Not much has changed as far as work goes; I’m still a deck hand-engineer at Baydelta, and though I wait for an operator trainee spot to inevitably open up and I’m frustrated at times with the apparent lack of movement, I can still say even on the worst days that I would rather be on these boats than at any other job, so I’m sticking with it.
Personally, everything has changed. In the last year, Jake and I brought our relationship back from the brink of implosion multiple times. Because we’ve spent so much time apart in the years we’ve been together, a few years ago we decided to try an open relationship, wherein we could see other people if we wanted to while remaining ultimately committed to one another. It was ok sometimes, but many times I felt like I was going into the deep end with no rule book, no safety ring to keep me alive. Many times the results were potentially devastating; things were really bad last summer. But that experiment is over now, our relationship survived, and I could not be more grateful.
Then in January, he finally told me that he’s never moving to California. This was a big one: I have wanted to eventually return to living in the Bay Area for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a fight for us from the beginning. For my sake, he was trying to get used to the thought of moving down (we’re both from here originally), but he could never quite reconcile himself to the idea. The beauty of the northwest feeds his soul in a way that the Bay Area does not, and sometimes I can’t blame him. There were times when I believed this was a deal-breaker, and when he said those words, my mind felt like it caved in on itself. For a hot minute, we both definitely thought it was the end. It was at least an hour before I was able to speak at all, and after churning through the initial shock, all I could say was that I don’t want to be with anyone else. By morning, I had made up my mind: I would commute between my work in San Francisco bay and my home in Washington with Jake, indefinitely, and I would accept all the challenges that came with that. The next day, I left Seattle, returned to California and got on the boat, and every sensation felt like I was seeing everything around me for the last time. Until I realized I wasn’t.
The whole experience had the effect of teaching me in essence that home is not a place. This sounds like a perfectly corny cliche, but it is a profoundly simple concept which is finally sinking in. The idea of “home” that I had built in my mind, of having all my earthly possessions in one place on solid ground, and returning to that one place to lay my head at night, may never become my reality, and I have to ask: do I really want that, anyway? For so long, I have never truly belonged in any one place.
Up until this point, I had been going along thinking that there was some sort of end goal that involved slowing down, or arriving at some final destination, to live happily ever after and never to stray again. Maybe a time when I would no longer have projects stashed away, unfinished, in multiple households, as if that will ever happen… but it won’t. I’m realizing at last that my life has no finish line. There is no time when everything will be perfectly in its place and I won’t be struggling to wrangle it all. My job now is to accept that chaos as normal, and get used to it. I don’t even have kids yet, and I can only imagine how insane things will feel then.
One thing that has happened since I let go of the dream of putting down roots in California is I’ve been tackling projects that I have been putting off for literally years. When I returned to mom’s house from the boat at the end of January after hashing things out with my sweetheart and finding myself at peace for the first time in living memory, the first thing I did was pull out the half-dozen or so pieces of mending that had been living in the bottom of my laundry basket since I came to California and I sewed them all up. A wool blanket with a few moth holes; a sweater that had unraveled at the shoulder; my favorite pair of knitted cashmere pajama pants which were threatening to come apart at the waistband and whose drawstring had been chewed to pieces by my kitten (oh yeah, we ended up with a cat!). Everything was lovingly repaired, washed, dried, and put away. This was a new feeling for me. No more drama, no more internal conflict. What would I even do with myself now?!
It just so happens that I’ve adjusted to the new normal pretty well, and there are still problems and issues to face, but they feel more manageable now. One thing that I find myself doing is throwing myself into cultivating the spaces that I do get to occupy. The first thing I did was ask Jake for a real dresser for our bedroom, and he immediately found us one (it was a mid-century walnut beauty and we split the cost; our “dresser” for the last 7 years has been a hideous wire shelf looming in the corner of our room). I’m cleaning, culling, eliminating anything that doesn’t have a purpose or give me joy (thank you, Marie Kondo). I’m finally ready to take ownership of what I have been so generously given in life.
I just spent the last week off outside in the garden at my mom’s house (a rental cottage in downtown Napa), digging up the compacted earth, letting the air and light and water in and planting flowers that I can see from my bedroom window when I wake up every morning. It felt amazing to pull weeds, to dig and turn the earth to my heart’s content, to tend to newly planted ferns and forget-me-nots. I absolutely love gardening, and I get to do whatever I want out there. I picked one corner, made it mine, and have been furiously working on it for days. Coming to the boat might have saved my body from getting wrecked in the thrall of my newfound passion, because I would go nuts in my little garden all day, every day if given the chance. I also have a potted garden on the deck at our apartment and I can’t wait to tend it when I go home to Seattle in a week. It’s been a month since I’ve been there, between a trip to Maui and a conference in California, but it feels like it’s been six months. I just can’t wait to get started on life at home, especially with the advent of spring.