Divorce is Hard, Even for Fish

1/20/20 Monday

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.

after-the-rain.org / Dad sledding with son

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.

after-the-rain.org / Boy with cat

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.

after-the-rain.org / Goldfish

20 Feet @ 15 Seconds

1/13/20 Monday

after-the-rain.org / Swell forecast

This is a forecast that grabbed my attention. Not optimal by any means but it promised to be a good show. So Saturday I grabbed my board, wetsuit, gloves and booties and threw everything into the back of the truck and headed north, hoping the wind would back off. No such luck. 4o degrees outside and the pouring rain turned to hail, pelting the side of the truck as I approached the coast. There’s a part of the island that looks northwest up the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, wide open to any north Pacific storm that decides to coming barreling down. Half a dozen spots dot this small section of coast where it’s possible to stare straight into the teeth of nature’s fury and hunt waves.

The forecast called for 40 mph winds which I hoped would back off with the incoming tide, instead it was blowing closer to 50 and gusting well higher than that. It was hard to stand still. Sea foam was whipping through the sky and sea water was surging through the parking lot. My front half was soaked and my backside dry. I still wanted to do my due diligence and check my secret spot but there was no trail by the beach, the ocean was pounding the base of the cliffs, grabbing massive logs and old growth stumps, sucking them back out to sea with frightening ease.

I checked another spot that can handle the wind, but the current was pushing 10 knots and the debris was just plain dangerous, no waves for me today. Instead I climbed up a ridge where the wind was funneling up even faster, knelt down and closed my eyes. The hail stopped and the sun came out, the wind blistering my face. It felt like torture, it felt sublime. I was getting my ass kicked and loving every second. My ego was obliterated, there didn’t seem to be any division between what was happening outside my body and inside. The noise was deafening, it was impossible to think. The wind was ripping the pain out, blowing my tears away..

after-the-rain.org / Winter surf

Dock Lines

1/7/20 Tuesday

The holidays are over, I’m back at work, it’s a whole new year. When I was a kid I thought about how far away 2020 seemed to be. I knew then that by now I’d be 47 years old, which to a kid is ancient. To make it worse my dad, who is from Tennessee and is as country as country gets, uses 47 to describe anything that means “a lot of” – like “son c’mere quick, there must be 47 turkeys down at the pond!” or “hell no I’m not drivin’ to Nashville, I swear everyday they put in 47 new stoplights!” etc etc. Well 2020 is here and 47 is here. To kids I probably do seem ancient, but I still feel healthy and strong, maybe just a bit more cautious than I used to be.

When I hear other guys around my age talk, it’s often about where they are at this point in their lives, like they never thought they’d be doing this or doing that, or thought they’d have more money, a bigger house, more kids, less kids, whatever. I never really thought about it that way though. I’ve always enjoyed being right where I’m at, appreciating the people and moments around me, flowing with the current of life without expectation. Like they say the past is gone and the future never gets here, the only time is now. With that perspective the magic of life reveals itself in waves, beauty is appreciated, the mundane becomes extraordinary, each moment is a gift.

I hope one day I can look back at this divorce that I’m going through as some kind of gift, but in general it has felt more like a kick in the stomach. It’s been hard, but I try to keep a positive attitude and not let myself get too down about it. One thing that’s interesting is that it has forced me to go through all my crap. Most everything of monetary value will go to my soon to be ex wife, but I still have a good amount of personal things that have stacked up over the years, which tends to happen if you’re sentimental like me. Cards, photos, gifts, souvenirs – what to keep, what to throw away? I go through it all and relive every memory. I want to hang on to it, I want to throw everything away and start new. In the end most of it gets tossed, but I save some of the best things I have, especially the photos, enough to fill a small plastic tub but no more.

It feels good to let things go. The older I get the less things I want. People mean more, experience means more. Material possessions can become a prison. These are the easiest to get rid of. But I think even sentimental possessions can become emotional baggage. What are these old cards and photos? I wonder if these memories are the building blocks of my identity, or if it’s the other way around. Who am I? A construction manager? A traveler, a teacher, mountaineer, sailor, surfer, husband, father? Am I a big fat loser who works too hard and just lives in the past? These days it seems like the answer is just another one of those magical moments that is always gradually revealing itself, like a blooming flower or a sunrise. The answer is I’m just me, someone who loves and takes care of my son and those around me the best I can. I guess I’ll always have passions, but they don’t define me. Little by little I let go of the old, making room for the new.

after-the-rain.org / Collage

I dropped Day off at school yesterday morning and I’m feeling kind of low. This weekend will be his time with Sara. I miss him constantly but am able to function better these days, and besides I have stuff to do, like trying to simplify my life, and tending to an old boat that hopefully hasn’t snapped her dock lines in all the wind we’ve been having lately. I guess in a way I’m kind of looking forward to my time this weekend. My time, my chance to play my new role as a man with no role, my chance to live life without an identity imposed by others, or even myself. Happy new year to you and to me..

Fences

12/13/19 Friday

The other day I saw this momma and her fawn outside my bedroom window. I thought it was interesting because they were on the opposite sides of a fence. It’s only a couple of feet tall, but I wonder if that bothers her. It’s easy to see to see she’s keeping a close eye on her baby.

after-the-rain.org / Doe and fawn

When you’re separated from someone you love, is it easier to deal with if you’re close or far away? I like being close. Even though I’m only allowed to see my son every other weekend plus Wednesdays, it’s better to know he’s nearby, close enough where I could actually run to his side in about 40 minutes. I’ve seen him before in the car as Sara and I pass each other on the highway, I’ve seen him in the grocery store. I guess those are some of the awkward moments parents have to deal with when we split up.

Because Sara and I don’t agree on a parenting plan, a guardian ad litem has been appointed by the court to figure out what’s in our son’s best interest. It’s a long and thorough process, involving multiple interviews with each other, family, friends, acquaintances, school teachers and staff. It’s weird because Sara is fighting me and this process every step of the way, yet my opinion is that she is a good mom and should have equal time with our son also. It’s taken 3 months for this investigation to run its course, and the report will include a recommendation that will have a big impact on our lives for years to come. In general I’ve been a nervous wreck but do my best to answer all the questions as best and truthfully as I can.

We’re starting to get some preliminary feedback which is encouraging to me. Unfortunately it’s triggered a new round of accusations by Sara, which are severe, desperate, and upsetting. Some of them are not true, some are a strange twisted way of remembering things. To me it’s more of a lashing out, sad mainly because I have good memories of our married life, and think of myself as a devoted husband and father, who gave everything I had to give for my family.

I think Sara’s mental illness has played a large part in our problems. I can’t totally blame it for our divorce, for that we both have contributed our fair share. It’s just made it so much more complicated, like some sort of nightmarish carnival fun house with distorted mirrors, a black maze of the mind where every path leads to a dead end. When I took the NAMI family to family course, which is an intensive educational support group for family members of loved ones with mental illness, I asked the teacher why someone with problems would attack the very one who is closest to them and tries to help them the most. The answer was that this is very common, because the afflicted one struggles so hard every day to appear normal and fine to everyone else. It’s the loved one that bears the burden of the attacks, because the loved one is the trusted one, the one who will support, stay with, protect, and accept the other regardless of the behavior. This thought always makes me cry.

It’s been a long week, and tonight the big plan is to drink red wine, eat doritos and watch Portlandia. I’m ready to turn my brain off. It’s hard though, tomorrow will be the first birthday my son has ever had without his dad around.

after-the-rain.org / Boy on swing

Family, Designing a Wooden Overhead on a Sailboat, and Other Hard Things to Figure Out

12/2/19 Monday

Saturday was cold, sunny, almost no wind, with an outgoing tide. It was a perfect day for a long walk on the beach. Being a holiday weekend I got there early to beat the crowds, and to see what cool stuff the ocean decided to leave from the high tide overnight. I found agates, sea glass, a dead fish, and some kind of bronze ring about 8 inches in diameter. I saw a bald eagle and two ravens, which are just as cool. At one point some type of hawk flew past me so low to the ground I was looking down at it as it swooped by which was weird. I was wrong about the crowds, I didn’t come across another person on a three mile walk that took me four hours to complete. There was however a family that came my way – a doe, two fawns, and a buck. It seemed like they were headed somewhere important so I politely stepped out of the way to let them pass.

after-the-rain.org / Deer on Whidbey Island

This was the most picture perfect family I have seen lately and a tough moment to let go without some reflection. When I was a younger guy I never thought I would get married. I just had too much energy, too many things I wanted to do, and couldn’t imagine settling down. But eventually someone came along too beautiful and intriguing to say no to, and I jumped into the relationship with both feet, never looking back. That led to a house, a career, and a son, and I embraced my roles as a husband and father, supporter, broken toy fixer, tree house builder, money stresser abouter, family dog buryer. I did well and loved it, so much so that I ignored the signs of a crumbling relationship, hell bent on keeping the fantasy ideal alive at all costs. When it finally ended it did so like a bad car crash, and has forced me to re-examine my own concept of what family even means.

Does family mean a husband, wife, and children? Should family be limited to those related to us? What about couples with no children? Single people? What about step brothers and sisters, about people who are adopted? Do close friends count? Close neighbors? Pets? What about the online community? The more I write and read the stories of others the more of a kinship I feel with the world at large. Perhaps we’re all one big family sharing our stories, laughing and arguing together at the ultimate Thanksgiving dinner table, united not by blood but by love and empathy. Family is what you make of it, everyone counts.

If Saturday was a day of vegging out and thinking too much, Sunday was the day to get shit done. I’m sick and tired of leaving a big boat project of mine unfinished, and this was a good time to get started. My particular boat was born in a southern California factory in the fall of 1978, small but stout and seaworthy. The Flicka 20 may be short and a bit heavyset, but she has a good attitude and is always up for an adventure. I think her big curvy hips are beautiful, and she is wearing her age with grace. However one part of the design does not do her justice. Although the cabin is simple and efficient and thoughtfully laid out, the ceiling she came with looked and fit like a big baggy t-shirt that gets slept in but never washed. It was a white vinyl liner tacked in place over foam insulation with staples that weren’t stainless or galvanized. The whole idea is ugly at best, traps moisture in the foam and can hide real issues like water leaks.

Last year I ripped it all out, threw out the moldy foam and pried all the rusty staples out one by one. It was like removing some kind of growth and we can all breathe easier now that it’s gone. There’s standing headroom and I can look up through the amazingly thick resin and see the 2″ x 2″ patchwork of balsa, which is light and surprisingly strong when laid on end. The great news is that the boat’s cabin top is not compromised with water damage, it’s clear and bright. I have rebedded all the cabin top fittings and replaced the hardware with new stainless, so now it’s time for a new overhead. It would be easier to put up another vinyl headliner but that’s still a lot of work, and the end result would just be more mold potential from condensation, plus it has the unsettling effect of looking like the inside of a coffin. I want to do the boat justice and build it out of wood planking. I want to see what that would look like on a rainy night, reflecting the flame of the gimballed brass lantern as the boat tosses and turns with the wind.

Most boat people are fans of exotic hardwoods, but I’m in love with what you find locally around here in the Northwest which is fir, hemlock, cedar, spruce, and maple. I’m going with clear vertical grain fir. I guess I could go on an on about this but the point is that the wood comes in straight strips, and there is not a straight line on the inside of that boat. It’s all curves and they aren’t even symmetrical from one side to the other. I know I can do this project but I don’t know if I can do it well. For someone who spent 3 days deciding where to put a bronze bottle opener, this whole thing is going to take me a while, not counting the months I’ve already spent trying to work it out in my head. On Sunday I managed to put up the supporting furring strips, but they’re too thick so I’ve lost most of the curve where the ceiling meets the rear bulkhead and I’m contemplating ripping it all out. It’s kind of like designing a puzzle with no edge pieces and trying to put it together on a concave ceiling in such a way that the end result accentuates the grace of the boat. Instead I’m worried it will look like it was designed and installed by a troop of drunk chimpanzees who had access to a chopsaw and a dremel. I guess I’ll think about it some more..

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I was starving after work today and too lazy to cook, so I went down the hill to the only market in town to see what they had in the hot case. I said hi to several people I knew, one of whom was Sara’s best friend. We talked for a few minutes, turns out our boys are hanging out together at her house as we speak. I happen to notice what the friend is buying at the store, and realize she’s probably shopping for food for my son’s dinner. Also she says she’s about to toss out some old things, one of which is a printer/scanner/copier which I happen to need, so she gives it to me out in the parking lot. There are lots of awkward moments like these, so many that I’m starting to get used to them. Maybe trying to figure things out is just trying too hard. My brain is tired so I take my veggie fried rice home and turn on Netflix.

The One That Got Away

11/29/19 Friday

It’s quiet and peaceful, candle lit, music playing, tummy full. The perfect time for writing. My boy was with me over Thanksgiving, and although we weren’t able to make it back to Tennessee for the big family gathering, we were able to visit Gramma here on the island. She cooked a good turkey dinner for us. I prepped some mashed potatoes, and Day whipped them up good with the mixer. No tension, no drama, just good conversation and good food. Day and I rode scooters down the hill out front like we’ve done so many times before, risking our necks with no helmets on those rickety old death traps.

Today was awesome as well – good coffee, OJ, cinnamon rolls and bacon for breakfast. We watched Battlebots, talked about dinosaurs, and had tickle wars. It was cold outside but sunny, so we grabbed the rods and went down to the marina to fish. We both landed a couple of nice rockfish, but then Day hooked into a monster. I looked over and saw his rod bent over double as the fish dove for the bottom. Unfortunately the drag was set too tight and the 6 lb test broke like a spider web.

after-the-rain.org / Boy fishing at marina

He was kind of upset, but I could tell he didn’t quite know what to think – I knew it was one of those “teachable moments”. All I could really do was put my arm around him, smile, and let him know that for better or for worse, from now on he would be hooked on fishin’ forever. Plus since his favorite lure was now gone, this would be a good excuse to go stock up on some new lures. Then we headed back home to warm up and eat peanut butter sandwiches.

I love my son and had a good visit with him, even if it was just for 50 hours. A few minutes ago Sara came over to pick him up, and now he is gone again. It was not a good transition, she was very upset from the git go, accusing me of taking things again; the word that comes to mind is “seething”. I won’t lie my heart rate did leap up, it was upsetting even if only for a few minutes. But I just handed her the child support check, told Day how much fun I had with him over the last two days, and walked him out to her car. I know I can’t control her emotions or how she reacts to anything, all I can do is keep moving forward and do the best I can for myself and my son. Her actions are bothering me less and less these days. This moving on thing is starting to build momentum. I guess sometimes it’s not so bad when the big one gets away.

By the way, today there was a Bristol Channel Cutter 28 tied up at the dock – jeez loueeze…

Crossing to the Other Side

11/24/19 Sunday

Time goes by, the days keep getting shorter, the air has been cold, damp, and windy. Raindrops fall like broken pieces of heaven, doing their best to wash away the warmth and pain of the summer. I turn inward and grab on to anything positive, which as usual is my son. He was with me this weekend, and time with him was good. We played games at the house, rode scooters to the arcade, watched tv, and took the ferry to the bustling world of the mainland to buy him some new clothes at Target. One of the highlights was on Saturday I clipped his finger and toenails while he played on his tablet. It was peaceful and relaxing, there was no rush, no words were spoken. I wonder if this is one of those things only a parent can understand.

The divorce situation staggers on, this week has been particularly challenging. The ex is refusing to let Day have some of his things over here while he’s with me. She tries to schedule events with him during my time. The transitions are tense. But something seems to be changing. Any one of these things would usually stress me out, but this week my blood pressure wasn’t quite as high, my chest didn’t hurt as bad, and I slept a little better than usual. The change isn’t with us, the change seems to be with me. It’s too early to tell for sure and I don’t want to jinx myself, but I think I’m starting to get over Sara.

after-the-rain.org / ferry to Whidbey Island

It’s been 8 months since mental illness almost took her life. The fallout from that has nearly taken mine. But we’re both still here, and have a lot to live for, even if we don’t have each other.

It was supposed to rain again today but didn’t. The sun came out and revealed once again how beautiful the Pacific Northwest can be, and how part of the magic of life is not always being able to know what’s around the corner. Sometimes I want to acknowledge my heartache, to grip it tightly and hold it close, because it’s all I have left of my marriage. But that’s over now and I’m coming to terms with that. I’m starting to wonder what sunny days might someday come into my life. It’s time to think more about the future. It’s time to think about moving on.