Instead of bellyaching about my problems this week, I feel more like just writing about what I’m thankful for. So this evening, instead of hitting that zone to open my heart to the world, I’m just taking a few moments to appreciate a few of the smaller things. Everyday, life offers its little blessings that too often go unnoticed, especially by me. For example it’s easy to become accustomed to where I live, to not appreciate the natural beauty around me all the time. Yesterday I paused at a place I’ve driven by a thousand times, I paused to pull my truck over to the side of the road where no one usually stops. I watch the sun and the wind move across the water. Driving by it looks like one scene, but in reality the view is constantly changing, a dance where no move is repeated.
I’m thankful for this cat (Keyton), which Day and I picked out as a kitten. He came from an abandoned litter. A natural born mouser, an incorrigible hand shredder, lap heater, obsessive cabinet door opener. If I let him outside he’s gone for hours. He travels and hunts anything that moves, I’ve watched him charge deer. I don’t see him much though, Sara won’t let him come over to my new place anymore. But when she was in the hospital I brought him over here anyway, because I love him, and he makes us happy. I always keep a can of tuna on hand just in case..
Most of all I’m thankful for my family. I have the best son in the world, a great Dad in Tennessee who I should make an effort to see more often, and a loving Mom here on the island. I dropped by to see her today. She watches the news too much and worries about everything. When it gets too much I ask her if she’s seen any interesting birds at her feeder, and she lights up and tells me about the first goldfinch of the season, a pileated woodpecker, and how the starlings bully the other birds.
Day is with Sara this weekend. The house is quiet, the town is quiet. It’s just me on a hazy spring Sunday, thankful for what I have, those around me, thankful for our health. There’s enough negativity out in the world these days, but it won’t get me down today, have to stay positive. I found a cache of discarded lumber scraps earlier, and spent this evening with a glass of wine, some won ton soup, and my tools on the living room floor, turning the scrap wood into a nightstand. It’s been a good day, I’m ready to go to bed.
This is not me, but I have surfed at this exact spot on a similar day, when the waves were just as raw, just as big. This wave is solid 10 foot Hawaiian, which means 20′ crest to trough. It’s the type of wave that can ruin your day if you fall, can turn your limbs backwards at the joints, hold you under until your lungs burn, make your whole world go black, make you pee in your wetsuit. For me it’s a wave that made me realize I’m a big fat chicken, and that being brave has nothing to do with being a man.
This spot is semi-secret and hard to get to. It can be good spring through fall, but winter summons ungodly energy from North Pacific storms and focuses it on the beautiful but remote and dangerous rocky coast of Washington state. For me it’s a 30 minute ferry ride, then three hours of driving on a two-lane road that is prone to washout from landslides. It rains a lot here. The unmarked trailhead starts at an Indian burial ground, then winds through a thick muddy evergreen forest half a mile down to the beach. You can see Canada from here, and sometimes eagles, otters, and whales. Every now and then I see another person. On this particular day, there was someone else already in the water, a girl called Massy. I had met her once before at the trailhead to another spot even more remote, that begins past where the paved road ends, past where the gravel road ends, at the town garbage dump. Here you’re just as likely to see a bear as you are a person, and one day I met her as she was packing her board away into a beat up Subaru, with a Massachusets license plate. She not only knew how to surf, but knew how to get here, knew how to surf here.
She was a solitary human in a big ocean, in big conditions. I paddled out, which was no easy feat, and nodded a silent hello to her as I passed. She seemed too far inside, destined to get cleaned up on the next big set. On a long period swell the sets are bigger, more powerful, but longer apart. It can be a challenge to figure out where to sit and wait, and strong currents make it hard to hold a position. I was sure she was doomed. At some point the horizon went black, and I started paddling out even farther. Climbing over the first wave, then the second, I saw the third, which was the last and biggest. It was a monster, I swung and paddled just to have a look. Twenty feet below me was Massy, paddling to actually catch the wave. I was in a better position so she checked me, and I motioned for her to go ahead and take it, not out of being generous, but because I was too scared. At that moment I realized I would never be cut out to be a big wave surfer, which to me now is laughable but at that time was devastating. I had given years to finding and figuring out new spots, to taking risks and pushing my own limits. But now I knew just where that limit was.
I have found many more limits since then, and realize now that they are not to be feared or dreaded. These boundaries help me figure out my place in the world, to become more comfortable being me. I’m not as scared to push the envelope anymore, not because I’m courageous, but because I’m comfortable with my own limitations, comfortable not being perfect, comfortable being afraid.
I will always be afraid of something or another, like big waves, spiders, and dying after my child. But I won’t be afraid of taking chances, opening my heart to someone new, or living in fear of the corona virus, even if I am pretty much living indoors. Fear is a useful, practical response to danger, but it can feed on itself and become paralyzing. I try to remember to confront fear, to embrace it, to work rationally to overcome the real threat behind it. Without fear there is no courage.
The world is gradually locking down. Our country, our state, even our own little island in the Pacific Northwest are all coming to terms with new restrictions, uncertainty and change. Schools, restaurants, and just about anywhere people tend to congregate are closed for the forseeable future. Even the court system has ground to a halt, which will likely put a lid on my divorce drama for a while. I do the best I can for the older and more vulnerable around me, which generally means offering emotional support like being positive, but most of all just staying away. I check in with my mom to make sure she’s ok and just to talk. She worries about getting sick so she stays home and watches the news which makes her more worried. I think we are all starting to feel that withdrawal of physical connection. I do what I usually do to distract and calm myself, which is to work on problems with my hands – I head to the boat.
A small sailboat in a quiet marina is a good place to work out all kinds of things. Yesterday’s issue was rebuilding the motor mount and installing the outboard. It was a beautiful sunny spring day with almost no people, which means I was easily able to find a dock cart which would have been unimaginable on any other Saturday. This was especially helpful for transporting the outboard motor from the truck down to the boat. Somehow I got the mount put together without losing too many parts, and got the motor hung without dropping it or myself over the stern into the water. This should have been a 30 minute task but took me 2 1/2 hours, which is about usual for my boat projects. After this I thought a short break with an icy sparkling lemon water was justified so for the next two hours I faced west to watch the glorious sun slowly say goodbye for the day, then headed home.
It was a nice way to cap off an interesting week. I work from home and now take care of my boy Monday through Friday. I’m thankful for the extra time together, and do my best to put work on the back burner so we can shoot nerf guns at army guys, play board games, draw, walk to the playground, play catch with a baseball. On Friday three lambs were born in the sheep pasture next door. Two survived and one didn’t. We watched the momma ewe clean her babies, watched the two lambs take their first steps, and could sense the mom’s confusion and grief as she tried to nudge the third one to move. A large eagle flew in to take a look and I figured we better go talk to the farmer. Good thing we did, she didn’t know about the lambs but had seen the eagle and was concerned. We all walked down to the sheep, where the eagle had moved in on the little guy that didn’t make it. More were flying in. We brought the two lambs and the ewe back up to the barn where they would be safe. The farmer lady told us the eagles would have taken the healthy lambs also in another ten minutes if we hadn’t been there. My son was proud to be a part of something so significant, so meaningful.
I never did call the server from last week who gave me her number. There are a couple of reasons why but they’re probably more excuses than anything else. It just didn’t feel right, and as a man who is used to living by his instincts that was good enough for me. But as I sit here plowing through a bag of Hershey’s kisses and a glass of red wine, I think I know why. Although I’ll always be a hopeless sucker for beauty, what I’m looking for now more than anything is a connection, a sense of being together, in love with someone’s spirit.
The other day I met someone at the beach who was there with her own 10-year old son. Our kids played frisbee. Our words flowed back and forth like waves, but there was an invisible boundary to the conversation. I didn’t have to look at her ring finger to tell she was married. There will be many more of those near misses to come for sure, but for now I’m starting to enjoy being a part of the world again, and finding my place in it, embracing the uncertainty of change and new possibilities.
There’s a particular bird that comes to the feeder at my bedroom window everyday. I’m not sure what kind it is, but it doesn’t look like the other sparrows, juncos, finches, or towhees. It’s also different because it doesn’t fly away like the others when I move about in the room. It just sits there at the feeder for much of the day, pecking at food occasionally as it feels like it. A few days ago I put my face right up to the window to check it out, and finally saw why it doesn’t fly away even when I’m so close – it can’t see, it’s blind in one eye. It spends much of the day perched on the feeder where it feels comfortable, keeping a watchful eye out from one side of its head for the other birds, and ignoring any potential danger from the other side of its head where it has no eye.
The other day I dropped in to see my counselor. The divorce and custody battle have been taking a toll on my weary 47 year-old bones, head, and heart. Sara was able to put together a response to my motion to modify our parenting plan, which turned out to be a blistering 11-page list of grievances and accusations against me. Interestingly she also filed a response to the guardian ad-litem report, letting the world know she didn’t think much of that either. Bitterness, scorn, and rage poured through her words. I could picture her typing them, I’ve seen her eyes and facial expressions many times before as she lets them fly like arrows, trying to cut me down. However I did something she could not have expected. Instead of being torn apart I absorbed those arrows because as everyone knows love conquers hate. Instead of fighting back I let her know that I think she is a good person and that to me anyway our marriage was a good one for the most part, then I turned and walked away. This of course was an unforgivable offense, and has ignited an incredible fury which is confusing, surprising, disturbing and sad all at the same time.
My counselor told me a story of one of her former clients, a lady in her eighties who like Sara was also diagnosed with psychosis, and also a gifted artist. The lady had let her appearance go, and had arrived at her session dressed in an old mu mu, with wild gray hair, nervously peering out at the world through giant thick-rimmed black glasses. The counselor asked her to draw a self portrait. The lady took her time, carefully looking back and forth between her reflection in the mirror and her sketchbook. After quite some time the lady revealed her work, which was a talented and striking portrait of herself, not as an elderly lady, but as a beautiful young woman in her twenties, with long flowing auburn hair, no glasses. I guess sometimes we see what we want to see as we go through life. We can’t see both the good and the bad sides of each other, blind to a fault.
On Monday the judge decided that our son should keep staying with me during the week, and with his mom on the weekends, as long as her visits are supervised. I hope we can ease into a 50/50 shared parenting plan but these days I’m not so sure what to expect. Since today is Friday my boy is not here now. I see that my house is a mess, nerf darts and army guys again cover the floor, I love it. I see my tools by the door because tomorrow I’ll head to the boat. I see a piece of paper on the counter with a woman’s phone number on it. She gave it to me weeks ago. It never moves because I don’t know if I should call her or throw it away. For now I’ll turn a blind eye to it and concentrate instead on my dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and vegetables. I’m starving because as usual when I write I forget to eat. It’s raining again and so cold outside it’s almost snowing. The schools are closing for 6 weeks starting on Monday due to coronavirus. Life goes on and it all seems so unpredictable. I trust the weather will warm up soon, I’m hopeful things will get better. I guess we’ll see.
I have to say thank you. There aren’t many people who read my scribble scrabble week after week, but a few who do have reached out with some very kind words. Your comments feel like rays of spring sunshine and are much appreciated. Last week was a doozy, and I’m soaking up positive bits and pieces like a decorator crab gathers up whatever it can find to strengthen its shell. But the weekend was better, so I’m packaging up the drama until next time and focusing on problems I can fix or at least work on with my hands. I pour energy into the boat.
With my boy being at mom’s (with gramma) over Saturday and Sunday, I convert my living room into a makeshift workshop and get busy. I scoot army guys, nerf darts, and legos off to the side, lay down a drop cloth, bring in the wood, bring in the tools. I can work better with heat, light, space, music. Plans and measurements drawn out on the backs of utility bill envelopes come to life before me, cut, sanded, and epoxied.
Some time ago I realized that even having a bachelor’s degree in mathematics couldn’t help me figure out how to install straight wooden planking on a curved sailboat overhead. Curved isn’t really the right word because the “curvature” is three dimensional, not in a plane. Spherical isn’t the right word either because it’s not round. Think of it as a hollowed out orange peel, except it’s not symmetrical. My entire boat is curvy and twisty, like a beautiful mermaid with big hips, slightly turning to the side as she swims through the sea. I abandoned the straight planks, and have instead chosen to use 4 mil okume marine plywood. It’s lightweight, light colored, and contorts as required to fit into unique dimensional spaces. It’s a plantation-grown mahogany, and looks outstanding if you have the buddha-like patience and depression-era work ethic to apply 3 coats of epoxy and 7 coats of varnish (I don’t). I clean up the toys and my mess, load my “handiwork” into the truck and head to the marina.
I’m blinded by the strange yellow light in the sky and struggle to find my sunglasses. The clouds are giving up their grip today but the cold is not. I can’t feel any wind but the water shows otherwise. There is some kind of youth regatta out in the bay, and I wonder what it would be like to have mad sailing skills as a teenager instead of learning to sail in my forties. I watch for a few minutes as the race drama silently unfolds at 3-4 knots.
My own boat patiently waits. It takes forever to find a dock cart, load my tools, lunch, and plywood panels, and bumble across the parking lot, out on the pier, down to the floating docks, through the security gate, all the way down A dock. I get side tracked talking to people. They aren’t my friends, but I see them more than my friends and I like to say hi. It feels good to talk to others without having to explain oneself. We all have the boat sickness and understand that about each other as a given. Soon (hours later) I’ve got my stuff unloaded and the panels up. I sit and look up at the ceiling for even more time, thinking things through, trying to work it out in my head. I try to think of myself as patient, letting the boat tell me what she wants. In reality I know I’m just slow. Maybe if I had skills, maybe if I knew as much about boats as http://artofhookie.org this project would be done already and I would actually be out on the water. I guess it’s ok though, one step at a time still works.
It’s cold but sunny enough so I trick myself into thinking the weather is nice, go sit in the cockpit and eat lunch. The sun reflects off the water, it reflects off the woodwork. It will need a maintenance coat of varnish this summer. I think how boats are in a state of slow but constant deterioration, how they need to be actively maintained and improved otherwise they slip into disrepair, there is no in-between. Briefly I think of people as the same way, then flush out the thought and eat my sandwich, quickly before the gulls see me.
It’s time to go but I don’t want to. There’s a physical perception of time actually passing by, the weekend will be over soon. Thankfully someone comes by to talk more about sailboats. He tells me about the good deal he got on an old Catalina 25′. He tells me how his boat is slowly taking on water, perhaps from a hairline crack in the hull. He tells me Flickas are too expensive. He walks away.
I round up my tools, lock up my beautiful girl, and track down another dock cart. I’m hesitant to leave. Yes she’s too expensive, and too needy. But she’s patient and a good listener, even if I don’t have the right words to say. I never do. I check her dock lines for chafe, readjust and walk away.
Before the weekend is over I’ll move my rowboat into a new storage unit at the marina, and begin to cut out the panels for the forward sections of the overhead. I’ll meet my mom in Coupeville for Musselfest. I write this post. Anything to keep my mind off of tomorrow. Tomorrow a judge will decide if Sara will get custody of our son, if we’ll share custody 50/50, or if I will get majority custody out of safety concerns. At this point I can’t do anything more about it. It’s not a problem I can fix with my hands. Outside I distract myself, inside I pace back and forth. Goodnight Bubba, I hope to see you tomorrow, daddy loves you.
Swept up in a police raid, I look around, searching for a way out, somewhere to run. But it’s too late, I have to join the Mexican state police to try and take down a drug cartel leader, locked away in her mountain fortress. It will be difficult but our troops are strong, she’s trapped. Movement catches my eye, some of our rear guards are signalling to her forces, revealing our location and intentions. They are traitors but I’m unwilling to stop them, I’m caught in the middle, only I know the truth, and I don’t know what to do.
The nightmares are back, just like last year. Like then they are easy to figure out, but unsettling and not easy to forget. The cartel leader is Sara of course, the fortress is the psychiatric hospital. My law firm represents the police, and the traitors are some of her friends and family. My best friend is on a surf trip in Baja..
I had to file a motion while Sara was in the hospital, and I didn’t want to, but it was necessary. I had to file for temporary sole custody. Sara was going to be released after a 10 day stay and have a right to pick up our son even though none of “us” had any visibility into details of her care or treatment plan. And after being stuck alone with her for 24 hours while she was having a psychotic episode, our son Day was scared shitless. I went into protective dad mode. Some of her family and friends are supportive of the motion, many aren’t. It was a hard decision until I found out that during her episode, Day had been heard crying, asking “Mom, am I going to die too?”
It’s all so hard to think about but my brain won’t let it go. I drive to the other end of the island. There’s only one highway, a two lane country road that twists and turns its way north with so many curves it seems aimless. I look down at the dashed yellow lines, and as they pass by I imagine each one is a word, a rhythmic release of pressure, pouring out of my head to no one in particular. The blacktop is relatively fresh, like a dark gray or a light black. Day tells me there’s no such thing as light black. Dark clouds blanket the sky, but it’s late and the sun has dipped close enough to the horizon that light floods the world around us, brushing the landscape around us with a color I would describe as golden green, which probably doesn’t make any sense either. Day and I are on our way to his first counseling session.
Sara is home. Her mom is staying with her. The court decided that for the next two weeks our son should stay with me during the week, and with mom on the weekends, as long as her visits are supervised. For now I’m just trying to provide stability. I cook breakfast, take him to school, work, pick him up, we play, I fix dinner, he does homework. I watch him while he writes, and wonder where the curvy road of time will take him. I wonder what color his life will be.
Day’s mom is not crazy. She is a good person who has a health issue, that just happens to affect her brain. The world is a better place with her in it, but the ripple effects of her illness can be overwhelming not only to her but to those closest around her. We could all use some peace and a break. Tomorrow will be my first free day in weeks. The weather is supposed to be horrendous but I don’t care, I’m going to the boat.
A year ago almost to the day, Sara gave in to the voices in her head and attempted suicide. Thankfully it was not successful, she was medically cleared from the ER within 24 hours. However it would be another 11 days before the psych hospital would let her come home. Life has not been easy for her during the last year, as she has struggled with paranoia, complications with medication, and a husband who just couldn’t take it anymore.
I know she has done the best she can, and can’t stress enough how good of a mom she can be. She has managed to look after Day during their time together, organize play dates, buy him clothes for school, and cook better meals than I ever could. I tried to help her out around the house, showing her how to restring the weed whacker, start a mower with a bad carburetor, use a pressure washer, and a dozen other things I used to do. But over time my visits became more stressful, until eventually they became just dropping off our son. Eventually we were not able to talk anymore.
Last week she started to slip. On Tuesday I found out Day wasn’t going to school. When I called the house she was distraught. She asked if I thought she was the devil. Day asked if I could come over and bring food, I said yes. Sara asked if I was coming over to remarry her. I hung up the phone, got some groceries, headed over, fixed a lunch plate for Day, talked to Sara. She asked if I forgave her for her sins, that she needed to unlock heaven’s gate. I told her not to worry, we were all ok, and thought it would be a good idea for Day to come back with me for a while. They both agreed. I called my lawyer, who called the guardian ad litem. Sara’s lawyer was notified, and called right away. It only took a couple of minutes before she determined a medical check was needed, then called 911.
Today Sara is back in the same hospital she was in a year ago. I’m not authorized to get any first hand information about her directly from any medical staff. I am in contact with her family though, and helping to organize her mom coming out to stay a while. Her mom received a call from Sara today. Her mom thinks she should stay there a little while.
We’ve never been what you would call a religious couple, but tonight before I go to bed, I’ll be putting my hands together and call up something our broken family can use right now – faith.