One of the more difficult aspects of our journey this year is that on both ends of the trip were periods of time during which Joel and I were apart. And not just small periods of time: we’re talking blocks of 3-4 weeks. We spent 7 weeks together this summer, but we also spent 8 weeks living on our own: Joel on the boat, and me with my parents. I know, I know; some people spend much longer time periods apart on regular intervals, but not us. Joel and I have lived most of our lives across the field from each other and have spent most of our time together for the last 8 years or so. When we got married, we meant it when we said we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Some people can make separation seem seamless, but it hasn’t ever been that way for us. Additionally, long-distance relationships among cruisers carry some of the same burdens like fragmented communication, differing schedules, etc, but to an even greater extent. In the weeks that followed after I left Joel to head back north for work, Joel didn’t have strong enough cell service for a call to last more than 2-4 minutes. Sometimes he didn’t have service at all. Two nights, I was awakened between 1 and 3am by the text alerts he sent me through our DeLorme and they read something like this: “I see lots of lightning to northeast. Where is storm heading?!” “Emily?!” Throw in the fact that you’re continually fighting guilt and/or the need to worry yourself to the point of sickness because the minute you leave, your husband is bombarded by storms and nearly broadsided by a waterspout, and what do you have? The potential for tense times in your relationship at best.
So, as soon as it was possible for Joel to make a good stop, I drove down to be with him one last time before school/work started. Joel’s parents and I left to meet Joel in Columbus, Mississippi. Our mission was two-fold: 1) get in some much-needed time with Joel, and 2) drop off Joel’s dad so that he could help Joel navigate the remainder of the lock-stepped river to the boat’s new home in Lake Barkley, Kentucky.
The drive down wasn’t too bad: mostly highway miles that flew by pretty quickly because we didn’t have to go through any major cities. We stopped just once for breakfast and one more time for gas. We pulled in to the Columbus City Marina around 2pm. It was hotter than blazes with a heat index of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity thick enough to cut like butter. Lily pads the size of snow saucers coated the surface of the water that wrapped around the stilted marina office, and there, right along a wooden dock to the right of the parking lot, was the Pascagoula Run. I couldn’t help but feel a stab of pride in my hubby as I looked at that boat–our boat–and thought of all the miles they (and we) covered this summer (and all the ways she had changed since we first saw her 5 years prior). Then, I could see Joel walking up the ramp, and my thoughts fled as I ran to meet him. I could see he’d lost weight since I left him, and when I grabbed him I knew he had; those sleepless nights and stressed nerves had taken their toll on both of us. I have a feeling that we made a very cute picture as we held each other and he swirled me around, but I didn’t much care about getting a picture at that moment. Joel’s mom said she wished she’d taken one but it didn’t matter. We were all just happy to be together.
It would be another 8 days before Joel made it back home; in that time, I stayed busy getting last-minute things done so that I’d be ready for another school year. Staying busy has always proven to be a good coping mechanism for me; it’s harder to worry about things you can’t control when you keep your mind and body working on other problems closer at hand.
I suppose it comes down to this: my feelings for the boat and cruising life are complicated. I love the potential sailing brings for adventure and discovery–discovery of the world and of the self. I love that it presents the possibility for a life less encumbered by the distractions of modern-day ideology. However, at other times I also loathe the salt life because it pulls my best friend and husband away from me. I think of sailors’ wives both now and of long ago, and the unique challenge we face. It can be difficult to be supportive of a lifestyle that takes the ones you love and puts them in positions that are often dangerous or may seem to unnecessarily complicate things like basic day-to-day communication. It can be even more difficult when your own dreams, fulfilling career, and income are land-based. In the end, I find it helps to focus on the similarities. Regardless of how deep the need to sail is for each of us, Joel and I both have the same goals: to strive to make a positive difference in the world, to live life fully, and to rise to the challenge of new and potentially daunting experiences that serve to help us learn more about our place within this wide, wide, world. In the end, it doesn’t matter if our paths diverge as long as we continue to be the wind in each others’ sails and the anchors that keeps each other from crashing into the shoals. Relationships may come together out of love, but they stay strong out of continued respect and commitment to each other.