Perspective

9/1/19 Sunday

One more day in the boatyard. One more coat of wax on the hull. Then another coat. My arms feel like jello, sunburned and sore. But I know the rains are coming and I need to make the most of my time here. Monday we’ll be launching the boat. Tuesday my son and I will fly to Tennessee to visit my Dad’s side of the family. When we come back school will start. I finish with the wax, clean up my mess, load up my tools. Leaning against the truck, I let the sun’s final rays soak into my skin, look at the boat, look out to sea. The water sparkles across the bay and I feel warm and satisfied.

after-the-rain.org / Waxing the hull

It’s time to wrap this project up and move on. It’s a quiet Sunday, and I’m thankful the yard owner gave me the gate combo to come in and finish my work. I lock up the gate and begin the drive toward Sara’s to pick up Day. Whidbey Island is long and skinny and there’s one highway that runs the length of it. The road winds like a river, twisting and turning back on itself, rarely straight, rarely flat. One moment you look east and see Saratoga Passage, the next moment west to Admiralty Inlet. On a cloudy day your bearings easily become confused. On a sunny day it’s not a problem, the sun commands its presence across the sky as the big star of the show. Today it’s not hard to tell where west is, the sun fights its evening descent like a death throe. A slow motion explosion behind the clouds, so dramatic people pull over to watch, including me.

after-the-rain.org / Sunset, Whidbey Island

The colors twist and turn with the clouds, the shade of the douglas fir turns black. The view changes with imperceptible slowness, but no two moments are the same. Slow days but fast years. The concept of time is baffling, is it a constant as measured by a clock? Is it relative to the beholder? I’m nostalgic and sentimental. I think about the past, about growing older, about people around me growing older. Some say there is no such thing as the past or future, only now. Some compare time to a river, others think of it as a cycle. I once heard about a tribe of people in the amazon that communicates with a complex system of clicks, whistles, and hums. Their language has no past or future tense. They write nothing, there is no preserved art. When there is no more use for an item or a concept, it no longer exists. I struggle to put the past into perspective. When the dream of the past is shattered, is it tragic? Is it an opportunity, even liberating? Sometimes the pain inside is wrenching, like the dying struggle of the sun before me. Sometimes I get a glimpse of hope, of optimism. I push these feelings aside, get back in the truck, and try to focus on the present.

These days I may live in an inclusive community of socialist progressive liberal baby boomers, where the entire island is one big safe space, but that’s not where I come from. I was born and raised in rural Tennessee, where guys drove lifted trucks or modified cars with terrible gas mileage. We drove fast and tested our skills with the police, usually prevailing but not always. We liked to fish and hunt and did our very best to impress the hottest girls we could find, and sometimes the not so hot. I grew up in a place where we all dreamed of one day getting out, of escaping to a place that was more exciting, had more opportunity. I was able to do that, by going to college, getting a degree in teaching and mathematics. I moved out to California (where my Mom is from), then to Japan, back to California, then up to Seattle. I never looked back, with one job leading to the next, more and more money. I thought about friends back home, struggling to find work in construction, trimming trees, managing restaurants. Why would I ever want to go back?

I wake up at 4 am, scoop up Day and put him in the truck. A drive to the ferry, then to off site parking in Seattle, then a shuttle bus to the airport. 5 hours later we’re in Tennessee, at the airport car rental counter. They’re out of compacts, I get a minivan. The girl at the counter is pretty and friendly, she is from the same town where I went to high school. She is a student at the college I attended. She is good with Day and asks him what he is looking forward to doing when we get to my Dad’s. “I wanna catch a catfish in PawPaw’s pond” he says. The girl smiles at him then looks at me. I am absolutely smitten and do my best to stumble through the paperwork. We quickly turn and go, with me thinking of the witty things I should have said at the counter.

It’s hot and humid, but a thunderstorm is brewing, the wind picks up, and the temp drops to absolutely wonderful. Day has the window all the way down as we drive the car out of the airport, down the interstate, down the highway, down the driveway to PawPaw and Mama Sherry’s.

It’s full summer in the country. Cicadas, crickets, frogs, lightnin’ bugs. Giant moths, snakes, turtles, and the scariest looking spiders you’ve ever seen. Falling asleep with the window open to the night noises outside is dreamy and quick. It’s good to see family, my dad and stepmom already know what I’m going through, I don’t really have to explain anything. It’s comforting just being here. The next day is a breakfast of sausage (patties of course not links), biscuits, fruit, and the best scrambled eggs ever. Day just about eats ’til he pops. Dad is wearing dark sunglasses now, sensitive to sunlight. I notice his hands trembling when he lifts his coffee cup.

Soon it’s too hot for Day and I to take, so it’s off to go swim. I know a place nearby where a tiny country road goes through a creek, no bridge. There’s a small pool next to where the road goes through, where a tree leans over. A rope swing hangs from that tree, and Day goes to town, it’s his first time on a rope swing at a country swimmin’ hole. We swing and swim, swing and swim.

after-the-rain.org / Rope swing at the river

Several days pass, and I feel so at home. I wonder what it would be like to live here again. We fish every day. My boy doesn’t get his catfish but lands a 3 pound bass. I help Mama Sherry with an endless to-do list. In the mornings we feed the birds and have coffee on the deck. On Friday night we all load up in the minivan and drive to my old high school for a football game, to watch my stepbrother’s son as punter on the varsity team. His name is Hunter. He boots one, but it’s a good run back, he smears the return guy, the guy gets up and has words, Hunter walks away, someone shoves him in the back, someone shoves the shover, and in 2 seconds it’s a brawl. Players are ejected, the fans hoot and howl. Our team wins by a narrow margin and the game is over. After the game we all go down and say hi, his sweetheart is already there by his side, concerned about him but she can’t stop smiling. After we catch up, they drive off in his 25 year old F150 with mud tires.

Soon it’s almost time to go, and my parents struggle to ask the obvious questions about the divorce, where I’m living now, about the custody battle. I answer the best I can, trying to stay positive, but today I feel defeated, not yet ready to return to work, to school, to heavy decisions. The next morning we pack up in a rush and say goodbyes too quickly. By the following evening I’m back on the island, alone again after dropping off Day at Sara’s. On the drive back to Langley I’m suddenly amazed at the sunset, and pull over at the exact spot where I took the picture before we left. There are no vibrant colors now, just a surprise appearance of the sun before it quickly dissolves into a mass of gray. It occurs to me that this sunset is just as beautiful as the last, just different. I try to draw some sort of similarity to my own situation – is life just as beautiful and worthwhile when you’re heartbroken? It’s hard to fight back the tears tonight. I close my eyes and think about Tennessee, about swinging on the rope swing, about growing up. I think about what my Dad must have felt like when he and my Mom split up. I should give him a call tomorrow.

2/18 – Nightmares

1) Day and I are on a ferry. A large helicopter appears, hovers overhead, tries to land on top of the boat, tries to take us all away. The ferry captain is able to secure the boat but the helicopter won’t leave. It tries again and again to take away the people. I grab Day and fall to the deck, clutching him tightly. The noise and wind from the rotor are terrible and only getting worse, but I hold strong as the helicopter gets closer and closer.

2) Day and I are on the couch at night watching tv. Out of nowhere Sara appears at the window, a wild crazy look in her eyes. She looks at us with suspicion. She bursts through the window with superhuman speed and power like a demon. She’s wild, excited, eyes wide open, non-blinking, I think she is on drugs. Her face is ashy and gray. She looks wildly at me, then at Day, then back at me, a terrible smile on her face. She sees that Day and I were just sitting there, watching tv. She has a horrible realization that something is wrong, wrong with her. She is still smiling like a crazed zombie, but she is changing. Her face turns purple, her lips blue, she starts gasping. She is dying in front of me, I realize it’s an overdose. I wake up yelling over and over “Oh Momma, Oh Momma”. I’m terrified and try not to fall back asleep.

Pink and Blue

8/24/19 Saturday

I like a cold beer at the end of a hard day but I’m no alky. Sometimes weed can be relaxing and fun but I’m no smoker. Taking a calculated risk with money doesn’t bother me but forget gambling. But there seems to be one thing (other than coffee) where I have a real problem, and that’s boats. I don’t really understand why but it must be something to do with taking my favorite element – water, and combining it with something graceful and curvy. Take this boat for example, a Pearson Triton 28′.

after-the-rain.org / Pearson Triton 28

To most people this boat looks like an old gray sailboat, quietly weathering away in the boatyard of broken dreams. But look at that sheer line, that low freeboard. She’s so sleek, elegant, and graceful that Carl Alberg must have designed the high goofy cabin top just to keep people from coveting his boats just a little too much. Being around this beauty distracts me from my own baby, and I need to get back to work.

Fall comes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, by late August you’re just one cold front away from fall, which around here is basically pre-winter. Rain crushes your topside work, and as the temp starts to consistently drop below 50 degrees you can forget about epoxy and adhesives. So while others are out enjoying the cruisiest month of the year with fine sailing and sunset drinks in the cockpit, I’m freaking out about all that needs to be done before winter sets in and exposes the projects I’ve neglected to complete this year. Job #1 is bottom paint. I’ve never done it, but know it takes days, money, and organization. Just finding the right bottom paint is a pain. But I do my research, and choose a new quality paint that is compatible with the old. Day rides with me to the boat store to pick it up, which goes great until he asks me how much it costs. There’s no way to justify spending $300 for a gallon of paint to pretty much anyone, least of all a nine year old. He quickly figures out what kind and how many toys that would buy him, and I find myself stammering to explain my purchase, muttering words like quality and copper. I can see they’re not making much of an impact, and even admire his reasoning, his innocent yet powerful understanding that boats can cost lots of money.

I push out the thoughts of how much I’m spending on this job, not just the paint but the rollers, brushes, trays, Tyvek suit, respirator, sanding disks, rags, and of course the haul out (and relaunch) fee. It’s really not that hard to get over, because I’ve already come to terms with my obsession, I know I’m hopeless with this boat. Why is that? Why do grown men give everything they have – time, labor, money to an inanimate object that floats on water? I don’t really know why, I’m sure it has something to do with the feminine nature of boats. I do understand that part, if you don’t then here are just a few of the many similarities: Like women, boats cost money. They require time. They will put up with an amazing amount of your crap and mistakes as long as you love them, and prove at least once in a while that you have the best intentions. If you take care of them, they will take care of you when you feel all is lost. They will provide safety and comfort when you’re scared shitless, because they are stronger and more resilient. She will stand steady and firm against the abuses of a stormy world, while you lay cowering in your bunk below. But if she feels neglected, if you don’t show attention to her most minor of ailments, she will turn indifferent toward your suffering, leaving you to sort out a dire situation on your own.

But for me there’s something more, something my soon to be ex-wife never understood, probably because I lacked the communication skills to actually tell her: This boat, my boat, this 1978 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, is now 41 years old, just a few years younger than me. She is showing her age, with cracking gelcoat, leaky windows, and highly questionable chainplates. Her backbone – the compression arch – was compromised with moisture, and I’m pretty sure she keeps on keepin’ on with a slight twist in her hull. Someone at some point in time didn’t take proper care of this boat. Someone who comes by the dock once in a while told me I’d be better off giving her away to a crackhead. But I think she can be saved. Just because someone is getting older doesn’t mean they should be written off. Just because somebody wasn’t cared for properly doesn’t mean they can’t overcome the past and succeed in this world. I think I can fix her. I think I can fix me.

After three long days of hard work, the painting is done, but I find it hard to leave the boatyard. I plop down on the tailgate, dig a cold beer out of the cooler, sit back and just take in those beautiful curves. The fading light draws pink and blue shadows across the beauty in front of me. I guess there are quite a few things that test my self control – beauty, grace, elegance. If I felt this way about drugs they would call me an addict. Some might call me a hopeless romantic. I guess these days I just think of myself as a big fat mess.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 bottom paint

2/18 – Not much crying, but the paranoia is off the charts and the accusations are flying. She calls me early in the morning, says they want to move her to a different room, but that is where she will be killed. She says all of her belongings are going to be taken away and burned. She says she knows people are on facebook saying her organs will fail. She says she was unfaithful to me but I already know all about it from facebook. Things feel cold to the touch, then hot. People on tv are saying bad things about her. Over the phone I can hear hospital staff entering the room, telling her to hang up the phone. She refuses, pleads for help, tells me to call 911. I hear her screaming No!! No!! then the phone goes dead.

Later in the day I’m allowed to speak to her again. She sounds worn out and confused. I need to see her and ask to talk with a nurse. But I get nowhere, so I drive two hours to the hospital anyway. Here I’m told she is still on unit restriction, still not cleared from suicide watch. Plus she hasn’t signed the release paperwork for her doctor to share status information to me about her condition. She’s too scared of everyone to give her consent to anyone to do anything. I do find out though that she will be on prolonged restriction due to her fighting back against the hospital staff when they tried to move her to a new ward. It took 6 people to hold her down to a gurney where she could be restrained with straps and medicated. She is scratched and bruised and her finger is bloodied from where they forcibly removed her wedding ring. I think my visitation was denied because they didn’t want me to see her injuries. I talk to her by phone as I drive back home. She understands I came and tried to see her. She says she will reconsider signing the release of information paperwork then hangs up. It’s a long winding road back down the island, and the word unfaithful is planted in my mind, but I can’t process it. Instead the image of her fighting back in the hospital keeps playing through my head. Amazingly after all that has happened today, all I really feel right now is proud.