, right where I left it. Moving around stirs up dust, fine particles of who knows what floating aimlessly through sunbeams streaming in through the portholes. It smells musty. I go up top and sit in the cockpit. The wind is super light this afternoon, and the air takes on that golden haze as the sun finds its lower path across the sky. I need to get busy. Not sure where to start, I decide to do something nice for the boat. I never finished painting the small rectangular step that sits on the cabin top but under the mast plate. I tore this thing apart when I completely gutted and rebuilt the compression arch, reglassed it, sealed and primered it. The very last step is the easiest but as usual I was taking my sweet time finishing this project. But no more, I grabbed a can of Interlux Brightside off-white, some tape and a brush. Slowly, with care and thoughtfulness I applied this last coat, taking my time, feeling my way around the mast, smoothing out ridges, wiping up the edges the same way you lick around an ice cream cone to prevent drips. It’s nice to take care of something again.

There must be a chill in the air today. My shoulder facing the sun is warm, the shady one is cold. I quickly clean up and go below. I sit down and look around again. It’s not the greatest feeling though and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why. I used to look so forward to coming here, this was my place, my place to be me, to get away. To get away. I think about it some more and understand. Now I know why I feel this way – there is a lot of pain here. Every inch of this boat has a story, a memory, and a lot of those memories have to do with just surviving that pain. But there’s a strange comfort in this realization, and even more strange I already know what I need to do now.

I start with taking the cushions off the boat, one by one. I remove each cover, these will be taken back and washed. Next everything that’s not attached comes off the boat. All the locker lids get removed and cleaned. All loose dirt gets brushed up and vacuumed out. What’s left gets a warm wash down, saving the best for last. I refill the sprayer with hot water and orange citrus bilge cleaner. I give all the boat’s private areas a good sudzy bath, with a nice wipe down to finish. I leave all the lockers open, bilge exposed, windows, hatch, and companionway wide open. By this point we’ve both had a good cleansing and need to air out. I head up top to find the last of the sun.

And here comes Paul, a dock buddy putting into his slip nearby on one of five boats he has here at the marina. He’s a friendly Santa Claus looking guy who loves boats even more than I do. We chat for quite a while about this and that, and he really gets me going with info that there is an old Nor’star Flicka for sale cheap, that’s been sitting in some guy’s barn up in Granite Falls. After a while he gets a call from his wife, and he’s gotta go. He sounds happy she called. It stings a little. I walk over to my boat and begin to button her up. For the second time today I know what needs to be done here – the next time I come out to the boat, it will be time to go sailing.

2/22 – I call Sara while waiting to pick up Day after school. She sounds fine and in good spirits. It feels like we’re out of crisis mode now, like the explosion is over. She’s alive, physically ok, and is starting to sound like her old self again. I’m sure she’ll be released before too long, maybe another week? I wonder what that will be like. I find myself starting to dwell on some of the things she said in the hospital before. Does she remember saying she was unfaithful? When she gets home neither one of us will be able to handle any kind of serious argument. But bringing it up while she’s here at the hospital seems wrong too. I don’t know what to do, and it all just starts to eat me up inside.

Light in Dark Places

10/1/19 Tuesday

Early on in the divorce proceedings, I thought Sara and I would be able to work out a parenting plan and financial arrangement together, just two adults working out a difficult situation in the most positive way possible, for the benefit of all of us involved. When I started asking her preference on certain details of splitting up the assets, she said she was going to “speak to her attorney first” and that she was going to ask for “what she was entitled”. This was a bad sign.

I was naive in thinking someone I’d known half my life would be fair and rational in a time like this, would put the interest of the three of us above her own. I was naive about a lot of things. She asked for $1000 a month for alimony, another $1000 a month for child support. She asked for custody of our son , allowing him to visit me every other weekend plus a few hours each Wednesday. I asked for equal time with our son, plus less alimony since she had open access to our joint bank account. The judge saw it my way, but only for a temporary basis. The judge asked for someone o represent Day, a guardian ad litem (GAL) to provide feedback and a recommendation to the court before the final parenting plan would be decided. But if Sara and I could come to a parenting plan agreement in writing, a GAL would not be necessary. I still held out hope, so we did not line up the GAL at that time. But Sara and I were not able to come to an agreement, we were not able to agree on much of anything. Weeks went by, then months. With no agreement, Sara had the right to put her requested plan into action when Day’s school started, which she did, over my objection, over Day’s objection. I had made a big mistake. We needed a GAL, and fast. But her lawyer didn’t like my lawyer’s GAL pick, and visa versa. A stalemate, and in the meantime I am now without my son most of the time. I had to have my lawyer file a motion to ask the judge to appoint a specific GAL, we had to get this process moving. But this process can take 60-90 days, so for the time being I’m stuck. Tomorrow is my Wednesday, then I must take Day back to Sara, and I won’t see him for a week.

Why would someone do this? How can one turn against another so vehemently, when so much love was shared between the two before? There’s so much I don’t understand. Events from the past replay in my head. This is consuming me. It’s hard to concentrate on much of anything sometimes, especially work. Looking at spreadsheets and construction drawings my eyes glaze over. I lie down and stretch, I work. I lift weights, I work. I start a load of laundry, do the dishes, I work…

Last week I worked like a maniac and managed to pull quite a bit of overtime. But instead of asking for the extra pay, I chose to take a few hours off yesterday. It was to be only one of two sunny days this week, and it was also the last day of salmon fishing season. I hit the road to one of my favorite places on the island, a beach where there is no parking or even foot access anywhere close. It’s very private, and a beautiful place to spend time. The fishing is not as good here as other places, but I get this beach to myself. I love it here. The waves are small and carefree as they lap the shore. Seabirds keep me company, as does a friendly seal. A bald eagle watches silently from a branch on the bluff above. The sun rounds the bend, and I feel it’s warmth sink into my face and hands. Soon the hat comes off, then the sweatshirt, then the shirt. I fish and think, and after a while take a break just to walk on the beach. The sun hits an agate at just the right angle, illuminating it like a lantern, revealing itself from ten thousand cold dark rocks around it. Another unexpected moment of happiness, contentment, connectivity with my elements – water, sun, rock. No fish today, but as I head back down the beach I’m not worried about that. I caught what I was really after today, a moment of peace. I am better than I was before. / Agate from Whidbey Island

2/21- 11 am, I miss a call from Sara. She sounds good on her voicemail. At noon I’m able to call her back, and she sounds totally normal. We’re only able to talk a short while, but she is off unit restriction now, and later today will be our first visit. Visiting hours are each day, but only 6:30-7:30 pm, no children allowed. I’m excited to see her, it’s all I can think about as I make the long drive up the island, over to the other side, across to the freeway, down to the hospital. I check in, wait with the other family members who are also waiting to see their loved ones. 6:30 comes and we are all ushered in to the cafeteria. Sara comes in, wearing glasses and an orangish jumpsuit. She’s smiling and teary eyed at the same time, probably like me. I’m overjoyed to see her. She seems like her normal self after two cups of coffee, and we talk for the whole hour. We’re able to joke about things, and I’m reminded at this bizarre time how good things can still be between us. She says she thinks she will be discharged in a couple of days, but I know it will be at least another week. I don’t tell her this though, trying to stay positive. I want to ask her about things she has said that bother me, but I know it would be too much right now. It’s more important for her to get better, for her to come home. Looking back I’m glad I didn’t bring any of that stuff up, this one-hour conversation in the cafeteria of a psychiatric hospital will end up being one of the last good times we ever had together.

Attack, Defense, Stamina

9/15/19 Sunday

I have to take responsibility for my part of the failure of my marriage. I say have to because I don’t want to. It’s easy to blame someone else, it’s also justified. But to deny my part would be a reckless injustice to truth. There’s a ton of little stuff, but one thing keeps coming back to haunt me – I let it happen. When things got uncomfortable I brushed them aside. Issues that went unchecked did not go away. My friend has a saying that he got from his dad, who retired after a long career with the Army’s 160th division of the 101st Airborne – the special forces of the Screaming Eagles. “The slow blade penetrates the shield.” Our marriage collapsed from within, slowly, imperceptibly, one half truth at a time, one sideways comment, one misunderstanding, one cold shoulder, one resentment at a time. Too many work trips, too much silence. We were in trouble long ago and didn’t do anything about it. Maybe we tried, maybe we just didn’t have the skills to work it out. We should have sought help sooner. I should have sought help sooner. I also should have stood up, drawn boundaries sooner, called things out when they were over the line and looked for solutions sooner. Instead I ignored problems, got frustrated at her behavior, got angry when my behavior was called into question. Arguments got worse, bitterness dug in, one became two, two grew apart.

Day likes racing, dinosaurs, ninjas, chickens, legos, and bey blades. Beys are toys that are about the size of your palm, they spin by way of a “launcher”, and battle each other when spun at the same time in a stadium designed for that purpose. The concept is from a popular Japanese anime style cartoon, Bey Blade Burst Turbo. The kids in the cartoon test their beys with their friends, and against their enemies. They can use different strategies like attack, defense, and stamina mode. The kids “resonate” with their beys and are able to unlock their powerful spirits, which help them spin faster and deal devastating blows to defeat the opponent. On Saturday Day must have checked the mailbox 10 times to see if his latest bey had arrived in the mail. We had ordered it from Amazon, and could tell from the tracking info that it was out for delivery. He had been so excited. I went with him to the mailbox each time, cringing the first 9 or so times to see an empty mailbox, and to see how ecstatic he was the 10th time, his face glowing as he held the small package in his hand. Back inside he tore into the package as I washed dishes. I would look over once in a while though and see concern. A few minutes later I could hear the low mutterings of frustration. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “everything”. I didn’t ask what everything meant but took a break from the dishes and went over to sit with him on the couch. He was starting to cry. I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, said let’s stop this crying business and see what we can do about the problem. There were actually 3 separate problems and we worked through each one until the bey worked as designed, crushing most of his other beys. Day was so pleased and we had many epic battles together that afternoon.

Today we watched American Ninja Warrior, played racquetball and went swimming. At 4pm I dropped him off at Sara’s. I wrote her an alimony check. She asked me how she was supposed to pay for a washing machine repair. As we both sat at the kitchen table, while she asked me questions and Day was playing with his beys, it occurred to me that Sara and I battle like the beys battle, spinning around our daily lives, coming together once in a while to clash, sometimes in attack mode, sometimes defense, sometimes stamina. Today I’m in stamina mode, deflecting Sara’s loaded questions, coming back to an empty house and fighting back the tears. I fix myself dinner, watch a sailing documentary about Mike Plant, wash dishes again, write again. I wish someone were here to tell me to stop this crying business and to help me work through my problems. I try not to think too much, do my stretches and get ready for bed. / Walking down the dock in Coupeville, Whidbey Island

2/20 – I miss two calls from Sara as I’m getting Day off to school. She sounds upset on her voicemail, she doesn’t trust the medications she is supposed to take. She thinks the nurses have been outside her room talking about her. She is still on unit restriction but I hope that will change later today. I call her back, and she tells me about certain songs where I need to look up the lyrics. I call back around noon trying to get a hold of her assigned social worker but my call goes to voicemail. I speak with Sara again, no visitation today. But she’s been taken off suicide watch, so no more room checks every 5 minutes. She’s told the restriction should end the following day. I ask to speak to the social worker again, and someone picks up the phone this time, but it’s the wrong social worker. It’s frustrating that I am getting no information on Sara’s condition, her diagnosis, her prognosis, or even a concrete date when we can see each other. Later that evening we’re able to talk again, and she gets to say hi to Day. I can tell they’re having a good conversation and it makes me feel good to see Day’s face light up. He knows she is in the hospital, and I tell him it’s because she got very worn out from her trip to see her family, and is extra sad because her dad died. He’s good with this explanation, and wants to see his mom. I talk with her again, she sounds very good, we all wish each other a good night.

I Write and Write and Write

9/10/19 Tuesday

I’m back at work, Day is back at school. The divorce is mired in financial paperwork, and we can’t agree on a final parenting plan, which will mean more court dates and interviews with court-appointed social workers. This drags on and on. But the sun came out today, I had a good cup of coffee this morning, and I got to take Day to the Wooden Boat Festival at Port Townsend last Saturday. I have to hold on to these types of moments to get through.

The boat show is insane, with some of the most beautiful wooden vessels you’ve ever seen all dolled up and on display. I can actually feel my mouth water and my knees go weak to see, board, and poke around some of these showpieces. It’s inspiring to see such craftsmanship, dedication, and creativity. This one is one of many that caught my eye.

The Ziska, a 38 foot (plus an additional 14 feet of bowsprit) 12 ton 116 year old gaff rigged cutter was seeing laying ashore “in a sorry way” before a prodigal 19 year old shipwright fixed her up and sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Round, simple, unique, clean.

So many boats, so many types. Sailboats, tugboats, trawlers, power boats, house boats, dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards. Day jumps from boat to boat exploring galleys, engine rooms, state rooms, fish holds, captains’ bridges, poop decks, wheelhouses and cockpits. I hear the term “little monkey” more than once. He pets all the dogs and asks tons of questions to the owners. / Water Woody House Boat

Hours go by but we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s here to see and do. Day is starting to get hungry and tired so we take a break, find a quiet place to sit and eat hot dogs with corn on the cob. Afterward he’s full and tired. We don’t say much, he crawls over to my lap and I just hold him close as we watch the world go by. I finish the food that he can’t eat because I’m a pig like that, then we casually get up to go. I break away to check out an incredible cedar strip canoe, gleaming with who know how many layers of varnish. My hands slide over the smooth finish, appreciating the subtle variety of colors in the wood grain, until my eyes refocus and I startle myself by my own reflection – I need to shave. / Native American salmon art

It’s time to go. We walk slowly down six crowded blocks toward the ferry, laughing and joking, punching each other’s arms and yelling out the names of out of state license plates. We hold hands crossing each street. He’s almost ten and I wonder how much longer that will last. He seems to like it and I enjoy it each time. We pause to duck into a tiny market so I can buy a Reese’s peanut butter cup for us to share. They’re horrible for you but we both like them. I find myself spoiling him a little more than usual as our time becomes more and more limited. Sometimes when he is telling me about a cartoon or a game at school or whatever his voice fades out in my head, and I just sit there with my eyes open but not exactly seeing, just absorbing the moment. We look out at the window on the ferry and see porpoises and cormorants.

I had to take him back to Sara that Saturday, I didn’t see him Sunday. Monday I couldn’t take it and went to see him at lunch at his school. Today is worse, I just stay at the house and work, taking breaks to clean up the house, dropping to do push ups and sit ups randomly. I think I’m starting to pace, finding the tiny excuses to walk from one room to another, I just have to keep busy. I’m having trouble concentrating on work, and sometimes I wake up at night and can’t fall back asleep. Our parenting plan has switched from one week on one week off to to the plan that Sara had proposed, which is me getting to see my son every other weekend and a few hours each Wednesday. It was never meant to get to this point, our divorce was supposed to be finalized by the time Day went back to school. But we can’t agree on anything, and the end is nowhere in sight. I feel like compromising less and less these days, especially now. I am more resolved than ever to fight for equal time with my son. It may take a while but I must try. Until then I try not to feel like a prisoner in my new house, like a stranger in my new town. But I’m trapped, emotionally captive. I long to be free, to raise my son and live and grow and meet new people and get back to going on adventures, get back to being me. Until then I lock myself away, my only outlet is this blog. It is private, no one else can see it, no one else knows about it, it is my escape, I go at it the same way I go about pretty much everything else, I pour my soul into it, everything I have. Some day I will be free again. Until then, I just write and write and write.

2/19 – She signed the release of information form. Now the doctors are legally able to tell me about her, but I can’t get a hold of a doctor on the phone. I leave multiple messages with nurses and social workers and receptionists, tell the doctor to call me. I need to see her. Later that day I find out she is still on unit restriction – no visitors allowed. I try to speak with her but am told she is in the shower. Later we get to speak. She sounds pretty calm, says the doctor didn’t have my phone number to call me (?). She says all the food tastes funny. She wants me to follow up at Day’s school to find out about a possible massacre. She zeroes in on everyone’s name tags – they are suspicious. I tell her I am hopeful she will come soon, but she is skeptical, not skeptical that she will be home soon, but skeptical that I’m hopeful she will be home soon.

She is in a room full of other patients. One person looks like me, one looks like her Dad, one looks like her sister. She is stressing but able to control it better. She is on the verge of crying but doesn’t. She keeps asking if Day is ok, if anything happened at his school, if anything happened on Valentine’s Day. I try to calm and reassure her the best I can. Later that night we talk again, and she sounds almost normal. We both become hopeful that we might be able to see each other tomorrow. We leave it at that and say goodnight.


9/1/19 Sunday

One more day in the boatyard. One more coat of wax on the hull. Then another coat. My arms feel like jello, sunburned and sore. But I know the rains are coming and I need to make the most of my time here. Monday we’ll be launching the boat. Tuesday my son and I will fly to Tennessee to visit my Dad’s side of the family. When we come back school will start. I finish with the wax, clean up my mess, load up my tools. Leaning against the truck, I let the sun’s final rays soak into my skin, look at the boat, look out to sea. The water sparkles across the bay and I feel warm and satisfied. / Waxing the hull

It’s time to wrap this project up and move on. It’s a quiet Sunday, and I’m thankful the yard owner gave me the gate combo to come in and finish my work. I lock up the gate and begin the drive toward Sara’s to pick up Day. Whidbey Island is long and skinny and there’s one highway that runs the length of it. The road winds like a river, twisting and turning back on itself, rarely straight, rarely flat. One moment you look east and see Saratoga Passage, the next moment west to Admiralty Inlet. On a cloudy day your bearings easily become confused. On a sunny day it’s not a problem, the sun commands its presence across the sky as the big star of the show. Today it’s not hard to tell where west is, the sun fights its evening descent like a death throe. A slow motion explosion behind the clouds, so dramatic people pull over to watch, including me. / Sunset, Whidbey Island

The colors twist and turn with the clouds, the shade of the douglas fir turns black. The view changes with imperceptible slowness, but no two moments are the same. Slow days but fast years. The concept of time is baffling, is it a constant as measured by a clock? Is it relative to the beholder? I’m nostalgic and sentimental. I think about the past, about growing older, about people around me growing older. Some say there is no such thing as the past or future, only now. Some compare time to a river, others think of it as a cycle. I once heard about a tribe of people in the amazon that communicates with a complex system of clicks, whistles, and hums. Their language has no past or future tense. They write nothing, there is no preserved art. When there is no more use for an item or a concept, it no longer exists. I struggle to put the past into perspective. When the dream of the past is shattered, is it tragic? Is it an opportunity, even liberating? Sometimes the pain inside is wrenching, like the dying struggle of the sun before me. Sometimes I get a glimpse of hope, of optimism. I push these feelings aside, get back in the truck, and try to focus on the present.

These days I may live in an inclusive community of socialist progressive liberal baby boomers, where the entire island is one big safe space, but that’s not where I come from. I was born and raised in rural Tennessee, where guys drove lifted trucks or modified cars with terrible gas mileage. We drove fast and tested our skills with the police, usually prevailing but not always. We liked to fish and hunt and did our very best to impress the hottest girls we could find, and sometimes the not so hot. I grew up in a place where we all dreamed of one day getting out, of escaping to a place that was more exciting, had more opportunity. I was able to do that, by going to college, getting a degree in teaching and mathematics. I moved out to California (where my Mom is from), then to Japan, back to California, then up to Seattle. I never looked back, with one job leading to the next, more and more money. I thought about friends back home, struggling to find work in construction, trimming trees, managing restaurants. Why would I ever want to go back?

I wake up at 4 am, scoop up Day and put him in the truck. A drive to the ferry, then to off site parking in Seattle, then a shuttle bus to the airport. 5 hours later we’re in Tennessee, at the airport car rental counter. They’re out of compacts, I get a minivan. The girl at the counter is pretty and friendly, she is from the same town where I went to high school. She is a student at the college I attended. She is good with Day and asks him what he is looking forward to doing when we get to my Dad’s. “I wanna catch a catfish in PawPaw’s pond” he says. The girl smiles at him then looks at me. I am absolutely smitten and do my best to stumble through the paperwork. We quickly turn and go, with me thinking of the witty things I should have said at the counter.

It’s hot and humid, but a thunderstorm is brewing, the wind picks up, and the temp drops to absolutely wonderful. Day has the window all the way down as we drive the car out of the airport, down the interstate, down the highway, down the driveway to PawPaw and Mama Sherry’s.

It’s full summer in the country. Cicadas, crickets, frogs, lightnin’ bugs. Giant moths, snakes, turtles, and the scariest looking spiders you’ve ever seen. Falling asleep with the window open to the night noises outside is dreamy and quick. It’s good to see family, my dad and stepmom already know what I’m going through, I don’t really have to explain anything. It’s comforting just being here. The next day is a breakfast of sausage (patties of course not links), biscuits, fruit, and the best scrambled eggs ever. Day just about eats ’til he pops. Dad is wearing dark sunglasses now, sensitive to sunlight. I notice his hands trembling when he lifts his coffee cup.

Soon it’s too hot for Day and I to take, so it’s off to go swim. I know a place nearby where a tiny country road goes through a creek, no bridge. There’s a small pool next to where the road goes through, where a tree leans over. A rope swing hangs from that tree, and Day goes to town, it’s his first time on a rope swing at a country swimmin’ hole. We swing and swim, swing and swim. / Rope swing at the river

Several days pass, and I feel so at home. I wonder what it would be like to live here again. We fish every day. My boy doesn’t get his catfish but lands a 3 pound bass. I help Mama Sherry with an endless to-do list. In the mornings we feed the birds and have coffee on the deck. On Friday night we all load up in the minivan and drive to my old high school for a football game, to watch my stepbrother’s son as punter on the varsity team. His name is Hunter. He boots one, but it’s a good run back, he smears the return guy, the guy gets up and has words, Hunter walks away, someone shoves him in the back, someone shoves the shover, and in 2 seconds it’s a brawl. Players are ejected, the fans hoot and howl. Our team wins by a narrow margin and the game is over. After the game we all go down and say hi, his sweetheart is already there by his side, concerned about him but she can’t stop smiling. After we catch up, they drive off in his 25 year old F150 with mud tires.

Soon it’s almost time to go, and my parents struggle to ask the obvious questions about the divorce, where I’m living now, about the custody battle. I answer the best I can, trying to stay positive, but today I feel defeated, not yet ready to return to work, to school, to heavy decisions. The next morning we pack up in a rush and say goodbyes too quickly. By the following evening I’m back on the island, alone again after dropping off Day at Sara’s. On the drive back to Langley I’m suddenly amazed at the sunset, and pull over at the exact spot where I took the picture before we left. There are no vibrant colors now, just a surprise appearance of the sun before it quickly dissolves into a mass of gray. It occurs to me that this sunset is just as beautiful as the last, just different. I try to draw some sort of similarity to my own situation – is life just as beautiful and worthwhile when you’re heartbroken? It’s hard to fight back the tears tonight. I close my eyes and think about Tennessee, about swinging on the rope swing, about growing up. I think about what my Dad must have felt like when he and my Mom split up. I should give him a call tomorrow.

2/18 – Nightmares

1) Day and I are on a ferry. A large helicopter appears, hovers overhead, tries to land on top of the boat, tries to take us all away. The ferry captain is able to secure the boat but the helicopter won’t leave. It tries again and again to take away the people. I grab Day and fall to the deck, clutching him tightly. The noise and wind from the rotor are terrible and only getting worse, but I hold strong as the helicopter gets closer and closer.

2) Day and I are on the couch at night watching tv. Out of nowhere Sara appears at the window, a wild crazy look in her eyes. She looks at us with suspicion. She bursts through the window with superhuman speed and power like a demon. She’s wild, excited, eyes wide open, non-blinking, I think she is on drugs. Her face is ashy and gray. She looks wildly at me, then at Day, then back at me, a terrible smile on her face. She sees that Day and I were just sitting there, watching tv. She has a horrible realization that something is wrong, wrong with her. She is still smiling like a crazed zombie, but she is changing. Her face turns purple, her lips blue, she starts gasping. She is dying in front of me, I realize it’s an overdose. I wake up yelling over and over “Oh Momma, Oh Momma”. I’m terrified and try not to fall back asleep.

Pink and Blue

8/24/19 Saturday

I like a cold beer at the end of a hard day but I’m no alky. Sometimes weed can be relaxing and fun but I’m no smoker. Taking a calculated risk with money doesn’t bother me but forget gambling. But there seems to be one thing (other than coffee) where I have a real problem, and that’s boats. I don’t really understand why but it must be something to do with taking my favorite element – water, and combining it with something graceful and curvy. Take this boat for example, a Pearson Triton 28′. / Pearson Triton 28

To most people this boat looks like an old gray sailboat, quietly weathering away in the boatyard of broken dreams. But look at that sheer line, that low freeboard. She’s so sleek, elegant, and graceful that Carl Alberg must have designed the high goofy cabin top just to keep people from coveting his boats just a little too much. Being around this beauty distracts me from my own baby, and I need to get back to work.

Fall comes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, by late August you’re just one cold front away from fall, which around here is basically pre-winter. Rain crushes your topside work, and as the temp starts to consistently drop below 50 degrees you can forget about epoxy and adhesives. So while others are out enjoying the cruisiest month of the year with fine sailing and sunset drinks in the cockpit, I’m freaking out about all that needs to be done before winter sets in and exposes the projects I’ve neglected to complete this year. Job #1 is bottom paint. I’ve never done it, but know it takes days, money, and organization. Just finding the right bottom paint is a pain. But I do my research, and choose a new quality paint that is compatible with the old. Day rides with me to the boat store to pick it up, which goes great until he asks me how much it costs. There’s no way to justify spending $300 for a gallon of paint to pretty much anyone, least of all a nine year old. He quickly figures out what kind and how many toys that would buy him, and I find myself stammering to explain my purchase, muttering words like quality and copper. I can see they’re not making much of an impact, and even admire his reasoning, his innocent yet powerful understanding that boats can cost lots of money.

I push out the thoughts of how much I’m spending on this job, not just the paint but the rollers, brushes, trays, Tyvek suit, respirator, sanding disks, rags, and of course the haul out (and relaunch) fee. It’s really not that hard to get over, because I’ve already come to terms with my obsession, I know I’m hopeless with this boat. Why is that? Why do grown men give everything they have – time, labor, money to an inanimate object that floats on water? I don’t really know why, I’m sure it has something to do with the feminine nature of boats. I do understand that part, if you don’t then here are just a few of the many similarities: Like women, boats cost money. They require time. They will put up with an amazing amount of your crap and mistakes as long as you love them, and prove at least once in a while that you have the best intentions. If you take care of them, they will take care of you when you feel all is lost. They will provide safety and comfort when you’re scared shitless, because they are stronger and more resilient. She will stand steady and firm against the abuses of a stormy world, while you lay cowering in your bunk below. But if she feels neglected, if you don’t show attention to her most minor of ailments, she will turn indifferent toward your suffering, leaving you to sort out a dire situation on your own.

But for me there’s something more, something my soon to be ex-wife never understood, probably because I lacked the communication skills to actually tell her: This boat, my boat, this 1978 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, is now 41 years old, just a few years younger than me. She is showing her age, with cracking gelcoat, leaky windows, and highly questionable chainplates. Her backbone – the compression arch – was compromised with moisture, and I’m pretty sure she keeps on keepin’ on with a slight twist in her hull. Someone at some point in time didn’t take proper care of this boat. Someone who comes by the dock once in a while told me I’d be better off giving her away to a crackhead. But I think she can be saved. Just because someone is getting older doesn’t mean they should be written off. Just because somebody wasn’t cared for properly doesn’t mean they can’t overcome the past and succeed in this world. I think I can fix her. I think I can fix me.

After three long days of hard work, the painting is done, but I find it hard to leave the boatyard. I plop down on the tailgate, dig a cold beer out of the cooler, sit back and just take in those beautiful curves. The fading light draws pink and blue shadows across the beauty in front of me. I guess there are quite a few things that test my self control – beauty, grace, elegance. If I felt this way about drugs they would call me an addict. Some might call me a hopeless romantic. I guess these days I just think of myself as a big fat mess. / Flicka 20 bottom paint

2/18 – Not much crying, but the paranoia is off the charts and the accusations are flying. She calls me early in the morning, says they want to move her to a different room, but that is where she will be killed. She says all of her belongings are going to be taken away and burned. She says she knows people are on facebook saying her organs will fail. She says she was unfaithful to me but I already know all about it from facebook. Things feel cold to the touch, then hot. People on tv are saying bad things about her. Over the phone I can hear hospital staff entering the room, telling her to hang up the phone. She refuses, pleads for help, tells me to call 911. I hear her screaming No!! No!! then the phone goes dead.

Later in the day I’m allowed to speak to her again. She sounds worn out and confused. I need to see her and ask to talk with a nurse. But I get nowhere, so I drive two hours to the hospital anyway. Here I’m told she is still on unit restriction, still not cleared from suicide watch. Plus she hasn’t signed the release paperwork for her doctor to share status information to me about her condition. She’s too scared of everyone to give her consent to anyone to do anything. I do find out though that she will be on prolonged restriction due to her fighting back against the hospital staff when they tried to move her to a new ward. It took 6 people to hold her down to a gurney where she could be restrained with straps and medicated. She is scratched and bruised and her finger is bloodied from where they forcibly removed her wedding ring. I think my visitation was denied because they didn’t want me to see her injuries. I talk to her by phone as I drive back home. She understands I came and tried to see her. She says she will reconsider signing the release of information paperwork then hangs up. It’s a long winding road back down the island, and the word unfaithful is planted in my mind, but I can’t process it. Instead the image of her fighting back in the hospital keeps playing through my head. Amazingly after all that has happened today, all I really feel right now is proud.

Settling into Uncertainty

7/24/19 Wednesday

Walking through the front door is a new beginning, time to start over again. Sara kept all the furniture along with the family home, so now it’s shopping, building furniture, buying stuff, filling up an empty space. Much of the time it seems like I’m outside of myself standing back as the other me arranges this new place to live. Some things I make myself, some comes from the thrift store, some I paid too much for by buying local, some came from Walmart. I learn how the sun hits different parts of rooms throughout the day, I begin to notice the schedules of the neighbors – when they leave, when they come back. It’s beautiful outside. When I’m working from home at the computer I get distracted by looking out the windows, so many flowers are blooming, clouds passing by. As the hours and days go by and I get a taste of peace. It’s more quiet now, less tension. I take coffee breaks and sit out on the either the large front porch or the tiny back deck, wherever I can find the sun. / Porch window

I think of this new rental house as more of an apartment. It’s small but there’s plenty of space for me and Day and what we have left. It’s part of a community of eight small houses, each one slightly different, all cleverly designed by the same local architect. Most of the neighbors are older women, fussy about their gardens and set in their ways. I like talking with them, they are gracious and welcoming, and never forget to tell me when my hydrangeas need watering. Not sure if I’m subconsciously looking at them as mother figures, but I sense they keep an eye out for me. I like to help them out when I can, adjusting their garden rocks, bringing stuff in from their cars, taking stuff to the dump. They’re thankful for the smallest gestures. / Concrete steps with tile

I built a large project table / desk / bookshelf and I’m really proud of it. It fits beautifully in the living room, centered by an over-sized window that looks out over the gardens. Last week I sat at my computer working while Day sat next to me busy with an art project – another gem moment. I picked up a chair at the local thrift store. I noticed it several times before buying it. It’s not so comfortable and half broken, but there’s something about it I really like – someone with a lot of skill made that chair. To me it’s simply beautiful and I love it, I must fix it and put it back into use, to honor the artist and craftsman that built it. In the meantime I sit on my Orca cooler with a cushion and that works for me. The thrift store lady told me the chair was 6 bucks. Thinking I was shrewd I offered 5 and she quickly accepted. Only when I brought it home did I see the small price sticker – $4.50. I leave the sticker on there and smile when I see it.

after-the-rain,org / Boy swinging on rope ladder

Truth, goodness, beauty. To me they are a fallback, building blocks of self. When everything you know is torn away, you must have core values to turn to. You must still be able to stand for something that can’t be taken away. Truth – I love life, I love me. Goodness – Do the right thing. Beauty – Don’t just appreciate it, live it. Feel the beauty of a piece of freshly sanded wood. Smell the beauty of rain in the desert. Learn to see beauty where others see ugly. Being single again is starting to open my eyes to something forgotten, almost lost but still there – me. I turn the work computer off for the day, crack a cold beer and flop down on the couch. I’m tired and feeling lazy. Even though I bought salmon and rice for dinner, instead I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and search for a movie to watch on Netflix. I choose a movie with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. It’s stupid and funny and I love movies like this. For a moment I zone out and notice a feeling I haven’t had for a long time. Right here right now it would be nice to have someone with me to watch this together, just to laugh and talk about nothing, eating peanut butter and passing time. Suddenly I realize what I probably need more than anything right now is a date. My divorce will be final at the end of summer, and I wonder what life will be like for me after that. / Glass heart

2/17 – I talk with Sara by phone, she’s crying. “All the nurses are going through my phone, facebook and instagram accounts to find out all they can about me.” “Will this be the last time I talk to you?” The delusions continue as I try to get information from the nurses and doctors, random staff, anyone. What happened to my wife? What’s wrong with her? When will she get better? A second mental evaluation is done and there is a new word added to the previous diagnosis – psychosis. It’s not just anxiety and depression anymore. It’s determined by the doctors that she be transferred to a different facility, a mental health hospital. The official term is Committed which sounds as frightening as it really is. The control over her life is being taken away from her and from me. Others are deciding where she will go, when, and for how long. Another floor drops out of my stomach because I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore. As time goes on I will learn that she will be held in lockdown under suicide watch, with no access to visitors for 4 days. She looks at me like a scared wild cat and asks me if it will be hot there.

I’m not allowed to ride with her in the ambulance to the new “behavioral health” hospital and for now it’s goodbye. I go back home in shock, and do my best take care of Day. Later that night we speak by phone, she sounds surprised and confused, “I don’t understand what I’m doing here. I thought they were going to take me out when I got here, which is what I want.” I can’t talk for long because I need to carry on. I cook spaghetti and Day and I eat together while we watch cartoons on tv. They’re outrageous and fast-paced, the characters constantly running around smashing each other. The word that comes to mind is “crazy”. I’ll never use that word lightly again. Something’s wrong with Sara’s brain but she is not crazy. It’s hard to eat, to sleep, to concentrate on anything. I worry about my wife.

Turning Point

6/25/19 Thursday

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. / Driftwood fort

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.”


6/3/19 Tuesday

The gulls distant cry, the afternoon sun beams through the companionway. I dice up leftover steak to be cooked in the skillet, meat that will be added to soup. My work for the day is done, the laptop closed, music on, beer opened. Windy out, forecasted to blow a gale this evening, but the hatch is open and it’s so nice right now, so peaceful. The sun swings through the cabin in slow motion, cooking what lies in its path. I soak in the warmth and let go. / Flicka 20 liveaboard

My son’s little league season ended last week. I’m so proud of him. The beginning of the season was cold and wet, with the practices ending in darkness. Day would get hit by the baseball at least once a practice, and usually on game days during warm up. On Thursday he was hit on the inner thigh by the fastest pitcher in the league. He had been afraid of this particular pitcher, and his fear came true. Day dropped to the ground in pain, I sprinted to home plate from my spot as first base coach. I held him there at the plate, we worked it out in front of everyone. I helped him to his feet before he limped off to first base. Two pitches later he stole second. So proud!

Saturday was the championship game of the tournament that capped off the season, and Day had to face the same pitcher. I told him it’s ok to be afraid, that without fear there is no courage. He struck out, but stood firm in the batter’s box and took all those fast pitches. How many times can I say I’m proud of him? His team lost 3-1. To celebrate the second place finish we took a trip as a team to a Mariners home game. It was all day, a wonderful spectacle. All the families came, Sara came.

We sat together, and got along well enough. It was nice, and hard not to think about how good it was when things were better between us. Where did we go wrong? Can we ever go back? I don’t think so. They say before you die your life flashes before you. I’ve almost died twice that I know of and can say that didn’t happen to me. But as the end of our relationship draws near I find plenty of time to take a look back at the marriage. The memories come in still images, random and trivial moments that apparently were logged somewhere deep in the brain: working together to change a tail light bulb in her car, watching her get ready for work when we used to live in an apartment, making coffee in the morning. So many memories, so much time – 15 years. It’s easy to look back. It can be scary to think about the future. I put down the pen and try not to think too much. A last look out the companionway as the sun dips below the roof of B dock. It shines on my lowered mast, wrapped in halyards and shrouds, waiting patiently for me to return my focus to something simple and beautiful – fixing up this old boat. Today I filed for divorce. Tomorrow I’ll raise the mast. / Sunset at the marina

2/15 She’s awake in bed, sitting upright. It’s dark. She asks me to listen to the radio, says they’re talking about Whidbey Island, talking about us. I listen with her. They do mention Whidbey Island. They’re not talking about us. I sit with her in the dark. It’s ok I say, I tell her she can run things by me if she’s not sure what she’s hearing. She looks distant and scared at the same time. She keeps the radio on.

Highs & Lows

5/15/19 Wednesday

Long day today, 3 hour drive to Seattle for a site walk. In urban environments most cell site antennas are not on towers but instead on rooftops. This usually works great for everyone – the wireless carrier gets the elevation, the property owner gets the lease revenue. Only problem is when the owner wants a new roof, and the entire site needs to be decommed then completely rebuilt. There is an amazing amount of pressure on the crews to get the work done quickly to minimize outage time. I’m here to help put that plan together, but it’s hard to concentrate.

High atop a downtown building, standing on a rotting roof in 2 inches of pigeon shit listening to a dozen guys talking shop, I space out and take in the view of a vibrant city under mass construction. Cranes, excavators, dozers, road crews, people, traffic. I watch a homeless man slowly push a shopping cart down the middle of the street below. A sea plane banks around the space needle, descending to Lake Union into a northerly breeze. It’s mostly sunny but high cirrus clouds to the south promise rain. A crow flies close, hovering over the roof then disappears over the edge like nothing. For a moment I’m light and free, my eyes are open but I’m feeling more than seeing what’s around me. I snap back to reality as the property owner begins to argue with the general contractor about what is and is not included in the scope of work. It will result in an email later that this half million dollar project will go $100k over budget. The conversation continues but the site walk is over. / South Lake Union development

I call my boss on the drive home with the intention of quitting. It’s not a hasty decision but I feel the time has come. He takes my call, but I’m not straight forward enough and begin this long lead in to why I’m going to leave. He sees right through it, cuts me short and tells me he’ll do whatever to make me stay. I don’t ask for anything and end up staying, just because it feels nice to be wanted.

Glad to be back at the boat. I work on emails, I tend to paperwork for the divorce. I do a load of laundry, and think about Day while I fold clothes. I’m sad and hungry and didn’t plan anything for dinner. I slice up a tortilla and cheese, pop a can of St. Croix sparkling water – lime. A candle, the lantern, food, soft music, thinking of my son, the divorce. After a time I start to feel better and notice the boat sway as the wind picks up. I smell the rain before it arrives, and as the drops start to pitter patter up top, I hear an eagle whistle from across the bay. Nothing is easy about this, but moments like these give me hope.

Asleep on the floor of the office, the door bangs open again, the light smacks on. “What did you do with all the pictures of Day?! Did you take them from me?” She’s hyperventilating. “Nothing” I say, “I didn’t do anything with them. Everything will be ok, I’ll help you find them in the morning.” The door slams, into darkness again, shaking. In the morning I find all the pictures, just where they’ve always been. She has nothing to say. Now I realize we have a big problem, we’re both going to need help through this.