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

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.

Of Boats and Men

11/17/19 Sunday

A couple of years ago I built a rowboat from a kit. The instructions said it should take about 80 hours. I figured it would take me 3 or 4 weeks if I put time into the project each day after work. I was wrong about that, I guess I was wrong about a lot of things. It took me 9 months from the time I opened the boxes in the garage, to the day I was able to load it into the back of the truck and drive down to the beach on a cold sunny Pacific Northwest winter’s day.

This had not been an easy project for me and my boy was there to see it all, from the epoxy disasters to the gleam of the rubrails after 7 coats of varnish. There were times when working on that boat was almost transcendental, a higher plane without thought or words, like creating a poem with your hands. There were other times when nothing went right, like measuring twice and still cutting pieces of wood too short, nearly cutting my fingertips off by trying to scarf joints with a chop saw, running out of chip brushes, sandpaper, clamps, on and on. But there finally came the day when it was ready, when I was ready. Day rode with me down to the beach where we could back down to the water’s edge. I invited Sara and she drove down to meet us for the launch. The 3 of us took the little blue boat out for a spin, and it was the happiest moment I can think of when we were all together.

after-the-rain.org / Toy boat

Why do men love boats? Why do we like to build things? Why do some of us take to the sea? These are questions that others have asked me, not that I have asked myself. I just know what I know, which is I love to create, to work with the elements of nature instead of against them, to feel my muscles burn while working halyards and sheets, to feel the sun on my skin out on the water.

Does this come from our parents? People we meet? What we learn on our own? As a father I look at my son and wonder what his passions will be. He plays near me while I work on the boat. We build toys together then they break then we fix them. He’s not a natural swimmer but he takes to the water. What will he learn from me? What will his children learn from him? I just know that I’m proud of him and will support him and his own interests as he grows older.

after-the-rain.org / Boy with toy boat

Surfing is like dancing on the waves, sailing is being in harmony with the wind, kayaking is being a part of the water as you move through it. Creating is an expression of the mind. It’s all about connection, about seeing yourself in the universe around you. When this is realized, the result is compassion for others. It’s cold and rainy outside today, and I’m curled up on a comfy couch with a hot cup of coffee. I won’t be building anything today, or working on any boats. Instead I’m going to call my Mom and Dad just to say hi – it’s the same exact thing.

“The river laughed, it laughed brightly and clearly at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, he bent over the water, in order to hear even better, and he saw his face reflected in the quietly moving waters, and in this reflected face there was something, which reminded him, something he had forgotten, and as he thought about it, he found it: this face resembled another face, which he used to know and love and also fear. It resembled his father’s face, the Brahman.” – Hermann Hesse

after-the-rain.org / Rowboat on Puget Sound

2/25 – Talked to Sara once more today by phone, she sounds better than ever. I’m happy for her, to know she is now back in this world and will be ok. I feel utterly spent, crushed. In two days she’ll be home. (final log entry)

John Doe

11/15/19 Friday

Yesterday was was one of the toughest days yet. It started off well, I had my boy with me overnight which is one of the GAL’s new recommendations. It’s been great having him over, we get to read at night before bed, and I can wake him up in the morning, fix breakfast, make his lunch, his snack, fill up his water bottle, and drive him to school 5 minutes away. I walk him into class and say hi to the teacher and the other kids, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Walking out of school I ran into Sara who was coming in to volunteer in Day’s class. It was an awkward surprise and she looked a bit pissed and said something about she didn’t have enough jeans for him that fit even though I bought him 3 pairs of jeans at the beginning of the school year.

Little things like this set me off and when I got back home it was difficult to concentrate on work. The emails, instant messages , texts, and phone calls were flying and it was tough to keep up. My heart was beating fast and I took a break to lie down on the floor and try to calm down. It didn’t help as then all I could think about was that this weekend was going to be lonely as hell without Day, and I found myself hitting bottom fast. From my place on the floor I could see more and more emails coming in. I pictured the look on Sara’s face when we spoke at his school. I had to get back up and put all this behind me, but getting back up was harder than I thought – my chest hurt and it was hard to breathe. I got up and the pain got worse. It felt like my heart and lungs were about to burst. An hour later I was on my way to the doctor, and an hour after that I was on my way to the ER.

After 4 EKGs, a chest x-ray and blood draw, they found my heart and lungs were fine, I just had a “chest wall inflamation” which can be super painful but not harmful. The paperwork the doctor provided said the most common cause is emotional stress – go figure. After a steroid and some ibuprofin I was feeling better and ready to go. I drove by the old house to drop off Day’s toys, and he wanted me to stay to watch a show with him, one of his Bey Blade Burst Turbo episodes that we always have fun watching together. I let the family cat shred my hand as I tickled his tummy. I was feeling better, and all was good in the world except Sara kept asking me why there was an ad popping up for cough syrup on Day’s ipad. I was in no mood for that crap and now it was soon time to go.

One minute my doctor says the first EKG looks abnormal and sends me to the ER, the next minute I’m told I’m fine, the next I get to see my son, the next my ex wife is accusing me of something based off who knows what. Then I’m driving home, back to where the day all started. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m going to survive this, actually physically make it. But at least I made it through yesterday. If nothing else, it was a wake up call. Any day could be my last, it’s time for me to get my shit together and figure out where to go from here. I have an opportunity to start a new life, like a new man without a name.

This morning I felt even better, and as I sipped on a hot cup of coffee I sat and watched this little girl out the window, tip-toeing around munching on everyone’s plants. One day at a time – truth, goodness, beauty.

after-the-rain.org / Deer at the cottage

Winds of Change

11/10/19 Sunday

Not long before I put the boat up for winter, I took her for a final sail of the season. I felt clumsy on board, and it took way longer than it should have to get everything ready. As is my custom I pushed the boat out by hand to help get the bow pointed where it should go, then jumped on and scrambled to the cockpit, shifted the mighty Tohatsu into forward and putted out of the marina. It was sunny with light winds from the south, that were expected to pick up later in the afternoon as it turned around to the north. As we passed the final buoy I raised and set both sails, cut the motor and pulled it up, set off on a starboard tack, took my shoes off and settled in at the tiller, and pointed toward Mount Baker.

The 90% working jib was up because it’s the only foresail I have, and it was having a hard time grabbing a hold of the light wind. I managed two tacks before the wind gave out completely. For some time I sat there cooking in the sun as the sails gave up, and I looked up to see the wind vane slowly spinning. I’ve read about sailors who’ve been becalmed for days on long ocean crossing voyages, but here we were 2 miles from Oak Harbor, and it just seemed ridiculous. To make matters worse we were drifting toward shore in the current, about one and a half knots. It was amazing how fast land was getting so close. Just before making the decision to drop and start the motor, I looked around for other boats, and instead saw the wind. It had finally switched around to the north and was steadily making it’s way down the harbor. When it hit the sails filled, the boat came to life and we were running out at 7 knots. It’s moments like these when the boat seems to be saying, “all right, we’re here , I’m ready – where do you want to go?” This is the moment that confirms my suspicion that I really just don’t like to go sailing for sailing’s sake. I want to get in this boat and go somewhere.

after-the-rain.org / sailing in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island

The pieces of my family are in the middle of the guardian ad litem process. The GAL has interviewed me, interviewed Sara, visited her and Day at her place and visited Day and I at mine. I’m trying to get a feel for where this is going, what her recommendation will be for our final parenting plan. It’s too early to tell for sure though, there are still background checks and references to interview before she puts together a report. My instinct has me worried, I just don’t have a great feeling about it. Emotionally I’m scraping across the bottom these days. When I’m with my son it’s busy time and easy for me to be distracted by the joy and responsibilities with being a single dad, when he’s not with me I just withdraw into my heart, my vision blurs and sounds become muted, my sense of touch is dulled and food tastes different. To keep from going crazy I work out and stretch in the small space of my living room multiple times a day. I try to eat as well as I can and limit my drinking. If I let myself go physically I know I’m toast.

For now my boat is stripped and clean and ready for winter, the divorce process drags on and on, and I just try to be the best dad I can be here during the hardest time of my life. I hold on to the memories of my last visit with Day, of my last sail, of the last time I went to my favorite place on the island and gave myself to the sea, where in return the sea gave back tiny treasures to remind me that beauty never dies, that true compassion is the art of listening with your heart.

after-the-rain.org / agates and sea glass

2/24 – I don’t sleep much, just feel destroyed. Just to keep going requires conscious effort. I fix breakfast for me and Day, sausage patties, toast, milk and OJ. Afterward we go to he store to eat maple bars and look at magazines. All day I ache for Sara to call. She does but I don’t want to talk to her and try to end the conversation quickly. As soon as we hang up I wish she would call back.

Throughout the evening I keep coming back to the same thought – as the years have gone by, despite all the arguments, the leaving, the accusations, I realize that I have always loved her so much. The reason it hurts now is that I know she does not feel the same. We talk to each other by phone once more this evening. She sounds totally normal again, ready to come home. I hang up, tuck my son into bed, and try to crawl into a corner of my mind where no one can find me.

Taking a Walk

10/30/19 Wednesday

The days are starting to speed on by. The chill of morning extends through the day, the only noticeable warmth comes in the afternoon if the sun has been out. Each night we get frost if the sky is clear. The breeze carries the smell of the sea, of the neighbor’s farm, and now wood smoke. Leaves fall one after another covering the little back deck – gold , red, brown, yellow. The sheep in the neighbor’s field are more active, their woolly coats in full effect, marching from one end of their pasture to the other in a steady graze. Day and I fed them granny smith apples today. We are starting to recognize individual ones, some are all white, some brown, some almost black, some white with brown spots, a few lambs, and one big mac daddy ram. Day says the brown ones are the fluffiest.

after-the-rain.org / Beach rocks in Fall

The divorce proceedings ramble on, we’ve made headway on a guardian ad litem. I’ve met with her once so far for an introductory interview, and have now had a chance to state my case for why I think I should be able to see my son half the time. This is only the beginning of a long process, but it feels good to make some kind of progress. This person will have a major say in how the custody arrangement works out. It’s an important time, and I do my best to keep it together.

This interview was a couple of days ago around lunch time, and afterward I needed to return to work. Unfortunately my emotions were fried and I knew staring at a computer would was not going to work out. So instead I headed to my favorite beach to walk off the day and try to find something to fill my soul back up. Fortunately it was sunny and not windy, and being a weekday there was hardly anyone around. I clambered over kelp, driftwood, old growth logs as big around as my truck, pebbles and sand. I found two agates, a bald eagle feather and coyote tracks. A heron seemed to keep an eye on me for most of the walk. I would have stayed longer but the incoming tide was pushing me up to the bluffs and the only choice was either to leave now or stay longer and swim back. I looked out at the water, into the sun, into a shimmering carpet of sea sparkles. I love this place. On the drive home I think about my life, the divorce, our son, the sea, my dreams, and my boat.

after-the-rain.org / Blue Heron by the Salish Sea

2/23 – I get to see Sara again this evening. It will end up being our second and last visit. She’s doing well, better and better each day. The visit starts off ok, it’s good to see her. We’re in the cafeteria again. While she talks it reminds me of when we sit at home around the kitchen table, drink coffee and talk. The image is short-lived though. There is a cloud over this visit, and I come right out with it. “When you said you were unfaithful, was that true?” Her silent eyes tell me the answer I don’t want to hear. When she opens her mouth to say yes and explain it sounds like she is muffled, like I’m wearing headphones. My spine starts to tingle and suddenly I feel hot. I don’t want to hear anymore. I get up and walk out, walk out of a visit that I looked so forward to, walk out on someone I loved so much.

(That night) Nightmare – I’m hanging out with a group of men who I don’t know. I’m new to the group, I’m hoping they will accept me but I don’t know. Suddenly a guy next to me grabs my neck and starts choking me, hard. I try to fight him off but he is too strong. Everyone knows what is happening but do nothing to save me. I’m helpless, fading fast, I can’t breathe. I give in and go limp, resigned to my fate.

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.