Crackheads Like Flickas Too!

1/26/20 Sunday

I had always wanted a specific kind of sailboat, a Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20. They’re short and strong, straight forward no nonsense (maybe just a little), graced with bold curvy lines that embody optimism and adventure. That’s how I like to think of the boat, it’s how I like to think of myself. Apparently others like it too. In summer people walking around the docks sometimes come over to say hi, to ask about the boat, to tell me their own stories about Flickas or similar boats, and some ask if they can come aboard and take a peek below, especially if I’m in the middle of a project.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 project

The project I’m working on now is fixing up the overhead, or ceiling. I thought I was making some progress a few weeks ago, thought I had finally worked out the design in my head, and was bold enough to begin the prep work, including the installation of wooden furring strips which would act as the supporting framework. But at the time I was getting frustrated with not having the right materials, and was short on time, which is a sure sign of trouble. When the strips were done I didn’t feel good about it, left the boat and mulled it over for 3 weeks. The main problem was the strips just didn’t have enough give, and I couldn’t stand the idea of straightening out that beautiful overhead curvature. So Saturday morning I went back to the boat, with a fresh set of materials and a brand new game plan.

A few years ago when I bought the boat, I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and absolutely clueless about what I had done. There were warning signs that probably should have had me running for the hills, including loose shrouds and water stains on the interior paneling. No problem I thought, I’ll just sand out the stains! The stains went deep into the wood. I’ll just bleach them out! But the wood was soft. I pried off the soft wood and the wood beneath that wood was rotten. The damage was extensive, and beyond my skills to tackle on my own. So along came Steve, the most jubilant, optimistic, can-do liveaboard in the whole marina, eager to offer his advice. Where should I start I asked, what materials should I use, how long will this take me? What should I do? His usual smile evaporated as he popped his head below and quickly scanned the interior. “Give it away to some crackhead” was what he said with no hint of his comment being a joke. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately who knows I didn’t listen to him, and over the last 3 years have systematically removed, repaired or replaced, and resealed just about every part on this sailboat. The restoration is coming along slowly but it’s satisfying in a very deep way. There’s a certain amount of momentum going now, and I’m glad I didn’t take Steve’s advice and get rid of the boat.

after-the-rain.org / Flicka 20 overhead

Unfortunately the crackheads have apparently taken a liking to it anyway. About a year ago I would come out to work on the boat and would just have the strangest feeling, like someone had been right where I was sitting, there inside the boat. I had never kept the hatch locked because apparently I’m stupid like that, so my concern was a real possibility. I started to go all CSI and was determined to figure out if someone was coming aboard, and the most miniscule clues soon emerged. Sometimes a seat cover would be wrinkled when I knew I hadn’t used it, things like that. One day I was just sitting there, wondering if maybe I was imagining all this. I looked out the companionway and realized that the house battery’s solar charging panel was totally gone along with the cable. Since the cable connects to the battery, that was the proof that someone had been there, inside.

Ever since then she’s kept locked up when I’m gone, but I guess someone is persistent. Saturday morning upon arrival I checked the lock, and knew immediately someone again had been there. I close the hatch a certain way to keep rain out but also let air in, and the hatch was out of position. I think someone is unscrewing the latch that holds the lock. Today I went back and saw the same thing. Nothing is missing this time, there’s nothing on board worth much anyway. I think someone just goes there some nights to get out of the cold, and now they try to put things back very carefully.

………………………………………………………………….

I’m back home now, after a long day of fun work, eating a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato-basil soup. I might have a glass of wine later but for now it’s milk. It’s windy and raining outside. Someone might be aboard my little boat right now but it just seems so minor compared with the rest of my life these days. The guardian ad litem report came back last week, which will have a ton of influence over the final parenting plan, which will decide how much I get to see my son as he grows up. The details are sealed by the court, but I can say that the report was exhaustively thorough, that my ex wife does not love me anymore and maybe never really did, but despite all her efforts, the recommendation is for a 50/50 parenting plan, which is what I’ve been asking for since the beginning. It’s like I won something I never thought I would have to fight for, and lost something I never knew I didn’t have. I try to think about it philosophically, like the idea of having anything is an illusion at best, but that doesn’t cut it tonight. I’m so happy.

after-the-rain.org / Sailboat masts at sunset

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..

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…

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.

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.

I Write and Write and Write

9/10/19 Tuesday

I’m back at work, Day is back at school. The divorce is mired in financial paperwork, and we can’t agree on a final parenting plan, which will mean more court dates and interviews with court-appointed social workers. This drags on and on. But the sun came out today, I had a good cup of coffee this morning, and I got to take Day to the Wooden Boat Festival at Port Townsend last Saturday. I have to hold on to these types of moments to get through.

The boat show is insane, with some of the most beautiful wooden vessels you’ve ever seen all dolled up and on display. I can actually feel my mouth water and my knees go weak to see, board, and poke around some of these showpieces. It’s inspiring to see such craftsmanship, dedication, and creativity. This one is one of many that caught my eye.

The Ziska, a 38 foot (plus an additional 14 feet of bowsprit) 12 ton 116 year old gaff rigged cutter was seeing laying ashore “in a sorry way” before a prodigal 19 year old shipwright fixed her up and sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Round, simple, unique, clean.

So many boats, so many types. Sailboats, tugboats, trawlers, power boats, house boats, dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards. Day jumps from boat to boat exploring galleys, engine rooms, state rooms, fish holds, captains’ bridges, poop decks, wheelhouses and cockpits. I hear the term “little monkey” more than once. He pets all the dogs and asks tons of questions to the owners.

after-the-rain.org / Water Woody House Boat

Hours go by but we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s here to see and do. Day is starting to get hungry and tired so we take a break, find a quiet place to sit and eat hot dogs with corn on the cob. Afterward he’s full and tired. We don’t say much, he crawls over to my lap and I just hold him close as we watch the world go by. I finish the food that he can’t eat because I’m a pig like that, then we casually get up to go. I break away to check out an incredible cedar strip canoe, gleaming with who know how many layers of varnish. My hands slide over the smooth finish, appreciating the subtle variety of colors in the wood grain, until my eyes refocus and I startle myself by my own reflection – I need to shave.

after-the-rain.org / Native American salmon art

It’s time to go. We walk slowly down six crowded blocks toward the ferry, laughing and joking, punching each other’s arms and yelling out the names of out of state license plates. We hold hands crossing each street. He’s almost ten and I wonder how much longer that will last. He seems to like it and I enjoy it each time. We pause to duck into a tiny market so I can buy a Reese’s peanut butter cup for us to share. They’re horrible for you but we both like them. I find myself spoiling him a little more than usual as our time becomes more and more limited. Sometimes when he is telling me about a cartoon or a game at school or whatever his voice fades out in my head, and I just sit there with my eyes open but not exactly seeing, just absorbing the moment. We look out at the window on the ferry and see porpoises and cormorants.

I had to take him back to Sara that Saturday, I didn’t see him Sunday. Monday I couldn’t take it and went to see him at lunch at his school. Today is worse, I just stay at the house and work, taking breaks to clean up the house, dropping to do push ups and sit ups randomly. I think I’m starting to pace, finding the tiny excuses to walk from one room to another, I just have to keep busy. I’m having trouble concentrating on work, and sometimes I wake up at night and can’t fall back asleep. Our parenting plan has switched from one week on one week off to to the plan that Sara had proposed, which is me getting to see my son every other weekend and a few hours each Wednesday. It was never meant to get to this point, our divorce was supposed to be finalized by the time Day went back to school. But we can’t agree on anything, and the end is nowhere in sight. I feel like compromising less and less these days, especially now. I am more resolved than ever to fight for equal time with my son. It may take a while but I must try. Until then I try not to feel like a prisoner in my new house, like a stranger in my new town. But I’m trapped, emotionally captive. I long to be free, to raise my son and live and grow and meet new people and get back to going on adventures, get back to being me. Until then I lock myself away, my only outlet is this blog. It is private, no one else can see it, no one else knows about it, it is my escape, I go at it the same way I go about pretty much everything else, I pour my soul into it, everything I have. Some day I will be free again. Until then, I just write and write and write.

2/19 – She signed the release of information form. Now the doctors are legally able to tell me about her, but I can’t get a hold of a doctor on the phone. I leave multiple messages with nurses and social workers and receptionists, tell the doctor to call me. I need to see her. Later that day I find out she is still on unit restriction – no visitors allowed. I try to speak with her but am told she is in the shower. Later we get to speak. She sounds pretty calm, says the doctor didn’t have my phone number to call me (?). She says all the food tastes funny. She wants me to follow up at Day’s school to find out about a possible massacre. She zeroes in on everyone’s name tags – they are suspicious. I tell her I am hopeful she will come soon, but she is skeptical, not skeptical that she will be home soon, but skeptical that I’m hopeful she will be home soon.

She is in a room full of other patients. One person looks like me, one looks like her Dad, one looks like her sister. She is stressing but able to control it better. She is on the verge of crying but doesn’t. She keeps asking if Day is ok, if anything happened at his school, if anything happened on Valentine’s Day. I try to calm and reassure her the best I can. Later that night we talk again, and she sounds almost normal. We both become hopeful that we might be able to see each other tomorrow. We leave it at that and say goodnight.

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.