When does a voyage end?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately since Phoenix arrived back in her homeport in Charlotte, Vermont on Lake Champlain.
Arrival was June 11, 2014 around 4 p.m. making the time between departure and return three years and 12 days since May 31, 2011. Or: 1108 days.
It presented poignant bookends that the trip started with our friend Beth at the dock to see Jennifer and I off three years ago and that upon arrival, Patrick greeted me alone. Divorce’s entropy had dissolved both our marriages in the meantime.
So, as you can see, I’ve been asking myself all kinds of questions about ends. When does a marriage end? Is there a point to which I could dial back like in a film? “Ah, there’s the fight.” Or: There’s the silence when there should have been a fight.
In my sometimes-too-romantic mind, Le Grand Voyage was supposed to start with a bon voyage party and end with a fleet of friends’ boats greeting us out on the lake, blowing horns and shooting Nerf balls at us. Neither happened.
My mother was great at making those kinds of things happen. When I was ten, she had packed up our entire lives and we were about to embark on a steamship to Germany. The divorce had sliced open our family two years earlier and she was no longer emotionally strong enough to live in the same city as my father, pining away for his visits every weekend, only to have those end in more fights and crying when he dropped us off after a day in Central Park.
So she packed up everything and bought tickets on the S.S. France for a seven-day ocean crossing back to her native Germany. The day of our departure she had organized a huge bon voyage party. It was a brilliant way to distract us from what was happening. I remember us four kids were so busy serving crudités we didn’t focus on what was actually happening. At one point, some silly adult asked me how I felt about moving to Germany and I started crying. That’s when the whole party ended instantly, like the movie set being torn down after shooting. “Time to go,” my mother declared and within ten minutes we were all ushered out of the house and into a new life.
Tangent there. But like I said, these days I've been musing about so many about ends in my life. Comparing them, trying to discern patterns, sifting out what I can learn about them.
I should write about the last legs of the voyage. I should be telling you about visiting Jamestown, VA, while I was docked in Norfolk. Or about Corey, the crew member who helped me get Phoenix from Norfolk to Charlotte. We did a two-and-a-half-day passage from Norfolk to New York city, and then put-putted up the Hudson and through the canals for six days.
I had those blogs composed in my mind; or the bones of them anyway. I just never got around to fleshing them out. During those last legs back, I was working harder to suppress the feelings of “ends” than wanting to write about the end of a journey. It would have made me cry into a plate of crudités.
That’s a bit melodramatic (as would be pointed out by a friend who doesn’t let me get away with melodrama in my writing.) But just as there is a kernel of truth in every joke, every melodrama is comprised of something perhaps simple yet sad.
I’ve been back for 43 days now and still absorbing that Le Grand Voyage is over. (Let’s just focus on that end for now.) Or rather, I am noticing that it is not over yet. I feel like I am still voyaging because all the characteristics of voyaging are continuing. It’s like the wavering sound of bells still ringing long after the last toll.
I have no specific place I can call home. I am staying at my father’s abandoned house. (He has been living in Florida fulltime for two years now.) I have no career path ahead of me. Nor am I sure I want one. And I have no relationship. I am going to spend this next period of my life finishing my book about this voyage. I don’t necessarily need to live in Vermont or even the US. My daughter Zoe just graduated from high school and is off to live in Germany. Would I live over there for a year or two, close to my two brothers and sister and their kids? Who knows.
Though my ship is docked, I am still en voyage in life.
And truthfully, it feels good. In fact, I feel guilty admitting it. When one is voyaging one is granted the permission to be “doing nothing” and have no further goals than figuring out the next port. But once we are land-based, the expectation is to re-join the rat race: get a job, pay bills and fret about too much to do. There is resentment against those who don’t. I have had pointed questions asked of me lately.
My days are full and busy. Just as they were when living on the boat. I have the luxury to be creative. And keep the house as tidy as I like it to be. Do my exercises daily. Work outside in the yard. Catch up on boat maintenance. Write letters. Work on my book. Meet up with friends whenever I please. Go for motorcycle rides. Enjoy sunsets down by the waterfront. I like that I am figuring out what to do day by day, one week at a time.
I know my next consuming commitment is one turn-of-the-corner away. I might be offered a job. I might find a business to buy. I might find love again which would entail courageous planning of merging lives. Heaven forbid someone dear falls sick and I would go live with them, like I did much of the winter-before-last with my father.
So, now, while this voyage still reverberates with freedom and exploration, I am enjoying that it is not yet the end. It has simply morphed into a continuation of it. There has been a lot of loss and rebirth during this voyage. It seems only natural that it is continuing.