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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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′.
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.
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.
The gulls distant cry, the afternoon sun beams through the companionway. I dice up leftover steak to be cooked in the skillet, meat that will be added to soup. My work for the day is done, the laptop closed, music on, beer opened. Windy out, forecasted to blow a gale this evening, but the hatch is open and it’s so nice right now, so peaceful. The sun swings through the cabin in slow motion, cooking what lies in its path. I soak in the warmth and let go.
My son’s little league season ended last week. I’m so proud of him. The beginning of the season was cold and wet, with the practices ending in darkness. Day would get hit by the baseball at least once a practice, and usually on game days during warm up. On Thursday he was hit on the inner thigh by the fastest pitcher in the league. He had been afraid of this particular pitcher, and his fear came true. Day dropped to the ground in pain, I sprinted to home plate from my spot as first base coach. I held him there at the plate, we worked it out in front of everyone. I helped him to his feet before he limped off to first base. Two pitches later he stole second. So proud!
Saturday was the championship game of the tournament that capped off the season, and Day had to face the same pitcher. I told him it’s ok to be afraid, that without fear there is no courage. He struck out, but stood firm in the batter’s box and took all those fast pitches. How many times can I say I’m proud of him? His team lost 3-1. To celebrate the second place finish we took a trip as a team to a Mariners home game. It was all day, a wonderful spectacle. All the families came, Sara came.
We sat together, and got along well enough. It was nice, and hard not to think about how good it was when things were better between us. Where did we go wrong? Can we ever go back? I don’t think so. They say before you die your life flashes before you. I’ve almost died twice that I know of and can say that didn’t happen to me. But as the end of our relationship draws near I find plenty of time to take a look back at the marriage. The memories come in still images, random and trivial moments that apparently were logged somewhere deep in the brain: working together to change a tail light bulb in her car, watching her get ready for work when we used to live in an apartment, making coffee in the morning. So many memories, so much time – 15 years. It’s easy to look back. It can be scary to think about the future. I put down the pen and try not to think too much. A last look out the companionway as the sun dips below the roof of B dock. It shines on my lowered mast, wrapped in halyards and shrouds, waiting patiently for me to return my focus to something simple and beautiful – fixing up this old boat. Today I filed for divorce. Tomorrow I’ll raise the mast.
2/15 – She’s awake in bed, sitting upright. It’s dark. She asks me to listen to the radio, says they’re talking about Whidbey Island, talking about us. I listen with her. They do mention Whidbey Island. They’re not talking about us. I sit with her in the dark. It’s ok I say, I tell her she can run things by me if she’s not sure what she’s hearing. She looks distant and scared at the same time. She keeps the radio on.
Long day today, 3 hour drive to Seattle for a site walk. In urban environments most cell site antennas are not on towers but instead on rooftops. This usually works great for everyone – the wireless carrier gets the elevation, the property owner gets the lease revenue. Only problem is when the owner wants a new roof, and the entire site needs to be decommed then completely rebuilt. There is an amazing amount of pressure on the crews to get the work done quickly to minimize outage time. I’m here to help put that plan together, but it’s hard to concentrate.
High atop a downtown building, standing on a rotting roof in 2 inches of pigeon shit listening to a dozen guys talking shop, I space out and take in the view of a vibrant city under mass construction. Cranes, excavators, dozers, road crews, people, traffic. I watch a homeless man slowly push a shopping cart down the middle of the street below. A sea plane banks around the space needle, descending to Lake Union into a northerly breeze. It’s mostly sunny but high cirrus clouds to the south promise rain. A crow flies close, hovering over the roof then disappears over the edge like nothing. For a moment I’m light and free, my eyes are open but I’m feeling more than seeing what’s around me. I snap back to reality as the property owner begins to argue with the general contractor about what is and is not included in the scope of work. It will result in an email later that this half million dollar project will go $100k over budget. The conversation continues but the site walk is over.
I call my boss on the drive home with the intention of quitting. It’s not a hasty decision but I feel the time has come. He takes my call, but I’m not straight forward enough and begin this long lead in to why I’m going to leave. He sees right through it, cuts me short and tells me he’ll do whatever to make me stay. I don’t ask for anything and end up staying, just because it feels nice to be wanted.
Glad to be back at the boat. I work on emails, I tend to paperwork for the divorce. I do a load of laundry, and think about Day while I fold clothes. I’m sad and hungry and didn’t plan anything for dinner. I slice up a tortilla and cheese, pop a can of St. Croix sparkling water – lime. A candle, the lantern, food, soft music, thinking of my son, the divorce. After a time I start to feel better and notice the boat sway as the wind picks up. I smell the rain before it arrives, and as the drops start to pitter patter up top, I hear an eagle whistle from across the bay. Nothing is easy about this, but moments like these give me hope.
Asleep on the floor of the office, the door bangs open again, the light smacks on. “What did you do with all the pictures of Day?! Did you take them from me?” She’s hyperventilating. “Nothing” I say, “I didn’t do anything with them. Everything will be ok, I’ll help you find them in the morning.” The door slams, into darkness again, shaking. In the morning I find all the pictures, just where they’ve always been. She has nothing to say. Now I realize we have a big problem, we’re both going to need help through this.
I work from home as a construction manager for a major cellular network carrier. I mainly review plans, scopes of work, permits and equipment orders to make sure they all match up for any given project. For the most part it’s a pretty nice job, and I like the people I work with. Plus working “from home” doesn’t have to really mean from home, it’s more like working “anywhere you have a good internet connection”. This week I officially moved my office to the boat.
I wasn’t sure how it would go but it’s turning out to be quite pleasant. With a docking station for the laptop, a large monitor, full size keyboard, portable Bose speaker and coffee maker, I’m good to go. And of course heat – there’s a silent mini oil filled radiator that breaks the chill, and an opposite of silent blasphemous black rattle trap electric space heating fire hazard. I’m eyeballing a tiny wood stove for the future but that’s a story for another post.
Yesterday while I was plucking away at the computer a stranger appeared and starting asking questions about the boat. This isn’t too out of the ordinary but soon he was asking if the boat was for sale. Of course I said no and then of course I asked how much he would have offered if I had said yes. Within five minutes we agreed on a price and the sale of the boat was pending the approval of his wife, who would be coming shortly. Upon arrival she asked if the boat had an enclosed head, which is boat talk for a regular style toilet inside a private bathroom. I said no. She then assumed it had a porta potty – no. I decided to turn the conversation positive and reveal that we did offer a spacious 5 gallon bucket with a marvelous seat attachment, and although the attachment didn’t fit well and I didn’t know where it was and the bucket was currently being used for a hose, scrub brush, bottle of boat soap and a can coozie, that in theory it would probably work. Within two minutes they were both gone and I was left feeling dirty and guilty, surprised by my rash decision making and emotional volatility, shaken. Today I brought some flowers to the boat to show I was sorry.
One of the pleasures of being in a healthy relationship is seeing what happens to the bedroom. The bed itself becomes a complete disaster – covers in disarray, clothes on the floor, dresser drawers open, underwear lost in the sheets. Bathroom counter space overflows with handfuls of unimaginable beauty lotions and potions, hair brushes, hair dryer, curling iron, straightening iron, makeup, so many colors and smells. Steam from the shower, warm and wet. The radio is on. The bedroom paints its own picture of sex, love, and life. I want to be in that room again.
I don’t know about everyone but for me the heart of the home is the kitchen. The smell of a heating skillet, tasting of ingredients, the ritual of coffee, the temperature change of reaching in the freezer. The kitchen table, a constant collection of what is happening on any given day, what needs to be done, what needs to be put away. Homework, meals, projects, games, bills groceries, nowhere else in the house does more go down than in the kitchen. And by far the most important thing is verbal and physical communication.
Our kitchen is small, so it forces us to move about in close proximity, constantly aware of each other, timing our movements to avoid collision as one reaches for the bread and the other a plate. A small east facing window shines light on it all, a spotlight on the actors of life playing out a performance both common and unique, timeless and special. One way you know you’re doing something right in life is when time stands still, when the world stops for a moment and you really appreciate it, and intense and fragile beauty. Take your wife by the hand, twirl her around, and make your own world stand still as you dance together in the kitchen.
A calm and pleasant Saturday. I fix ham and toast, OJ and milk, doughnuts. It’s coffee on the patio, the cat plays with mouse toys and Day brings out his magnifying glass to light things on fire and torture ants. Sara joins us with her own coffee and that makes me happy inside. The glare of the morning sun reveals an awkward, pained look on her face which is probably a reflection of mine. Emotionally separated but physically close, today I’ll take what I can get.
In the afternoon I head to the boat, just to write, eat lunch, just to be. The stiff geometry of the docks plays with the curvature of the other sailboats around me. The spring sun shines on everything, and I’m happy to be here.
Nightmares last night and was awake for hours. The thought of another lonely day working from home on the computer drives me away, to pack up for the day and head to the boat. Coffee and music, a nice drive up the island. The wind whips across Penn Cove, a gull hovers above the water, back lit by morning sun. The images enter my head, they are absorbed, released.
Pulling into the marina is like the start of a new day. Casual conversation with people on the dock (dock talk) is uplifting. Most of the people are older, they move slowly, and take their time organizing their thoughts before they speak – I like that. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Some have little dogs. With their lovely curious eyes and and playful wags my frown turns upside down. In the present, one moment at a time.
The boat waits patiently, gently rocking, like one of the little dogs wagging her tail. The sun peeks through the clouds for a brief moment, beautiful. No dew, no bird crap, did she know I was coming today? Lights, heat, music, my mood continues to improve. Typing away on a little laptop, work issues come and go, a zen to the flow of emails, in and out, pressure and release. Before long it’s time for lunch, I take a break and go up top. Sitting there in the cockpit eating the leftover half of the chicken sandwich that Day didn’t eat last night at dinner, I think about my son – he is at school. I think about my wife – I don’t know where she is.
A car slowly approaches my son, and I’m having trouble pulling him out of the way. Banging on the passenger window gets the driver to stop just in time, but Day walks to the rear of the car and sits down behind the back tire. The car starts to back up, and I just can’t drag him away. I’ve saved him so many times before, why can’t I save him now? I wake up in the cold still dark, sweat drips down my chest. I’m too upset to go back to sleep, too afraid.