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.
There’s a particular bird that comes to the feeder at my bedroom window everyday. I’m not sure what kind it is, but it doesn’t look like the other sparrows, juncos, finches, or towhees. It’s also different because it doesn’t fly away like the others when I move about in the room. It just sits there at the feeder for much of the day, pecking at food occasionally as it feels like it. A few days ago I put my face right up to the window to check it out, and finally saw why it doesn’t fly away even when I’m so close – it can’t see, it’s blind in one eye. It spends much of the day perched on the feeder where it feels comfortable, keeping a watchful eye out from one side of its head for the other birds, and ignoring any potential danger from the other side of its head where it has no eye.
The other day I dropped in to see my counselor. The divorce and custody battle have been taking a toll on my weary 47 year-old bones, head, and heart. Sara was able to put together a response to my motion to modify our parenting plan, which turned out to be a blistering 11-page list of grievances and accusations against me. Interestingly she also filed a response to the guardian ad-litem report, letting the world know she didn’t think much of that either. Bitterness, scorn, and rage poured through her words. I could picture her typing them, I’ve seen her eyes and facial expressions many times before as she lets them fly like arrows, trying to cut me down. However I did something she could not have expected. Instead of being torn apart I absorbed those arrows because as everyone knows love conquers hate. Instead of fighting back I let her know that I think she is a good person and that to me anyway our marriage was a good one for the most part, then I turned and walked away. This of course was an unforgivable offense, and has ignited an incredible fury which is confusing, surprising, disturbing and sad all at the same time.
My counselor told me a story of one of her former clients, a lady in her eighties who like Sara was also diagnosed with psychosis, and also a gifted artist. The lady had let her appearance go, and had arrived at her session dressed in an old mu mu, with wild gray hair, nervously peering out at the world through giant thick-rimmed black glasses. The counselor asked her to draw a self portrait. The lady took her time, carefully looking back and forth between her reflection in the mirror and her sketchbook. After quite some time the lady revealed her work, which was a talented and striking portrait of herself, not as an elderly lady, but as a beautiful young woman in her twenties, with long flowing auburn hair, no glasses. I guess sometimes we see what we want to see as we go through life. We can’t see both the good and the bad sides of each other, blind to a fault.
On Monday the judge decided that our son should keep staying with me during the week, and with his mom on the weekends, as long as her visits are supervised. I hope we can ease into a 50/50 shared parenting plan but these days I’m not so sure what to expect. Since today is Friday my boy is not here now. I see that my house is a mess, nerf darts and army guys again cover the floor, I love it. I see my tools by the door because tomorrow I’ll head to the boat. I see a piece of paper on the counter with a woman’s phone number on it. She gave it to me weeks ago. It never moves because I don’t know if I should call her or throw it away. For now I’ll turn a blind eye to it and concentrate instead on my dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and vegetables. I’m starving because as usual when I write I forget to eat. It’s raining again and so cold outside it’s almost snowing. The schools are closing for 6 weeks starting on Monday due to coronavirus. Life goes on and it all seems so unpredictable. I trust the weather will warm up soon, I’m hopeful things will get better. I guess we’ll see.
I have to say thank you. There aren’t many people who read my scribble scrabble week after week, but a few who do have reached out with some very kind words. Your comments feel like rays of spring sunshine and are much appreciated. Last week was a doozy, and I’m soaking up positive bits and pieces like a decorator crab gathers up whatever it can find to strengthen its shell. But the weekend was better, so I’m packaging up the drama until next time and focusing on problems I can fix or at least work on with my hands. I pour energy into the boat.
With my boy being at mom’s (with gramma) over Saturday and Sunday, I convert my living room into a makeshift workshop and get busy. I scoot army guys, nerf darts, and legos off to the side, lay down a drop cloth, bring in the wood, bring in the tools. I can work better with heat, light, space, music. Plans and measurements drawn out on the backs of utility bill envelopes come to life before me, cut, sanded, and epoxied.
Some time ago I realized that even having a bachelor’s degree in mathematics couldn’t help me figure out how to install straight wooden planking on a curved sailboat overhead. Curved isn’t really the right word because the “curvature” is three dimensional, not in a plane. Spherical isn’t the right word either because it’s not round. Think of it as a hollowed out orange peel, except it’s not symmetrical. My entire boat is curvy and twisty, like a beautiful mermaid with big hips, slightly turning to the side as she swims through the sea. I abandoned the straight planks, and have instead chosen to use 4 mil okume marine plywood. It’s lightweight, light colored, and contorts as required to fit into unique dimensional spaces. It’s a plantation-grown mahogany, and looks outstanding if you have the buddha-like patience and depression-era work ethic to apply 3 coats of epoxy and 7 coats of varnish (I don’t). I clean up the toys and my mess, load my “handiwork” into the truck and head to the marina.
I’m blinded by the strange yellow light in the sky and struggle to find my sunglasses. The clouds are giving up their grip today but the cold is not. I can’t feel any wind but the water shows otherwise. There is some kind of youth regatta out in the bay, and I wonder what it would be like to have mad sailing skills as a teenager instead of learning to sail in my forties. I watch for a few minutes as the race drama silently unfolds at 3-4 knots.
My own boat patiently waits. It takes forever to find a dock cart, load my tools, lunch, and plywood panels, and bumble across the parking lot, out on the pier, down to the floating docks, through the security gate, all the way down A dock. I get side tracked talking to people. They aren’t my friends, but I see them more than my friends and I like to say hi. It feels good to talk to others without having to explain oneself. We all have the boat sickness and understand that about each other as a given. Soon (hours later) I’ve got my stuff unloaded and the panels up. I sit and look up at the ceiling for even more time, thinking things through, trying to work it out in my head. I try to think of myself as patient, letting the boat tell me what she wants. In reality I know I’m just slow. Maybe if I had skills, maybe if I knew as much about boats as http://artofhookie.org this project would be done already and I would actually be out on the water. I guess it’s ok though, one step at a time still works.
It’s cold but sunny enough so I trick myself into thinking the weather is nice, go sit in the cockpit and eat lunch. The sun reflects off the water, it reflects off the woodwork. It will need a maintenance coat of varnish this summer. I think how boats are in a state of slow but constant deterioration, how they need to be actively maintained and improved otherwise they slip into disrepair, there is no in-between. Briefly I think of people as the same way, then flush out the thought and eat my sandwich, quickly before the gulls see me.
It’s time to go but I don’t want to. There’s a physical perception of time actually passing by, the weekend will be over soon. Thankfully someone comes by to talk more about sailboats. He tells me about the good deal he got on an old Catalina 25′. He tells me how his boat is slowly taking on water, perhaps from a hairline crack in the hull. He tells me Flickas are too expensive. He walks away.
I round up my tools, lock up my beautiful girl, and track down another dock cart. I’m hesitant to leave. Yes she’s too expensive, and too needy. But she’s patient and a good listener, even if I don’t have the right words to say. I never do. I check her dock lines for chafe, readjust and walk away.
Before the weekend is over I’ll move my rowboat into a new storage unit at the marina, and begin to cut out the panels for the forward sections of the overhead. I’ll meet my mom in Coupeville for Musselfest. I write this post. Anything to keep my mind off of tomorrow. Tomorrow a judge will decide if Sara will get custody of our son, if we’ll share custody 50/50, or if I will get majority custody out of safety concerns. At this point I can’t do anything more about it. It’s not a problem I can fix with my hands. Outside I distract myself, inside I pace back and forth. Goodnight Bubba, I hope to see you tomorrow, daddy loves you.
Swept up in a police raid, I look around, searching for a way out, somewhere to run. But it’s too late, I have to join the Mexican state police to try and take down a drug cartel leader, locked away in her mountain fortress. It will be difficult but our troops are strong, she’s trapped. Movement catches my eye, some of our rear guards are signalling to her forces, revealing our location and intentions. They are traitors but I’m unwilling to stop them, I’m caught in the middle, only I know the truth, and I don’t know what to do.
The nightmares are back, just like last year. Like then they are easy to figure out, but unsettling and not easy to forget. The cartel leader is Sara of course, the fortress is the psychiatric hospital. My law firm represents the police, and the traitors are some of her friends and family. My best friend is on a surf trip in Baja..
I had to file a motion while Sara was in the hospital, and I didn’t want to, but it was necessary. I had to file for temporary sole custody. Sara was going to be released after a 10 day stay and have a right to pick up our son even though none of “us” had any visibility into details of her care or treatment plan. And after being stuck alone with her for 24 hours while she was having a psychotic episode, our son Day was scared shitless. I went into protective dad mode. Some of her family and friends are supportive of the motion, many aren’t. It was a hard decision until I found out that during her episode, Day had been heard crying, asking “Mom, am I going to die too?”
It’s all so hard to think about but my brain won’t let it go. I drive to the other end of the island. There’s only one highway, a two lane country road that twists and turns its way north with so many curves it seems aimless. I look down at the dashed yellow lines, and as they pass by I imagine each one is a word, a rhythmic release of pressure, pouring out of my head to no one in particular. The blacktop is relatively fresh, like a dark gray or a light black. Day tells me there’s no such thing as light black. Dark clouds blanket the sky, but it’s late and the sun has dipped close enough to the horizon that light floods the world around us, brushing the landscape around us with a color I would describe as golden green, which probably doesn’t make any sense either. Day and I are on our way to his first counseling session.
Sara is home. Her mom is staying with her. The court decided that for the next two weeks our son should stay with me during the week, and with mom on the weekends, as long as her visits are supervised. For now I’m just trying to provide stability. I cook breakfast, take him to school, work, pick him up, we play, I fix dinner, he does homework. I watch him while he writes, and wonder where the curvy road of time will take him. I wonder what color his life will be.
Day’s mom is not crazy. She is a good person who has a health issue, that just happens to affect her brain. The world is a better place with her in it, but the ripple effects of her illness can be overwhelming not only to her but to those closest around her. We could all use some peace and a break. Tomorrow will be my first free day in weeks. The weather is supposed to be horrendous but I don’t care, I’m going to the boat.
A year ago almost to the day, Sara gave in to the voices in her head and attempted suicide. Thankfully it was not successful, she was medically cleared from the ER within 24 hours. However it would be another 11 days before the psych hospital would let her come home. Life has not been easy for her during the last year, as she has struggled with paranoia, complications with medication, and a husband who just couldn’t take it anymore.
I know she has done the best she can, and can’t stress enough how good of a mom she can be. She has managed to look after Day during their time together, organize play dates, buy him clothes for school, and cook better meals than I ever could. I tried to help her out around the house, showing her how to restring the weed whacker, start a mower with a bad carburetor, use a pressure washer, and a dozen other things I used to do. But over time my visits became more stressful, until eventually they became just dropping off our son. Eventually we were not able to talk anymore.
Last week she started to slip. On Tuesday I found out Day wasn’t going to school. When I called the house she was distraught. She asked if I thought she was the devil. Day asked if I could come over and bring food, I said yes. Sara asked if I was coming over to remarry her. I hung up the phone, got some groceries, headed over, fixed a lunch plate for Day, talked to Sara. She asked if I forgave her for her sins, that she needed to unlock heaven’s gate. I told her not to worry, we were all ok, and thought it would be a good idea for Day to come back with me for a while. They both agreed. I called my lawyer, who called the guardian ad litem. Sara’s lawyer was notified, and called right away. It only took a couple of minutes before she determined a medical check was needed, then called 911.
Today Sara is back in the same hospital she was in a year ago. I’m not authorized to get any first hand information about her directly from any medical staff. I am in contact with her family though, and helping to organize her mom coming out to stay a while. Her mom received a call from Sara today. Her mom thinks she should stay there a little while.
We’ve never been what you would call a religious couple, but tonight before I go to bed, I’ll be putting my hands together and call up something our broken family can use right now – faith.
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.
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.
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.