After years of being single and thrashing around in the deep end of the dating pool… someone threw me a noodle. That someone was none other than my dear friend and sailing buddy, Greg. (Or is he the noodle in this analogy?) Discerning readers may have gleaned this from my series of posts earlier this spring when we circumnavigated Catalina Island. Discerning friends say they knew this would happen years ago.
And now we’re off to the races, talking babies and boats and, even scarier, Florida. If you had told me two years ago that Greg and I would sail off into the sunset together I would not have been that surprised. (I mean, look at us in that photo above, taken in February 2014.) He is easy to be with, a good sailor, and I personally think he looks like Viggo Mortensen. I’ve liked him since the day we met. But if you had told me I’d be moving to Florida… well, I would have laughed in your face and said, “Oh, hell no.”
Yet here I am, packing my bags, preparing for the next adventure. We don’t know what will happen. Perhaps we will make a home there, perhaps it will be a stepping stone to the Caribbean, a global circumnavigation, or even back to Sweden. What we do know is that our time here is up. I gave notice on my apartment today, we’re getting ready for a garage sale, and Greg has built a box on top a flatbed trailer he got at Harbor Freight to contain our remaining belongings. No later than November 30th we’ll be setting off across the country in his brother’s beat-up old Forerunner, headed for the sunshine state.
Earlier this year I read this book written by a man crazy enough to circumnavigate the world in an amphibious jeep. In the early chapters he tells about the preparations for departure and specifically the painful culling of his wife’s wardrobe. “A major departure is never easy,” writes Ben Carlin in his book, Half Safe. “There are a hundred and one details to be attended to in cutting yourself free from the ridiculous trappings and entanglements of civilized existence.”
My apartment is a jumble of boxes and I’m trying to get my head around what to take and what to let go of. I’ve moved a dozen times or more, but I’m not sure it ever gets easier. We simply forget how hard it was, the way women forget the severity of their birth pangs. The problem of letting go is multiplied for me with this move since I furnished my apartment here partly with my grandmother’s things after she died. So an object is no longer just an object, it’s an heirloom with a story and a memory attached. The couch I sit on is covered in hand-stitched fabric my grandmother lugged back from Calcutta. It reminds me of her. “Would you believe it, when I gave it to the upholsterer, he had hardly an inch left. It covered that couch exactly.”
In her biography, one of the earliest known female travelers, Freja Stark, wrote, “Very few people can dispense with the trappings of their lives and yet feel themselves secure; and these are remembered as victors…independent of the furniture of their time.”
But even harder than parting with things is parting with this place. When I moved to Los Angeles a second time, after my tall ship wanderings (the gap years of my thirties as I call them), I moved here with intentionality. It smelled of home. I had friends here, and family. I could sail year-round. And over the past few years I’ve met new friends and carved out a life here that I love. I honestly do not want to leave. But here I have, finally, the thing that’s eluded me all these years – someone to share my adventures with. The choice is a simple one, really. And besides, don’t all choices come with loss? The loss of thing we don’t choose?
Long before we became a couple, when I started off for my first stint as a private yacht chef, I asked Greg what book I should bring with me. He suggested his favorite book, West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. I find it fitting that I underlined this passage:
“Somebody with a flair for small cynicism once said, ‘We live but do not learn.’ But I have learned some things. I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep – leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.”
While I feel the truth in Markham’s warning, I’m not sure I agree. Either that, or I have yet to learn my lesson. I still return regularly to the places I have left, to Sweden and Michigan. As I write this I’m listening to Joni Mitchell belt out her famous tune, the lines of which I have sung to myself on so many return flights home. For this is my home. I was born roughly 16 miles from here. My parents met cruising down one of the valley’s long boulevards. This is where I returned, in 2009, to live on my grandfather’s boat. This is where I learned to sail.
Now, on a morning walk down Washington, the storefronts closed up and the street almost empty, I note the particular air of quietude. Later, the houses and lawns, exposed under the harsh light of midday, reveal what lies beneath this city: desert. And then comes the afternoon breeze off the water, beckoning the sailor in me and always, for some reason, conjuring up that scene in Top Gun where Tom Cruise goes to Kelly McGillis’s house and the curtains are rustling in the wind. There is more nostalgia wrapped up in this place for me than I will perhaps ever understand. But so it is with places we have loved.
No, I have never been good at ripping the band-aid off quickly. I leave a place more like a sailor. I take a good, long look and try to fix the location, its silhouette and any cues or markings in my memory, that way I know what to look for upon my return.