The day I sailed a patio lounge chair, six years ago, I was recovering from the flu and enjoying the unseasonably warm day by resting outdoors. I tried to nap in the sun, but the wind kept calling me to play. Ensconced in the patio lounge chair, I let the breeze take me to the river in my mind. I felt the gusts lifting the boat as she cut through gurgling water on a port tack across the wide Potomac. And I felt such joy! I vowed that “tomorrow, weather willing, I will go down to the dock, if only to sit aboard a gently rocking boat.”
Since I was a kid, I wanted “to run away and sail tall ships.” In more recent years my chant became, “I wish I could go off sailing.” About 10 years ago, when someone asked me if I wanted to run a political campaign or run for office, from out of my mouth flew, “Neither! I want to jump aboard a wooden ship, sail around the world, ride my bike through every port, and get paid to write about it.” I covered my mouth and wondered aloud, “Where did that come from?” and later realized it was my heart’s desire.
The lounge chair on my patio and my vivid imagination were my “boat,” my escape from reality. At the time, my reality was harsh. I was a single parent with two dependant children, sole signatory on a deeply underwater mortgage, owner of a home that needed constant repair, and an unemployed job-seeker for 10 months (with 16 weeks still ahead) when jobs disappeared during the Great Recession. In the next four years, the challenges I faced would change, but they did not become easier. Indeed, some of the new hardships would nearly break me.
When my unemployment ended after 14 months, it was with a job that became increasingly unsuitable as my employer faced numerous legal and personal challenges, and took out her frustration on me. She knew I was stuck between her hardness and the rock of an abysmal economy, and she took advantage of that to pile on the work and broaden her abuse.
During those years of dreadful challenges, I often said, “I want to walk out of this house, close the door behind me, and never come back.” I held fast to my sailing dream through the tumult of that period. I used photos of gorgeous schooners under sail as my computer desktop photo, said “yes” to every sailing opportunity I could (including the patio lounge chair), built a “Best Songs for Seafarers” folder of music on Spotify and listened to it constantly, planned a 2-week tall ship vacation in the Exumas, and kept reminding myself that one day I would leave that horrible job and awful commute forever.
Soon, I will fly to St. Thomas, board a private luxury yacht, and help sail the boat to the owners in Annapolis. If luck is with me, I will spend the summer crewing aboard a historic wooden ship. Or, with a different kind of luck, I might find another opportunity, which seems to happen one way or another.
Six years ago, My Whole New Life was “just a dream.” But it was a dream I kept alive, by feeding it bits of anything that would sustain it. Today my sailing life is a dream I have been living for 18 months, and My Old Life has diminished off the stern, the fading memory of a nightmare from long ago.