The damp sea air blew across the surface of the water and up into my sails as the dawn sun peaked above the horizon. A large cargo ship in the distance looked to be the size of a child’s tub toy. I knew it was heading my way and I would need to get a move on. The red hues melted in the sky, slowly rising high above me. I looked to my left and smiled.
“Isn’t the sunrise just gorgeous?” I said to my husband, staring dreamily toward the line that separated the sea from the stars. It was a chilly September morning upon my father’s tattered sailboat. I had spent many, many morning just like this, soaking in the beauty of the day alongside the one I love. The wind blew again and the ropes near the stern danced like a group of snakes.
I reached across my lap and smoothed his windswept hair. His hair always did that on the boat. He always let it grow so long. I did wish he would keep it shorter, but it suited him and his carefree disposition. That was part of what led me to fall for him in the first place.
I was 26 when I saw him in the local bookstore, quickly recognizing he was not from around here. It was a small community that I had lived in for the last 20 years, so I knew nearly everyone and their brother, literally. His long brown hair was in a ponytail that fell to his waist. His vibrant green eyes were constantly shiny, as if he perpetually had just heard the funniest joke ever spoken. His crooked teeth were as white as the pages of the book he was flipping through. I had to say hello. I knew something about him was special, even from that first time meeting.
We quickly married a mere five months later. My father was dismayed, but when he saw just how happy I was, he silenced his opinions on our whirlwind love. He knew the easier option was to support me in my wild and relaxed decisions. In the end, things always worked out. My father was a single parent who struggled to keep food on the table. I learned to be independent at a young age because of this. I don’t fault my father, on the contrary. He was a wonderful parent. He may have missed recitals and dance pictures, soccer tournaments and book fairs, but he always cared about my happiness. Anything I wanted to do, he made sure I was able to do it. This meant him working longer hours and being gone more often, but the times I did see him were made that much more meaningful.
We had a standing Sunday night picnic on the boat. Rain or shine from January to December, we would make a small meal of sandwiches, fresh cut fruit and baby carrots with ranch and carted it out to the boat. I loved feeling the water sway us gently, feeling the wet sea mist against my skin. It was the one thing that was a constant in my life. No matter how lonely I felt when he was gone, I always knew that come Sunday night I would get to see him. To hear him tell stories about the week before, to tell him what I had coming up that next week. We would both sit out there long after the stars shown in the clear night skies.
My father was the one who taught me to sail. As I got older, I was able to get my own part time jobs doing various things around town. I helped walk dogs, mowed lawns, did dishes at the diner. I was able to relieve some of the stress my father had been dealing with for years to make sure I had a wonderful childhood, and allowed him to cut back on some hours. At last, we were able to spend more time together. Every weekend we went out on the sea; just him, myself, and this rickety old boat. I took to sailing quickly. I loved feeling the wind on my face, blowing my hair back. I loved the rhythm of the waves hitting us as we docked. Being outdoors was therapeutic for me. It helped me think more clearly. If I found myself buzzing with stress, I took the boat out and sailed around for a couple hours. I would find a calm place in the wide-open water and just watch the sun glint off the surface. Staring at the sky gave me a sense of sereneness. I loved being able to find home on the water.
My early 20s were a little rocky. I lost my job at 22 after a bout of depression caused me to post up in bed for three months. I was forced to move back home when I could no longer pay my rent. My father and I began to fight at least once a week. It would be over anything from me staying out too late, to me wanting more space. I wasn’t a child, I wanted to be treated as an adult. But he didn’t seem to understand that. He was constantly throwing himself in the middle of my life and imposing all sorts of ridiculous rules on me. I felt worse than when I was a hormone fueled teenager. I knew I needed to get out before I harbored too many ill thoughts of him.
I lost my father just two years ago. It was sudden, no one was expecting it. When I say lost, I mean it literally. One day I was on my way to visit him when I had a surge of anxiety go through me. I didn’t know what it meant, I just knew it was bad. I hurried my steps and got to the front door. Something was wrong. The screen door was always locked, my father made sure of it. He ingrained it into me to lock the door every single time I used it. I put my key back in my pocket, not needing it. I rushed inside and saw a confusing scene. Drawers were torn open, papers inside now rifled through and strewn across the floor. His bedroom was a mess; his closet looking like a hasty pack-job was done. I ran to the kitchen and looked in the coffee container kept on top of the fridge. What usually held a wad of crumpled $20s was now empty.
I called the police and explained what had happened. They came right away and did a walk through of the house. They could not confirm any forced entry, saw no sign of a struggle. As far as they could tell, he packed his bags and left on his own volition. I argued with them that he wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t just take off without letting me know. I was his only family, he told me everything. They didn’t take my fears seriously, and ultimately it was ruled out as nothing. They figured he had a mental break and ran off somewhere. Everyone in town thought the same and pushed the mystery aside.
My husband was beside me through the whole thing, knowing—like I did—my father would have said something. He understood I was distraught, and allowed me to grieve for as long as I needed. He told me to take time off from work and go out on the water every day. So I did. I sailed this damned old boat every day for eight full months. I knew my father wasn’t coming back, and after a while I came to peace with it. However, I would be lying if I said I was the same after he left.
I turned to my husband, throwing my whole self into our relationship. I made sure I did everything I could for him, a small voice in my head saying he might leave me too. I tried to tune it out, to focus on other things instead. We spent many nights on the boat, aimlessly sailing around with a bottle of wine and portable radio on deck. We cuddled together on chilly nights and listened to the rushing water beneath us. All of our free time spent together.
I looked at my husband’s face again and grinned. How supportive he had been. On nights I wanted to fight, he would calm me down and tell me everything was okay. I squeezed his hand and felt how cold it was. I knew it was time to get going, I needed to be leaving for work soon. This wasn’t the first time I was out here so early though. I stood up and walked to the bow of the boat. I looked off toward the horizon again, expecting to see the cargo ship getting nearer. Surprisingly, it was drifting off farther away, heading in the other direction. How perfect, I thought.
I walked back to my husband and kissed him gently. I added a few more rocks to the bottom of the bag his body was in and taped it up, hoisting it up against the side. I patted his head and leaned close to his ear.
“Say hello to father for me,” I said as I pushed his weighted body over the edge.