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.

after-the-rain.org / 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.

after-the-rain.org / 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.

after-the-rain.org / 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.

after-the-rain.org / 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.

The Wedding

4/26/19 Thursday

It was mid February and I was devastated.  My emotions were all over the place – anger at what she had done, hurt by the betrayal, worried about someone I still loved, fear about an unknown future.  My chest contracted, every heartbeat was loss, abandonment, pain.  I had never felt so lonely.  The woman I loved was not there anymore and had not been there for a long time, as usual I was the last to know.

Once Sara was home and stabilized, it was time to hit the road – not to get away from the world but to go toward something, something that made sense, toward people that made sense.  I sought out the friends and family that had been there for me.  I needed contact, to have open and honest talks, to engage.  One of the people I made a point to see was my young cousin MK in Portland.  She’s the type to send a card or drop a text always at the right time, remembers not only my birthday but Day’s birthday too.  An intelligent hard working over educated die hard liberal millenial who loves theme parties, she embodies Portland, youth, and thoughtfulness.

We stayed up late and talked into the night on the couch where I would end up crashing.  After all the where have you been’s and what have you been up to’s, I unloaded my sob story on someone who knows how to listen, knows when to ask a question, knows when to say nothing, knows how to hug.  After my pity party had run its course she turned it all around with some good news – she was going to get married.  Specifically she said she was going to elope, which of course made no sense.  I thought if you tell someone in advance about your wedding plans then by definition it is not an elopement but what do I know.  I was happy for her, I was proud of her.  And even though it was short notice and far away I was damn sure going to make it to that wedding.

So last Saturday I flew to Las Vegas, took the light rail to the place where you catch the shuttle bus to the rental car facility which is where you catch another bus to get to Fox rental cars which is where you go if you’re cheap like me.  After an hour in line I signed my life away for a well used Kia Soul and hit the gas out to Red Rocks, which is a wonderful place to visit unless you’re running late for a last minute wedding under a tree in a small meadow half a mile up the trail from a parking lot where everyone is supposed to meet but nobody is quite sure how to get there and of course there is no cell phone coverage.  It was cold, windy, and starting to rain but everyone made it just in time, and as the bride and groom stood beneath a large juniper, surrounded by close friends and family, the rain stopped and the wind died, and the couple was blessed with a moment of wedding magic beneath a clearing desert sky.

after-the-rain.org / Red Rocks sunset

Our own wedding was in a grove of redwoods at an outdoor Catholic church in northern California. The fog had cleared and the coastal sunshine made hazy sunbeams in the clearing where we had gathered. Sara was stunning. My thought for today is that as much as we emphasize commitment, unity, and lifelong devotion, the real magic of a wedding is the celebration of a singular and brief moment in time, when two people stand together and proclaim before God and the world that they love each other more than anything and anyone else. I miss you Sara.

Bedrooms, Bathrooms & Offices, Coming and Going

4/18/19 Thursday

I work from home as a construction manager for a major cellular network carrier. I mainly review plans, scopes of work, permits and equipment orders to make sure they all match up for any given project. For the most part it’s a pretty nice job, and I like the people I work with. Plus working “from home” doesn’t have to really mean from home, it’s more like working “anywhere you have a good internet connection”. This week I officially moved my office to the boat.

I wasn’t sure how it would go but it’s turning out to be quite pleasant. With a docking station for the laptop, a large monitor, full size keyboard, portable Bose speaker and coffee maker, I’m good to go. And of course heat – there’s a silent mini oil filled radiator that breaks the chill, and an opposite of silent blasphemous black rattle trap electric space heating fire hazard. I’m eyeballing a tiny wood stove for the future but that’s a story for another post.

after-the-rain.org / Working in a small boat

Yesterday while I was plucking away at the computer a stranger appeared and starting asking questions about the boat. This isn’t too out of the ordinary but soon he was asking if the boat was for sale. Of course I said no and then of course I asked how much he would have offered if I had said yes. Within five minutes we agreed on a price and the sale of the boat was pending the approval of his wife, who would be coming shortly. Upon arrival she asked if the boat had an enclosed head, which is boat talk for a regular style toilet inside a private bathroom. I said no. She then assumed it had a porta potty – no. I decided to turn the conversation positive and reveal that we did offer a spacious 5 gallon bucket with a marvelous seat attachment, and although the attachment didn’t fit well and I didn’t know where it was and the bucket was currently being used for a hose, scrub brush, bottle of boat soap and a can coozie, that in theory it would probably work. Within two minutes they were both gone and I was left feeling dirty and guilty, surprised by my rash decision making and emotional volatility, shaken. Today I brought some flowers to the boat to show I was sorry.

after-the-rain.org / Flowers on a Flicka sailboat

One of the pleasures of being in a healthy relationship is seeing what happens to the bedroom. The bed itself becomes a complete disaster – covers in disarray, clothes on the floor, dresser drawers open, underwear lost in the sheets. Bathroom counter space overflows with handfuls of unimaginable beauty lotions and potions, hair brushes, hair dryer, curling iron, straightening iron, makeup, so many colors and smells. Steam from the shower, warm and wet. The radio is on. The bedroom paints its own picture of sex, love, and life. I want to be in that room again.

Sun, Sand, & Silence

4/8/19 Monday

Partly cloudy, 82 degrees. Afternoon trade winds push blue water and palm trees. Children’s laughter, Hawaiian music, swimming pools, shaved ice. It’s hard to see if my shoulders are burning but I know they are. This is resort life on Oahu’s west shore, an overly manufactured paradise to maximize happiness for those constrained by time, like me – like who I’ve become. A real vacation, planned months in advance, we all deserve a break. Day’s eyes light up when he sees the pools, the water slides, the food at the buffet. I light up when I see that he is happy. I think Sara is enjoying herself but these kind of trips can be hard on her. She needs even more sleep than usual these days, and it can be hard to make that happen with two excited boys around.

after-the-rain.org / Palm trees in Hawaii

We push through the days, discovering new routines of coffee, breakfast, swimming, swimming and more swimming. From one pool to the other, from one slide to the next, lunch, snacks and dinner. Everything costs too much but now is not the time to worry about that. We rent a car and drive around the island and see nice views, surfers, chickens and traffic. In Haleiwa somehow I spot a Flicka 20 at a marina by the bridge. She’s run down and cooked by the sun but seeing those familiar lines makes me happy. For a moment I wonder what living on Alula in Hawaii would be like. A nice pause, then it’s back in the car. By mid-afternoon we’re back at the hotel.

after-the-rain.org / Boy in Hawaii

I have a friend named Don who thinks a lot like me. We are not resort people. Neither of us grew up with money, and we learned to live life with meaning instead of things. Early on we realized adventure has little to do with money, so we learned to travel on the cheap, sleeping in cars or on the ground. The first time his family coerced him onto a cruise ship I laughed and laughed, knowing how uncomfortable he was with the idea. Afterward though he said he found ways to enjoy himself, that you just have to be creative and you’ll find something that relates. For me it was free diving in the ocean, swimming past the buoys to explore the reefs beyond the sheltered lagoon, to feel the pull of current and the push of waves. Weightless and free, with a new mask and thrift store fins, holding my breath and joining the world of colorful fish, massive coral heads – quiet awareness.

after-the-rain.org / Small fish in Hawaii

Back above water there are signs that the “premium experience” that was advertised is not hiding the harsh realities of life very well. Late one night in the next room we hear a woman rage against presumably her husband. One day a little girl even drowned in one of the pools. Because of the investigation the pool closed for a while, and people became impatient for it to reopen. It’s tragic. It’s important. What is going on around here? People’s lives are changing in massive ways and we walk around with blinders on. Later in the afternoon Sara and I sit on lounge chairs overlooking the ocean while Day swims nearby. I look at her with quiet desperation, she looks straight ahead.

Seems like I just fell asleep but here I am again, awake on the floor of my office. It’s the vacuum cleaner, out in the hallway getting louder, coming closer. Sure enough the door bangs open, she runs the vacuum around me. What time is it- 10:30? 11:00?  It used to be just sleeping a lot and unpredictable moods, but in recent months the depression seems to have taken a dark turn. There is an edginess with these episodes now and I’m worried about it. It takes me a long time to fall asleep again. 

Kitchens are for Dancing

3/30/19 Saturday

I don’t know about everyone but for me the heart of the home is the kitchen. The smell of a heating skillet, tasting of ingredients, the ritual of coffee, the temperature change of reaching in the freezer. The kitchen table, a constant collection of what is happening on any given day, what needs to be done, what needs to be put away. Homework, meals, projects, games, bills groceries, nowhere else in the house does more go down than in the kitchen. And by far the most important thing is verbal and physical communication.

Our kitchen is small, so it forces us to move about in close proximity, constantly aware of each other, timing our movements to avoid collision as one reaches for the bread and the other a plate. A small east facing window shines light on it all, a spotlight on the actors of life playing out a performance both common and unique, timeless and special. One way you know you’re doing something right in life is when time stands still, when the world stops for a moment and you really appreciate it, and intense and fragile beauty. Take your wife by the hand, twirl her around, and make your own world stand still as you dance together in the kitchen.

after-the-rain.org / Country kitchen window

A calm and pleasant Saturday. I fix ham and toast, OJ and milk, doughnuts. It’s coffee on the patio, the cat plays with mouse toys and Day brings out his magnifying glass to light things on fire and torture ants. Sara joins us with her own coffee and that makes me happy inside. The glare of the morning sun reveals an awkward, pained look on her face which is probably a reflection of mine. Emotionally separated but physically close, today I’ll take what I can get.

In the afternoon I head to the boat, just to write, eat lunch, just to be. The stiff geometry of the docks plays with the curvature of the other sailboats around me. The spring sun shines on everything, and I’m happy to be here.

after-the-rain.org / Writing on a sailboat

Chicken Sandwich

3/26/19 Tuesday

Nightmares last night and was awake for hours. The thought of another lonely day working from home on the computer drives me away, to pack up for the day and head to the boat. Coffee and music, a nice drive up the island. The wind whips across Penn Cove, a gull hovers above the water, back lit by morning sun. The images enter my head, they are absorbed, released.

Pulling into the marina is like the start of a new day. Casual conversation with people on the dock (dock talk) is uplifting. Most of the people are older, they move slowly, and take their time organizing their thoughts before they speak – I like that. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Some have little dogs. With their lovely curious eyes and and playful wags my frown turns upside down. In the present, one moment at a time.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 in the marina

The boat waits patiently, gently rocking, like one of the little dogs wagging her tail. The sun peeks through the clouds for a brief moment, beautiful. No dew, no bird crap, did she know I was coming today? Lights, heat, music, my mood continues to improve. Typing away on a little laptop, work issues come and go, a zen to the flow of emails, in and out, pressure and release. Before long it’s time for lunch, I take a break and go up top. Sitting there in the cockpit eating the leftover half of the chicken sandwich that Day didn’t eat last night at dinner, I think about my son – he is at school. I think about my wife – I don’t know where she is.

A car slowly approaches my son, and I’m having trouble pulling him out of the way. Banging on the passenger window gets the driver to stop just in time, but Day walks to the rear of the car and sits down behind the back tire. The car starts to back up, and I just can’t drag him away. I’ve saved him so many times before, why can’t I save him now? I wake up in the cold still dark, sweat drips down my chest. I’m too upset to go back to sleep, too afraid.


3/24/19 Sunday

It’s late March and 55 degrees but I can’t shake the chill. My little black space heater is maxed out, rattling away on the bottom step of the companionway, creating a ray of warmth to a distance of about 2 feet. Somehow adding more layers just doesn’t help. Unfortunately the only real way to warm up is to get busy and actually do something – I put on my shoes, tie the laces in slow motion, put on my game face for the day.

I go up top and decide to rig a lowering system for the mast. It’s a job that’s been put off for too long but needs to be done before sailing this season. The fiberglass section beneath the mast needs beefing up, plus the steel mast step that holds the mast to the boat is backwards, something that has taken me months to realize. It feels good to work the lines again, adjusting the main and jib halyards, tearing apart the cabin lockers looking for just the right straps, webbing, carabiners, and blocks. It’s fun to work this stuff out in my head, to work rope, to walk the deck of the boat and feel it respond to each step. Before long it’s all worked out, the boat is a mess, but it doesn’t feel as cold anymore.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 bowsprit

I head into town and try out a new restaurant. Skylights and hazy sunshine, hot black coffee, hash browns and eggs with diced tomatoes and avocado. The server is blonde and gorgeous. The back and forth of asking how my meal was and that everything was great and that I’m ready for the check now will be the most romantic interaction I’ve had in recent memory. As I walk out the door I marvel at how distant the gulf feels between me and the possibility of meeting someone new, but the sun is out now, and as I walk down the sidewalk it occurs to me that I’m warm.

From the driveway I see the tree house I built at the edge of the woods. It took 9 months to build what would take a carpenter two weeks. Every kid needs a tree house I thought. Day doesn’t play in it. Sara shows no interest. Did I build it just for me? I can’t help think the same about the marriage..