“Ladies and gents of the jury… we’re here to indict the captain and his mate for abandonment, and the folly of being free of an anchor.” I could hear the roar of the courtroom crowd thundering in my ears. No doubt it was a jury of “my peers” given the sheer decibel of their ovation. Actually being the roar of the head mast going up, I was supposed to be helping my friend Rich, the owner and captain of the 27-foot Catalina aptly named ‘La Belladonna’ (then moored in Mt. Sinai, off the north shore of Long Island). I was second mate and the only other soul on the manifest for the day since first mate, Uncle Doug, couldn’t make it. He had been there to help scrub the cormorant crap off of her hull but the wife wasn’t fond of the rough ride so when it got “down to tacks” as Rich would say, it was up to us to tow the line.
I’ve had an unusually bumpy ride this year, struggling to steady my focus on every – little – bloody – thing since June. The ‘dutiful daughter’ (sister to the sacrificing son?) has never been my best role. For weeks I’ve been filling a veritable laundry list of personal projects to the symphonic and contrary accompaniment of just about everyone under the sun. It’s not like me to holler, scram! I’m much more suited as an aloof bohemian or starving artist. The former lends itself to my independent side. The latter is wrought with bad publicity wherein I am forced to defend the creative “jones” that threatens the fabric of my perfunctorily middle class existence. A balancing act, one being Yin to other one’s Yang, the freedom of creative abandon holds more promise having let go of material concerns. Damn the torpedoes of financial ruin! This year I could use a self-declared sabbatical regardless of the cost. No anchor, no drag.
Three friends and I once had a tradition we called the seven o’clock swim. We would meet on the bluff before sunset and swim out to the diving platform moored in the water off our community beach. There was a rule, no more than four! The platform was small and the company was eclectic. If either of us was planning to miss a night we could send someone in our stead but there was criteria – quality not quantity. The ambience of unencumbered revelry must be preserved at all times by those in attendance. How is there ‘freedom’ in all of that structure, you ask? The balance of the universe is maintained by a set of laws. Dichotomous as it seems, even Mother Nature has a method to her madness.
My sister was going to join us that day but Rich had surreptitiously shooed her away for fear that our best laid plans might be thwarted by another’s agenda. We’d had a recent ‘sibling rau’ and, though it was over, our captain was not willing to be far from land for the sequel. So it’s never going to be a ‘Hallmark’ moment. Big deal! Rich was a die-hard hedonist and hot-blooded Italian who often criticized what he referred to as the wedding-baptism-funeral circuit. A vicious cycle that he felt was unnecessary, claiming it archaic and designed to keep people from straying too far from the farm. I could always relate. I hate weddings. The very site of an invitation in the mail makes my stomach flip over and spit confetti. The weather is always too beautiful to be stuck inside wearing stockings. I don’t like to dance unless I’m doing ‘the freak’ and getting libation from the “open bar” requires a longer wait than Splish Splash on Senior Skip Day. I have a policy, Close friends and immediate family only, enough said! Baptisms? Who goes to these anymore? Funerals, which naturally spur an avoidance-avoidance approach in me, are considered on a case-by-case basis but most of the time the wedding rule definitely applies.
Sartre said “Hell is other people” and I believe they can be if you let them. Whoever said, “No man is an island,” was succinctly aware of the fact that we need each other. And sailing a 27-foot sea craft on The Long Island Sound short on crew is a testament to my being hip to all that. But I find the most fulfilling experiences are the ones sought on my own accord, independent of outside influence. The Moonlight Sail was my idea. My chance to be one with the Sultry Siren of the Sea! There lies a little slice of heaven in her fortifying embrace. Once we were far enough from the shore we jumped in together for a long swim in the cool, deep, glistening water with just a rope hanging off of the bow to grab if and when. No worries. She wouldn’t get far. Brother Wind lent some support. And Sister Moon, the goddess of the night, helped guide our craft like The North Star through a sea of twinkling light and glowing phosphorus.
I met my spirit animal out there on The Sound with the wind and the waves. A mighty hawk flying into a chasm, the moisture laden air rushed through my wings, while a thick mist poured in from the other side of the mountain. A wolf wailed from a ledge below me, the eerie howl of a lonely soul. I felt empowered and yet isolated, all alone up there. Do I pull up to avoid the fog or make land to console the wolf? Our options are rarely cut and dry. Often pitfalls lie within every chosen path. Play it safe by living vicariously through others and risk regretting all the missed opportunities for your own story to unfold. On the other hand take the risk, stand on your own principles and be ready for the cacophony of criticism aimed toward stealing your wind. No one wants to see themselves through the triumphs of others unless they are at peace with their own displaced feelings of longing and loss.
There are two schools regarding our responsibility to one another. Live and let live or live and let die. I’m from the former though sometimes wonder if the grass is possibly greener. My name implies the barbarian and therefore a stranger since birth. I am the wild horse with the long, white, mane; reaching for the more succulent blossoms at the top of the tree. Destined to be forever the outsider. But I am only as free as I allow myself to be! That was the last trip for the La Belladonna and her crew of two. Captain Rich was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer shortly after that magical moonlit night. While vacationing abroad he experienced a seizure. An MRI in a foreign country, free of charge for any and all, delivered the fatal news. If it had happened here he would have had to hock the boat to pay the nut. In the land of the free, when it comes to “quality care” you’re a free agent. Left to the mercy of your insurance plan it’s the altruistic that often come to your aide. We sailed in the regatta for The American Cancer Society the following year in honor of our beloved friend with the feisty temperament. My mates let me stow away as ballast. We didn’t win but we were in it together. When Doug announced that his daughter was getting married, I knew Richie B. was there too.