Today Bob Jr. and I went home. Not in a geographical sense, because geographically home is kind of ambiguous at the moment, but home to memories and feelings and the sense of being me again (stick with it, the second half is slightly less completely awful than the first)
It went like this:
We pull up in the carpark of the yacht club where I learned to sail, where I taught a few little kids to sail, where I won trophies, got drunk for the first time and was carried back to the campsite by the guy who wanted to kiss me but didn’t want to take advantage of my drunken state… This is the place I declared my favourite place on earth, the place where for a week every summer I used to live and race and sail day after day after day and where the rich kids laughed at my supermarket-bought clothes (minutes after saying they liked my top or whatever – the irony) and made me feel substandard everywhere except on that river… This is the place where my sailing coach (who even visited me in hospital) became known as mother duck because his RIB (rigid inflatable boat… I think that’s what it stands for anyways) was frequently followed round by a group of boats in one of his favourite training drills. It is a place where on land people seem to look down on me, but on the water I am at the very least their equal.
It is a place where I used to be good for something. Good at something. A place where, if I can find Mother Duck, I know I will receive a long, long hug. A place where I frequently laughed until my stomach hurt and there were tears in my eyes, where my friend and I used to get bored of racing and would tie the fronts of our boats together and attempt to sail in tandem, much to the fury of her dad. This place is freedom. I smile as I walk onto the pontoon to my dad’s boat waiting at the end of it. I climb aboard and cannot help but smile. Water. Boat. Book. Life.
People I know (and far too many that I don’t, even a couple of the GBR -youth?- squad) are finishing a race in a class of boat that I
sail sailed in. People who in wealth and class I come nowhere close to, but to whom in a boat I once became a threat, at one stage able to beat people my age and older over and over again, seemingly unable to use with absolutely no idea how (my theory is that they all overthink it, take it too seriously, forget how to have fun, and try to sail with knowledge instead of just… Feeling what to do. When in a boat, I don’t think about what I’m doing at all, I feel when I need to pull a rope or steer to the left… And this means I have free brain space to allow me to sing and play random little games and just look all around me at the birds and stuff. Seriously, how did I ever win things?). Now only one of them recognises me – this time last year I had virtually no hair, and although a few inches of curls have grown back, I look very different to the girl with the frizzy ponytail that they all used to know. The one girl who recognises me looks confused when she sails past and spots me at the helm of a boat, but waves hello in spite of her disbelief. Her crew-mate, once one of my closest friends, stares blankly.
I have grown up with the yacht I now stand on, and sailed optimists (a.k.a oppies, a teeny little boat), toppers (slightly bigger, much easier to capsize), and then lasers (much faster Olympic class boats which like to spend most of the time upside down if you’re too light for them… Which I am. But I
don’t didn’t end up upside down too much somehow). This boat has not forgotten me, and I remember her like an old friend. Because of the fact that I am the only person other than my dad who knows how to sail the thing, I’m left to move us off of the spot where we are tied onto, navigate an awful lot of boats that are under sail (and therefore have right of way), and try not to get stuck in the mud or drift with the tide, all while fighting against the boat’s relentless desire to veer to the left. It doesn’t make me feel important like when I was a little kid (in fact, it makes me sort of embarrassed until I manage to zone out all of my mum’s midwife colleagues). But it makes me feel in control of something.
For weeks, months even, I have been out of control of my life, of my health, no matter how hard I try. And now there is something huge relying on me to steer it and I am doing ok. By myself. I am succeeding where others have failed (one midwife very nearly crashes somehow when she attempts to steer). There are 38 feet of bavaria (yacht) at my fingertips and the 27 year old beast of a boat sighs and moves and creaks in my hands. And nothing goes wrong. I do ok at something, and as a result there is, for once, nothing to criticise (or so I think, keep this particular sentence in mind for a paragraph or two). And everything else is more than ok too because I am home. I am on a river. I am in a boat. And I love her, this boat. I remember being five or six and standing holding this wheel, one of my dad’s friends stood behind me, his hand next to mine.
On the river, I am home. I am a sailor again, albeit now steering a yacht instead of a laser. The sounds, the smells… It’s heaven. This boat does not care about my health or my physical ability and the sailors that cheerfully call hello when we moor up and they race past us have no idea that a week ago I was in an ICU. I’m just another one of them. I am me again, the person who was lost, who lost the ability to do this amazingly freeing thing… Just like that, I am back, I am home. Right here, I am somebody I have not been for years.
My headphones are over my ears. I pause the music occasionally to just drink in the sound of water sloshing against the side of the boat, splashing up as the bow cuts through its surface… I replace the headphones when my mum and all her midwife friends start talking about mentoring university students and other work related things.
My fellow third wheel was busy today, but as a former sailor himself I asked if he wanted to join. Just after we cast off, he realises that he could have actually come along, but by that point this is no longer an option, so we message and I send him pictures from the boat instead. We agree that as we discussed before, we will go out on the boat sometime soon, make a day of it, and go for a sail. We also decide that when both of our bodies allow, we will crew a boat together (as we also said in Norfolk, but that feels a lifetime away now).
He is at the other end of the phone when (technically my step-dad, but the only man I have ever called Dad) who doesn’t have so much as a tenth of a GCSE/ O level in science, decides to judge me and get angry and give me dirty looks as he declares, in front of the only other person on deck (one of the other midwives’ husbands, who unfortunately also has ZERO SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE) that my near death experiences are significantly my fault. He refuses my calm, LOGICAL SCIENTIFIC explanation as to how he is COMPLETELY WRONG (and to be honest, utterly stupid, insensitive, and INFURIATING) and goes on to make me feel humiliated, belittled, stupid and judged. Clearly he genuinely thinks I’m somehow in charge of all my health hiccups, which would explain why he has been super moody with me lately. Fun times. Not.
So like I said, I message my fellow third wheel, who is just… There, through the emotional firework that occurs within me as a result, but then I see a bunch of hovercrafts racing around and our conversation takes a diversion down this route and I move on, because what else is there to do? I give up with my parents, genuinely. I give up trying to be something or someone they want in their house, or something they don’t resent for having health hiccups that ruin everything (their lives, mostly). What did they do to deserve a kid like this? What did I do? Someone please tell me. Because honestly… Yeah, I’m not even going to go there.
There is an amusing turn of events when the boat is nearly crashed, then nearly stuck in the mud, and I am required to rescue the entire situation. This time I do feel like I have the power, because the dependency is suddenly the other way round; but honestly, I just want to dive into the river and tell them all to screw it (also, it is by s 31 degrees. At 6pm. In England. NOPE. A week ago it was 18 degrees in the middle of the day. Can the weather please decide upon a season already? Summer will do nicely, thanks, but a little consistency would be appreciated.)
I am then also required to put the boat back on her mooring and help secure everything away and stuff. Because I’m human, and therefore possess some sort of maturity, I get over my hurt and don’t crash the boat. When we stop on land at the bar so the midwives can all get some hot tea (even though it is 31 degrees!) I am told off for carrying a chair incorrectly. Yes. At the age of 20. I cannot even carry a chair right. Seriously. I very gently nudged my dad’s arm with a very light garden chair as I went to put it down, and apologised profusely, anticipating his reaction… But it is reactions like this which often make me feel useless. The thought process that follows is usually (and in this instance):
SERIOUSLY? I’m 20 and you’re telling me off like a child and refusing to accept my apology? … Wait, I can’t even carry a chair (or some other minor task, depending on the situation, because they are sticklers for EVERY detail) right… Well I must be a complete failure at life then because life is so much more complicated than carrying a chair. I am such a disappointment. Guys I’m so sorry I turned into me… Wait, this is a little bit immature on your part… No I don’t look upset to try and make you feel bad stop that right… Oh well now I seem to be close to tears. Can you just not? No? Ok well… Just what even is the point of me?
Dry land was as crappy as I remembered it. All the stuff I sailed away from rushed back to meet me. My body was outraged at the heat. Outraged. All my health hiccups HICCUP in response to warm weather. It is ridiculous. Ridiculous. My heart especially is all “low blood pressure and uncontrollable tachycardia heeeyyyy let’s go stay in a coronary care unit where they try and fail to rectify this until the environment around this body cools down and then I’m all – JUST KIDDING GUYS! – because I’m not enough of a COMPLETE POOP already”
I did’t want to run away from anything anymore, I wanted to get back on that boat, on any boat, (or in a swimming pool, or run through some woods) and just be free.
Boats will always be heaven on earth for me, a little bubble where I am untouchable and out of reach from the things that wait for me on the shore.
I wanted to race again, I wanted to sail and sail and never stop. I wanted to just sail and let whatever is going to happen happen (last time I sailed a laser I ended up unconscious in the water… Tried again and ended up the same way… And again, and was then banned from sailing). I don’t care about the risks any more. I don’t care about anything other than the escape that boat allowed me today. Sometimes it is easier to run (unfortunately I usually change course and end up doing what is right, not what is easy – but only when the grim reaper forces my hand). In this instance, I just wanted to sail away again.