All week long I’d been looking forward to sailing today, but the closer today came the less I was feeling it. The winds were picking up and the clouds were forecast to move in. So instead, I packed up for an overnight stay and came out to the boat anyway just to hang out at the marina. Day is with his mom this week so it’s just me. I miss him but feel content, it’s peaceful here. Schools of anchovies swim in circles around the boat, gills flared out. The noisy gulls and terns have left for the evening and blue herons are coming in to roost.
Without sailing or projects I have a chance to just take it easy. I talk with buddies on the dock and soak up some sun, flaking and folding up my sails that I put away too impatiently last time. Down below I lay out my stuff for the evening, marveling how much gear can fit in such a small space if that space is well designed. It’s all fun and nostalgic, and I’m happy to be here. I take frequent breaks to just sit and appreciate the moment.
As the day drifts away, the sky begins its dreamy performance that will last well into the evening. Blueish white, then pinkish gray. The air is cool and moist and wisps around the cabin like dancing ghosts. I feel the temperature change on my skin, and wonder for a moment if it’s possible to taste color. At this time of year at 48 degrees north latitude the sunset will last for 3 or 4 hours. Misty pink flares out into orange and red, then honey brown, and an eventual purplish black.
As the wind chills I’m excited to come in and start the little stove and light a candle, it’s time to fix dinner. A hot castiron pan, olive oil, sizzling onions and orange bell peppers. Chicken, black beans, rice, salt, pepper, and a diced jalapeno. I taste it already with my eyes, wrapped up in a warm tortilla. I wish I had wine but the spring water I fortunately had in the truck will do.
These are the meals I like to fix when Day is away. These are the quiet moments I’m growing to appreciate. Confident with just myself, comfortable in my own skin. Not searching anymore for who I am, but gravitating toward my true self, without ego, without effort. Truth, goodness, beauty – core values that rise naturally from within, that perhaps were always there, waiting for an unexpected life change to strip away years of being someone else, someone who someone else wanted me to be. Tonight I eat dinner alone but I’m not lonely. It’s chilly outside but I’m comfy and content, and soon I’ll drift off, rocking gently to sleep in my 6500 pound waterbed, sturdy and loving like a country grandma.
When the sun is out these days, I’ve never seen the sky so blue. Usually at this time of year when we get high pressure, there is a haze in the air from the traffic in Seattle. With the lockdown still in effect there are now less cars on the road and less pollution in the air. Looking up at the sky is like looking up into space. The blue is rich and deep. The clouds are so white it makes me notice how old my sails look. I know this because I went sailing again on Friday.
The wind was light and the air warm. I was excited to be out, to be free, if only for an afternoon. Seals, cormorants, and eagles kept me company. I was able to practice tacking and jibing, and got to wear my badass new life jacket, which I figure increases my survival chance from 0% to about 5% if I fall overboard. I love being on the water, and handling a boat by myself forces me to forget about problems like work and divorce. The boat demands my full attention and I’m happy to give.
Once safely back at the marina, it’s time to relax in the cockpit and crack a moderately cold IPA, to celebrate sailing and docking the boat by myself without crashing. I spend an hour watching terns dive over and over, picking off anchovies. The afternoon sun beats down, the sails spill onto the deck, and loose lines are everywhere. It makes me think of a bed on a lazy Sunday morning.
Usually I write on Sunday night as I eat a ghetto dinner of leftovers, but tomorrow my boy will be back at 4pm, so tonight is the night I pause to put my life into perspective for the week. And instead of mixing whatever my son didn’t eat into some sort of pasta surprise, tonight I make myself a caesar salad with fresh king salmon, flash fried in olive oil and garlic, drizzled with a dab of Tillamook butter, wine, and roasted peppers. Chocolate for dessert.
In a way sitting at home alone except for two goldfish on a Saturday night really shows what a loser I’ve become. But simple pleasures mean a lot these days, and I am grateful. It’s nice to feel full, and to have something to look forward to. It feels good to be happy again.
Last week was one of the toughest yet. All of the heavy issues seem to be spiraling, gaining speed, coming together like the forming of a hurricane. I figured divorce would be hard, but there just doesn’t seem to be a limit to how far this can go. Coronavirus isn’t helping, layoffs at work aren’t either, and the shadow of Sara’s mental illness never did. There’s news of a new diagnosis, news of more infidelity, and we’re just now starting the process of dividing assets, working out alimony, child support, and who gets the cat. All of this on the back of a broken heart, with a 10 year old son caught in the middle. I’ve started seeing a counselor again, and I lean on her hard. I don’t know what I’d do without the support.
There’s a trick though that I learned a long time ago. When things get so low that I really start getting down, there’s something that really seems to work. I have to put down my own problems, climb out of my head, and help someone else who is struggling with their own battles. My mom has known her fair share of hardship. She raised me mostly on her own, then had my half brother when I was almost 13, then raised him entirely on her own. She is losing her memory, and worries about her future though she tries not to let it show. Instead of flowers or a card, today I just wanted to spend time with her. Today I took her sailing. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, I love you.
We take advantage of the empty places around us. Skateboarding on the sidewalks, scootering on freshly paved parking lots, paddling around the empty marina. Staying active, breathing cool clean salty air.
Being outside, on the water, the mundane becomes an adventure as we load our lunch into the kayak, paddle across the bay, and sit in the cockpit eating turkey sandwiches, pretzels, fruit snacks and oreos. The wind howls through the rigging but for the moment the sun is out and it’s smiles all around.
We try fishing but don’t have any luck. Everyone seems to be hunkered down, even the little perch that we usually catch. Day’s focus changes to defending the boat against pirates. He swings gallantly from the jib halyard as I point out the imaginary attackers. An American flag marks our base and we make our stand with an empty flare gun and a paddle.
As the clouds move in, the wind picks up and the temperature drops. Our adventure for the day is at an end. We claw our way back to the ramp where it all began and start the process of heading back. Soon we will be at home. Soon he will look away and tell me he is tired. Soon he will turn around and I will see a tear slide down his cheek.
His mother’s restriction on visitation is ending. She has met the criteria for spending time with him on an unsupervised basis. We are rolling into a 50/50 parenting plan. It’s what we have been striving for, but when I see my son’s reaction to going back, I realize the struggle is not over. I guess we all have our demons, our own pirates. Today I watch my son fight his at the end of the dock. I’m with him all the way.
Once parked, I got out of the truck and walked up to the foredeck. I knew others were watching me, warm and safe and tucked away in their cars. It was freezing last night, and still freezing this morning, but the sun was out and with no wind I could almost imagine feeling warm. I pulled out my phone and caught random photos of whatever caught my eye: the boat, something I think is called a hawsehole, and the shadow of the safety net. I wonder how strong the net is. Twin diesel engines cranked out 6000 horsepower beneath my feet but it was hard to tell we were even under way, there was just a faint low drone of humming and the slightest of vibrations. We glided along – effortless.
Peace, sun, water, cold. I breathed it all in until I was ready to tuck my own self away, warm and safe, back in the vehicle. Time to change gears, back to work mode. Today the truck was pulling double duty as a mobile office, equipped with a laptop, phone, notebook, construction drawings, and coffee. I was ready to transition from island time to mainland time, to join the rest of the worker bees in the greater Seattle area. I had to go to the other side for a site walk.
52 miles and two and a half hours later I arrived at one of our cell towers. It’s on city property, in the back parking lot of a fire station. The city planner had requested a meeting to run through one of our upcoming projects. She was concerned about damage to the property, obstructing fire crew access to the adjacent building, and the use of a crane we were going to need for our work. She was skeptical about the project in general.
I called in a rep from our engineering firm, a rep from the company that actually owns the tower, the manager from the construction company that would be doing the actual work, along with his foreman. Together we walked through each of the city planner’s concerns, coming up with solutions on site to address some issues we knew of in advance and some we didn’t. It was a successful meeting, and I enjoyed talking shop with everyone and working with the city planner. Although she was strict I know she was just looking out for the best interest of the fire department property. She thanked me personally for pulling everyone together for the site walk, which took me a bit by surprise and made me feel good – it had been my responsibility to make today happen.
I wanted to write a post last night but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it anyway. I had to write a long email instead, and about half way through noticed my hand was shaking.
Friday night we had a big wind storm, with wind gusts over 60 miles per hour. The power went out around dinnertime. It was my weekend with Day. We found a restaurant with a generator to supply back-up power, so we ate out. He had chicken strips and I had fish and chips. He had a kid’s menu and a cup of crayons. He turned the menu over and we took turns drawing pictures of sheep, castles, battle weapons, and a chicken surfing on a wave. He had the best attitude during the whole dinner/storm/power outage and I told him so. We were looking forward to Saturday so we could go up to the arcade in Oak Harbor, but it wasn’t to be so easy.
I woke up to texts, missed calls and voicemails from Sara. The wind had damaged the roof on the family home, blown some shingle panels right off. It was pouring down rain and she didn’t know what to do. I asked her to start an insurance claim, and grab some tarps and sandbags. Day and I loaded up and headed over. We set a plan into action: I had him cut lengths of cord, Sara filled up the sand bags, and I tied everything together and hoisted it all up a ladder to the roof. Sara came up and helped me as I walked the tarp up the steep part of the roof to put it and the bags into position. It took a long time and we both got completely soaked. It was not safe up there, with the rain it was impossible to stand up without sliding all the way down. Sara had to stand firm to keep me from falling off the edge of the roof. We worked it out though, got everything in position and came down off the roof. It felt great having the 3 of us together working out a problem. It was important to leave on a good note, so I tried to round up Day and go, but I just couldn’t get away fast enough.
Sara asked if we could talk and I said sure. She said the GAL (guardian ad litem – court ordered person who does an investigation and makes a recommendation as to the best solution for a child of parents going through a divorce) was very one sided, and that the report was inaccurate. I watched as Sara’s face turned. Her eyes flashed and her face started to twitch. Without me saying a word she started accusing me again of some very serious things, which she said she had proof of and knew people who would back her up. I asked what proof and which people but she said she was keeping that information a secret to protect them. I had heard this kind of stuff before and just wanted to leave but she wasn’t done. At some point I spoke up. I pointed out that I wasn’t interested in bringing up negative things about her to the GAL. I just don’t see her that way, and don’t remember our marriage as the horrible event she makes it out to be. I think in general she is a good person with a lot to offer the world, and I want to hang on to the good memories, forgive the bad and move on with our lives. Day and I left. We made the most of our time together but I was rattled. I hadn’t seen Sara this way in a long time.
Sunday my boy and I read, ate ham and toast, and played finger football at the kitchen counter. Later we played racquetball and went swimming. As 4pm drew near we gathered his things and headed back to Sara’s for the drop off. I wanted to ask for extra time so he and I could watch the superbowl together, but there’s no way she and I can work something like that out now. I brought his stuff in the house, said bye and turned to leave. She noticed I had a fitbit on, and I knew what was coming. A friend of mine gave me and Day two older fitbits. I synched them up, so we can see how many steps the other person has taken. We try to see who can get to 10,000 steps first. Sara thinks I synched them up for a different reason. She followed me outside and it was on. I tried to leave and she blocked my way. She started reading poetry from her phone. I said I didn’t have to listen to this and she wasn’t allowed to block me from getting in my truck to leave. She was furious and out of control, yelling the worst of accusations. Some are very serious, some are strange and I don’t recognize where they’re coming from. I had heard most of them before, so now they’ve lost their impact and shock effect. In my head I drowned out her voice, stood back and just watched. Her face was contorting wildly and I recognized it from one of the nightmares I had when she was in the hospital. My overall feeling was just sadness.
After a few minutes of me not engaging she started to calm down, throwing out a strange one I hadn’t heard before: she said I had called her sister “militant” 18 years ago. I was curious and said I didn’t remember saying that and I don’t have anything against her sister. She asked me to name her sister, I did. She asked me to name her half sisters, I did. She asked me to list where each of her sisters lived. I think I know but didn’t want to get it wrong, and told her so. She was calming down. I said I thought her sisters and mom were good people. She raised her voice and said I couldn’t keep her from seeing her family. I said I wouldn’t. She was still mad but I could see this episode was over. I got in the truck and left. I felt like calling the police to do a welfare check, but that would scare Day. I also knew if the police saw her in that condition they would call for medical, and it would be possible they would take her to the ER, and I know what they have the power to recommend. Instead I visited both next door neighbors, told them no details but made sure they still had my phone number, and to call me anytime if they felt like it. I was worried about Day and didn’t know what else to do. I don’t want her to do anything to him. I don’t want her to do anything to herself, and I don’t want her to be taken away again. I don’t want to keep fighting this battle. I call my best friend and tell him everything, trying to fight back the tears. He helps me keep it together.
I had always wanted a specific kind of sailboat, a Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20. They’re short and strong, straight forward no nonsense (maybe just a little), graced with bold curvy lines that embody optimism and adventure. That’s how I like to think of the boat, it’s how I like to think of myself. Apparently others like it too. In summer people walking around the docks sometimes come over to say hi, to ask about the boat, to tell me their own stories about Flickas or similar boats, and some ask if they can come aboard and take a peek below, especially if I’m in the middle of a project.
The project I’m working on now is fixing up the overhead, or ceiling. I thought I was making some progress a few weeks ago, thought I had finally worked out the design in my head, and was bold enough to begin the prep work, including the installation of wooden furring strips which would act as the supporting framework. But at the time I was getting frustrated with not having the right materials, and was short on time, which is a sure sign of trouble. When the strips were done I didn’t feel good about it, left the boat and mulled it over for 3 weeks. The main problem was the strips just didn’t have enough give, and I couldn’t stand the idea of straightening out that beautiful overhead curvature. So Saturday morning I went back to the boat, with a fresh set of materials and a brand new game plan.
A few years ago when I bought the boat, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and absolutely clueless about what I had done. There were warning signs that probably should have had me running for the hills, including loose shrouds and water stains on the interior paneling. No problem I thought, I’ll just sand out the stains! The stains went deep into the wood. I’ll just bleach them out! But the wood was soft. I pried off the soft wood and the wood beneath that wood was rotten. The damage was extensive, and beyond my skills to tackle on my own. So along came Steve, the most jubilant, optimistic, can-do liveaboard in the whole marina, eager to offer his advice. Where should I start I asked, what materials should I use, how long will this take me? What should I do? His usual smile evaporated as he popped his head below and quickly scanned the interior. “Give it away to some crackhead” was what he said with no hint of his comment being a joke. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately who knows I didn’t listen to him, and over the last 3 years have systematically removed, repaired or replaced, and resealed just about every part on this sailboat. The restoration is coming along slowly but it’s satisfying in a very deep way. There’s a certain amount of momentum going now, and I’m glad I didn’t take Steve’s advice and get rid of the boat.
Unfortunately the crackheads have apparently taken a liking to it anyway. About a year ago I would come out to work on the boat and would just have the strangest feeling, like someone had been right where I was sitting, there inside the boat. I had never kept the hatch locked because apparently I’m stupid like that, so my concern was a real possibility. I started to go all CSI and was determined to figure out if someone was coming aboard, and the most miniscule clues soon emerged. Sometimes a seat cover would be wrinkled when I knew I hadn’t used it, things like that. One day I was just sitting there, wondering if maybe I was imagining all this. I looked out the companionway and realized that the house battery’s solar charging panel was totally gone along with the cable. Since the cable connects to the battery, that was the proof that someone had been there, inside.
Ever since then she’s kept locked up when I’m gone, but I guess someone is persistent. Saturday morning upon arrival I checked the lock, and knew immediately someone again had been there. I close the hatch a certain way to keep rain out but also let air in, and the hatch was out of position. I think someone is unscrewing the latch that holds the lock. Today I went back and saw the same thing. Nothing is missing this time, there’s nothing on board worth much anyway. I think someone just goes there some nights to get out of the cold, and now they try to put things back very carefully.
I’m back home now, after a long day of fun work, eating a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-basil soup. I might have a glass of wine later but for now it’s milk. It’s windy and raining outside. Someone might be aboard my little boat right now but it just seems so minor compared with the rest of my life these days. The guardian ad litem report came back last week, which will have a ton of influence over the final parenting plan, which will decide how much I get to see my son as he grows up. The details are sealed by the court, but I can say that the report was exhaustively thorough, that my ex wife does not love me anymore and maybe never really did, but despite all her efforts, the recommendation is for a 50/50 parenting plan, which is what I’ve been asking for since the beginning. It’s like I won something I never thought I would have to fight for, and lost something I never knew I didn’t have. I try to think about it philosophically, like the idea of having anything is an illusion at best, but that doesn’t cut it tonight. I’m so happy.
It’s been a good few days. It was my weekend with Day which always helps. I got to watch him an extra couple of days last week because Sara was sick and she asked me to. My boy and I got to play at the local arcade, we ferried over to the mainland to watch a movie, and got to play hookie from school and work because it snowed, which is pretty rare here at sea level. When it snows on the island it tends to dump a lot then melt quickly, so it’s best to make the most of it. Sledding is something we look forward to every winter. My boy rides down the hill on my back, the same way I used to ride with my Dad.
A few days ago we had to swing by Sara’s to pick up his snow gear. I never really know what to expect when we see each other. It can be very unpredictable, and my heart goes into self-preservation mode as we enter the driveway. The trees look bigger. The grass is long. I try not to look to the left to see the grave I dug for our family dog. Once inside I pick up the cat that runs down the stairs when he hears my voice. Day and I picked him out as a kitten, now he’s 20 pounds of muscle and claws. He’s a shredder of furniture and people, but I hold him the same way I held him as a kitten. Somehow he remembers, closes his eyes, and purrs away. I miss him. Sara and I talk uneasily about snow boots, dental insurance, and how the goldfish need help. Last year I made a home outside for some of them which had outgrown the aquarium inside, but Sara is worried they’re getting too cold and I worry they’re being neglected.
I offer to buy more clothes, to take Day to the dentist, to bring the outside goldfish back to my new place to take care of them here. I struggle to do as much as I can without feeling taken advantage of, which is hard. It’s my nature to offer everything I have to give. The visit is tense but pleasant, constructive and brief. Before long we’re headed out, me dodging potholes in the gravel road, Day in the backseat holding a bowl of fish in his lap, water sloshing all over his lap, both of us laughing. The fish are panic stricken I’m sure but somehow make it back safely. They have to wait for hours in their little bowl until the water temperature steadies out to the same between the bowl and their new tank. I watch them and sense their unease, confined and unsure of the future – I know how they feel.
It’s Monday now, Day is back with his Mom. He and I had the best time possible, for more time than usual, but it doesn’t seem to help at the moment. I miss him terribly. I sit here and write, drinking red wine and eating my dinner of sauteed onions, peppers and chicken, mixed with leftover macaroni and cheese. I’m thankful for time with him, and some new found peaceful time for myself. I’m thankful for this blog, which helps me organize my thoughts and emotions. These clumsy words and various photos plucked from my phone twist and turn themselves into posts which help me make some kind of sense of the past, steady my nerves of the present, and offer an encouraging way forward. I look over at my two fish buddies, Shibuki and Mohawk. They stare at me, they look away. They see everything, they see nothing. I know how they feel.