I really don’t know where to start, except with a broken heart that overflows with perfect memories, love and gratitude.
As I approached Virgin Gorda, it hit me. I have spent each day since September 6 trying to find peace with the possibility of no longer having the people and places that hold some of my life’s most precious memories.
Trying to tell myself that it will be ok. Somehow.
Poet Warrior called to me. I could feel her, and I hope she could feel that I had come for her, too. My tears broke when I first saw her – so dominant in her place below the church there at the end of the yard. I remember saying out loud as I began to run toward her, “I’m here. It’s OK. I’m here.”
And from a distance, she looked perfect – like life could go on just as it always has. And she sits there next to Ngala, who has moored on the ball behind us for years. The two of them belong together, and it touched me that fate has them together, even still.
I passed a friend on my way to her, and we talked for a few minutes. Geoff has known Paul for 30 years, and a tear broke from his eyes when he asked after Paul. My heart broke for the first of what would be many times.
A reality that I knew existed was now my reality.
I put the swim ladder down … from the ground, for the first time ever … and crawled up onto the swim platform where I love to shower after bathing in the sea.
I had seen lots of pictures, so it wasn’t really a shock. I went inside, and took a few minutes to let it soak in.
It must be kind of like loving someone whose injuries you know are internal. That you can’t see, but you also can’t help.
And then our dear friends Lisa and Jim came to be with me. Lisa climbed onboard, and as she stood there taking it in, she said in disbelief, “They stole your refrigerator door…” Which made me burst out laughing, because that refrigerator door fell off ten years ago, and replacing it has just never been on Paul’s list of priorities. Other friends and I have laughed about it for years; it really wouldn’t have been that hard to get a refrigerator door!
And over the next couple of days as I worked to find peace, I kept coming back to the thought that although we have loved her desperately, we had also loved her sensibly. She is an old boat. We didn’t fix everything that broke. We didn’t even try to keep her perfect.
But she was perfect for us.
And I can only hope us for her.
And I came to the realization that even though she is banged up, the approach we had chosen with her was making all of this easier.
Over the next couple of days, I helped Lisa and Jim with their latest project – a gorgeous 2017 Lagoon catamaran who Irma also banged up. It was cathartic to help with work on their boat when I couldn’t do much for ours. And they gave me the biggest gift of all – the gift of being company on their boat with them, where I could sleep with the sound of the waves against the hull. To be rocked asleep. To live on the water again.
So far from the late night a decade or more ago when Lisa and I danced together on the top of Sam’s piano at The Rock, while Jim and Paul looked on from the bar and Sam played Billy Joel.
On Saturday, I met up with Bob – another fun Island friend who has been a part of our story there – for a tour of the North Sound, which was my home and playground for 11 years.
Words can’t describe it.
More than ever, I can’t begin to imagine the hell that was reality for some of the most important people in my life that day that everything changed.
And then we pulled into the dock at Leverick Bay. And Leroy and I shared a great, big hug right there on the fuel dock. That hug that says, “We survived” without any words at all. Leverick Bay really looks good – they have done unbelievable work bringing her back. And as we went to sit at Jumbies for lunch, I found Shane and Pamela, who I have spent countless happy hours laughing with at Saba Rock. And we shared more of those awesome “It’s going to be ok” hugs. And Wade came by, and we hugged and cried and laughed about the night that his work boat broke down on his way back from Necker and he swam to Leonard’s boat and together they decided it was a good idea to wake Paul up in the middle of the night to help them. And Paul came out naked and ready to kill whoever it was on his boat, and then they all shared a good laugh and fired up Poet Warrior’s big mains to go help Chickin Wade.
And then I saw this man.
And I sobbed thru a hug that I have craved desperately since the days before the storm when we knew without knowing yet that our lives were going to change.
Then on Sunday, with the energy of the start of Poker Run registration all around, I got to share my first hugs since the storm with Monica and with Carine. “Your friendship is precious to me” kind of hugs. And hugs with Lisa and Bob and Katie and Kelly and Carly and Tito and Eileen and Letica and Albert. And then we pulled off the best Poker Run yet – an annual event that this year, I believe, was symbolic to the whole BVI of the recovery they have earned, the hope that normalcy will return. And in the process, raised the most money yet for charity in the Poker Run’s 17-year history.
And then I went back to Poet Warrior and cried until there were no more tears.
From her inside, I could almost pretend that nothing was wrong. I cleaned her up. Put everything back in its place from where it fell to the starboard side during the storm. Adjusted the blinds. I would catch myself grabbing on to rails as I walked up the stairs from below, waiting for the small movements that are life on the water. I polished the old wood walls and cleaned the mirrors and countertops. I organized my shampoos and my lotions and my perfume. I made her smell good again. I made the bed. I rearranged deck chairs on the Titanic…
But my pretending kept getting interrupted by the sounds around me that a backhoe makes when it crushes boats and loads the bits into dumpsters. Crushes someone’s best memories and dreams. It is an awful sound.
And the next day, I went to a little Island home nestled in the trees that holds so many of my memories. Lazy days celebrating successful Poker Runs. An afternoon with my Mom. Heartfelt speeches that Nick started to give to genuinely express his love for each one of us, but that Monica never would let him quite finish.
A private performance by David Gozal, who passed away in St. Maarten last summer.
Late nights with best friends, and tipsy walks back to our boats with loud, laughing, big men leaning on one another like only real man-friends can.
Christmas dinners snuggling on the deck couches with little kids who are wrapped up in the magic.
And Monica, knowing that they, too, must leave passed along some very special things from her life to a soon-to-be new bride. And we cried even more.
And then Monica danced on the table because, well, that’s what Monica does.
And we sang, and we drank, and we made new friends, and we laughed. And it was as perfect as it has always been.
And Nick got out his sabre like he has done for countless toasts before and sabred a few special, last bottles of Necker Island champagne. To the best of life and friends and love!
It was heartbreaking and took every ounce of strength I had to keep the “Is this the last time…?” thoughts out of my head.
Even though for some of the big things, I know that it was.
Your memory my company
Something ’bout this place had a way to make you smile
You always loved this Island breeze
The wind whistling ‘cross my bottle still can’t blow away the sorrow
That tomorrow you won’t be here with me
So I raise it up and toast the day we met and won’t forget
The way you love me, the amazing way you love me
Life is only borrowed, so lets wash away our sorrow
That tomorrow I won’t be here with you
Go and live your life with no regrets
Don’t forget how much I love you, I love you
It’s bittersweet you see, you’re not here but I can feel you
Every memory on the tip of my tongue
Close my eyes, see your face, hold on tight to yesterday
Praying when I wake it was just a dream
I won’t forget the way you loved me
The amazing way you loved me
And with that, I began to pack up the most important things from my boat home. Where we fell in love.
I learned that you take weird things from a place you love when you don’t know if you’ll ever be back. Like those little blue LED lights that would have looked so sexy under the cockpit bimini if I had ever gotten around to installing them. And cigars that Paul has collected for 30 years and that have always lived in a Tupperware in their special place, but that I know will disintegrate when I get them to Colorado. They don’t belong there.
And there are special things you want to take with you as memories, but just can’t, like the marlin inlaid in her teak deck.
And at the same time, you can’t bear to take certain things that just belong with her. Things that are symbolically life on Poet Warrior – like the cigars. Like her handheld VHF. Like her logbook. Like her ship’s papers.
It is heartwrenching.
And so I closed that heavy salon door. Maybe for the last time. And climbed down to the ground and put the swim ladder back up. Maybe for the last time. And put my hand on her and told her how much I loved her and promised that I will do right by her. And with that, I walked away dragging my dirty old Samsonite full of all my boat treasures. Maybe for the last time.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
I stopped by Jim and Lisa’s new boat to say thank you and until next time, and then watched from the ferry as Chris lifted their broken mast off their decks with his crane so they can get to work on all of their fiberglass repairs so they can get her on the water for next season. Life goes on…
My hugs with Jim and Heather in Puerto Rico were full of relief. Perhaps closure. They feel like home to me – so full of kindness and love and genuine understanding. Jim and Heather had given Paul and me so such help in the days after Irma, before we knew that Maria was heading their way, and the rescuers would be the ones in need of rescuing. Yesterday morning, I joined them for their daughter’s academic award ceremony – Most Outstanding Achievement – Capstone Project, Most Outstanding Achievement – AP Chemistry, and Outstanding Achievement – Spanish. Savannah is special to me – I see so much of me in her – and it was great to be there. We talked and made plans for her upcoming Global Leadership Conference trip to Bali in a couple of weeks. And then we headed out to Puerto Del Rey to their new sailboat – which is FABULOUS and will be a place of so many memories for them. And I fell in love with their old boat and thought really hard about writing a check right there. But I didn’t; if it is meant to be, it will be. I need to hug Paul first.
And just like that, life has moved on. And it’s ok. I am grateful every minute for my friends who made this landing so much softer – bearable, and even joyful and fun when I wasn’t crying.
Had I known how and when this chapter closed, there isn’t much I would do differently. Just loved and laughed more. I will remember that in the next chapter.