By Bernadette Bernon
June 9, 2000
It's been a major high-energy week for Douglas and me, a roller coaster ride of triumphs and blunders, laughs and tears. Every moment offers us a reminder of the colossal change that's taken over our lives now that we've quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved aboard Ithaka. One moment, we'll find an otherwise moderately amusing joke completely hilarious. The next, a light left on too long or a crooked look will leave us in a funk for two hours. Let's just say, we're both a little overly sensitive — like the volume on life has been cranked up high.
From morning till night, our days are completely filled with boat chores — unpacking; inventorying; rearranging the lockers; going over the engine to check hose clamps, nuts, lubrication; rearranging the lockers; finding the odd leak; rewiring the anchor windlass; dealing with our personal finances; schlepping stuff back and forth to and from the boat; rearranging the lockers. Meanwhile, people keep asking us: When are you leaving? Are you still here? Are you back, already? (Hey, slow down, friends, we've only been onboard for, let's see, six and a half days now!) It's all a new life, and it's exhilarating and emotionally overwhelming at the same time.
Already, we've fallen off some people's social radar screens, and that's fine. Already, I'm only checking my email every few days, which has given me withdrawal symptoms, but it can't be helped because it's just too much of a pain to lug the computer ashore every day now that the boat is out on her mooring. Already we've begun the process of letting go, and this feels good, but weird. I find that I love living on this boat. I love sleeping, cooking and writing on the boat, and I feel a sense of peace and well-being when I step aboard her. But I do miss my dog, and as the time approaches to cut our ties, I'm developing a new appreciation for the people and life I'm leaving behind. Leaving will do that to you, I guess, glorifying the good bits, and softening the memory on the bad bits.
Here on the Ithaka tonight, I was missing Gracie and the way she brought me toys, followed me around the house, and how she loved to rest her head on my lap, when a cheering moment occurred that eased the melancholy. I finally arrived at that elusive point at which order — albeit temporary order — had been achieved. All our boxes of tools, spares, clothes, galley stuff and hastily-packed duffels finally had been unpacked, and each item had been considered and given a proper home among its comrades. Even the beautiful brass lantern that my friends at Cruising World had given me as a going-away gift finally was unpacked, hung, lit, and was now warming the cabin. I surveyed my surroundings and could feel that we'd taken a critical step back toward the civilized life.
In the last bag I unpacked, I found the home-made tape that had been a gift from my friend, Tim Murphy, the executive editor at Cruising World. Tim had given it to me at my goodbye party a few nights before, a rollicking good time that had reminded me how much I loved the people with whom I worked as though they were my own family. The gang had gathered at Zelda's, our hangout on Thames Street. Cal, the owner, put out a fabulous spread. A band played island tunes for inspiration. All my old friends were there, and astonishingly everyone brought something for Ithaka — bottles of wine, good books, great music. There were speeches — mercifully nothing teary, but damn close. The night was one I'll never forget.
During the chaos of moving aboard, in the days immediately after the party, I packed Tim's tape without listening to it because by that point in the game we'd already given away our stereo and had nothing on which to play it. Now, here by myself as Douglas was off doing errands ashore, I slipped the tape into the tape player, turned it on, and went back about my work. The first song spoke to me so directly that, as the words filled the cabin, I stopped in my tracks. You know how some songs are, their message and melody coming to you at the exact right moment, speaking to exactly how you're feeling, and imprinting themselves across your memory from that day forward. I could tell instantly that this Guy Clark tune was going to be one of those. "Pack up all your dishes. Make note of all good wishes. Say good-bye to the landlord for me. Sons a bitches always bored me. Throw out them LA papers. Roll it by the Vanilla wafers. Adios to all this concrete. Gonna get me some dirt-road back streets..." I sat down on the settee with the remote, and turned it up.
"If I can just get off of this LA freeway, without getting killed or caught, I'll be down the road in a cloud a smoke to some land I ain't bought ... Oh Suzanna, don't you cry babe. Love's a gift that's surely hand made. We got something to believe in. Don't you think it's time we're leaving ..." The song brought back to me in a rush all my feelings of wanderlust that had been tamped down in this emotional week. With this song, somehow I shifted gears a bit, got past my longings for home, and moved my head onto the boat.
Every song on the tape was an anthem to the sacrifices and goodbyes that stand between us and where we're going, love songs to the road to freedom, no matter how rocky it may be. Tim, a poet at heart, and a musician, knows me well enough to know how these songs would touch me. I'll miss being where people know me like this. But Tim's right; we can't stay on the freeway too long. I'll always have longings for home, but for awhile we need to say goodbye to all this concrete and get us to some of those dirt-road back streets. It's time we're leaving ...