Tonight is Wednesday evening. It has been 15 days since Jeffery tossed his gear onto the deck of the tugboat Triton and hopped aboard.
Juliet, Megan and I drove to the Locks in Ballard to send them off on their way out to sea. We saw the big, black and white Triton appear at the entrance and watched it idle down to patiently stand off until the signal lights turned an approving green. They slowly motored into the big chamber and Jeffery waved to us from the foredeck. We were able to shout pleasantries back and forth while the chamber slowly lowered to sea level. Megan and Juliet clowned around while Jeffery took out his phone and snapped a couple of pictures of us waving from the rails above. Everybody tried their best to stay light-hearted and upbeat.
All too soon, the noisy buzzer announced that the gates to Puget Sound were opening and the tug's mighty engine revved up. Juliet bolted forward to follow the tug as far as she could run, but I held back, lest a few tears should fall and betray the brave face I was trying to put on for her benefit, (and my pride).
I gazed ahead as the tug leisurely moved beyond the Locks and out into the mouth of the Sound. This was the beginning of our new and long-planned-for way of life. Jeff would be gone for up to four months at a time, returning sometime in late April. I was awash in an array of emotions, sadness at his extended absence, excitement at the possibilities that lay ahead of us, uncertainty about my capability to handle everything alone and a tinge of jealousy that he was embarking on new adventures without me. A tiny, niggling feeling of unease came seeping back in--it had been trying to get my attention for the past few weeks, but I had been intentionally ignoring it... ...What if there's some sort of accident out on the water? What if he likes being away on his own? He might find that he prefers life on the ocean over life what we've had...What if he meets somebody else while he's away? What if you get used to life without him around? What if, what if....
I shook my head and pushed the cynical little voices back out of my thoughts. These are just the typical emotions that haunt any loved one that remains behind, I supposed. Okay, knock this worrying shit off. You need to begin this year with a positive outlook and search for the benefits that come with our separation.
. . .
Today I awoke earlier than Juliet. Her alarm wasn't set to go off for another twenty minutes. I switched on my stateroom light and located my heavy fleece socks. The galley was dark, save for the colored LED lights that remained from the holidays. Jeffery asked that we not take them down, so I left them up and they lent a warm romantic glow to our cozy galley mess. The kettle was quietly boiling on the diesel stove. I poured a cup of coffee and sat in peaceful silence for a bit.
It seemed to be a good time to take stock of how we were doing so far.
The past week had been a long and eventful one. Many new chores had been added to Juliet's to-do list. In addition to her nightly homework and writing-time, she now had some of Jeff's former chores to manage. She also assumed some extra safety checks and maintenance jobs. She didn't complain too much about her extra responsibilities... with the exception of pushing the pump-out cart up the dock, (that particular task brought out the whiny teenager in spades)!
The jobs that were added to my workload didn't appear to be too much for me. What seemed to be tiring me out was the continuous mindfulness that being solely in charge required. Jeffery and I, (along with Juliet) had always shared the responsibility of keeping everything running smoothly. What he didn't catch was usually remembered by one or the other of us. Nowadays, I was constantly attentive to things like the laz tank fuel levels; bilge pump sounds (or lack thereof); battery water levels; amperage draw; fresh water pump timing; dock lines; propane shut-off valves; deck leaks... then there were the bank account balances; moorage payments; marine weather forecasts and on and on and on. None of which constituted an emergency, but when combined, created a taxing effect on my energy levels.
I yawned and reached for another splash of coffee. I proceeded to give myself a mental pep-talk. Today would be a good day.
Further forward, I could hear the familiar sounds of a sleepy teen getting dressed for school. "We're gonna get through this alright." I said to myself.
Jeff phoned shortly after I dropped Juliet off at school. "We just lashed down the crane on the barge and now we're waiting for the assist boat to get over here. Once they show up, we're heading back out again." He announced. I could hear the happiness in his voice. He absolutely loved his new career.
" Where are you going this time?" I asked.
"Looks like we'll clear the bar around 1900 this evening and then up the coast to Gold River. It's further north than Port Alberni, so I'm guessing we're gonna be out for around four days or so. It doesn't look like we'll have any cell reception until we get closer to shore.The captain said marine forecast is showing 18 to 20 foot swells by Thursday and likely to stay that way for at least the next week or more. " The tone in Jeff's voice conveyed enthusiasm more than concern about the state of the seas.
"Huh. I guess you'll find your ocean going sea-legs now, won't you?" I remarked.
"Yup. It's gonna be fun." He said without a trace of sarcasm.
"Be safe then. I really miss you."
It was abundantly evident that Jeffery found tug life to be his calling. He loved the big engine, (locomotive-sized, appropriately), and he delighted in driving the small "log bronc" that pushed around the massive logs when off-loading. After the first off-load, the captain had inquired how many years Jeffery had been driving log broncs. He was incredulous when Jeff responded with "Uh, since today."
It seemed readily apparent to me, that this new phase of our lives had turned into exactly what Jeffery had hoped for.
I drove back to Kwaietek in a contemplative mood. Was this single lifestyle what I had really hoped for? I climbed aboard and went aft to dip the fuel tank located on the fantail. 3 inches remaining. Damn. I needed to transfer some diesel quickly or we'd be out of fuel for the stove and hot water. The marine forecast warned of northwest winds. That meant a temperature drop and possible snow showers.... well, no choice but to get some diesel into that laz tank. I briefly mulled over the option of asking our friend Jeffrey Smith for some assistance. This chore had always been my Jeffery's job and I was a little hesitant about whether I could pour the heavy jerry cans of fuel into the small opening by myself without re-injuring my lower back and/or spilling diesel overboard (thereby incurring a fine). What the hell, I'm going for it.
By noon, I'd filled the tank with enough diesel to carry us through the weekend of cold weather. I'd proven to myself that I could do it competently and safely without any help. I felt satisfied that there was now one more "Jeff job" that I could add to my list of accomplishments. The rain resumed and I went below to warm up.
With hot tea in my mug, I plopped down on the settee in the mess. As I lightly blew into my cup to cool it down, I gazed around the galley. The cheerful colors of our dishes and glassware brightened up the room, even in the grey winter. I noticed how tidy and orderly the entire room was... uniquely organized I remarked to myself. The carpenter-clutter and piles of boat magazines had finally been stowed away appropriately in their rightful places. (Something that never managed to occur when Jeffery was in full-time residence). I smiled as my glance wandered toward the old Granny Gardner engine; looking so sharp after I'd taken the polish to her bronze fittings and buffed her aluminum cylinder heads with the new compound that Jeff Smith had brought over during Christmas. The floors of the engine room and galley were swept, mopped and everywhere the wood smelled of Murphy's oil soap. Nice.
It was then that another small voice began to make itself heard, This is my adventure too. I'm tackling all of this and it's working out well. I certainly can take care of this old boat by myself. When Jeffery gets back in April, it'll be wonderful. But he won't be the only one who's changed for the better.
We really are going to be alright. I smiled and patted Lucky Jack as he jumped onto my lap and began to purr.