Michelle Potter

When my husband said he wanted to build a boat, I said, "Fine. Okay. Let's do it."

So we did.

We quit our professional jobs in California and laid tracks for Florida. After three years of boat-building and sailing, we are in the process of returning to our former lives.

Those former lives, of course, don't exist anymore. Our friends have found other friends. The jobs we left have been filled. People don't see us as professionals now. We wear jeans, not suits. We stopped drinking lattes. We don't use our cell phone. We don't even have a television, never mind cable.

On the boat, we filled our days with cooking, knitting, swimming, reading, and sailing. We learned to savor a sunset or get up at midnight to look for shooting stars. The ocean became the backdrop for everything we did. We could sense the wind was picking up or dying down, the tide coming in or going out, the color of the water as it changed, and the sky filling with clouds or clearing.

But my skills aren't needed here. Nobody has asked me to check the GPS for the official time of sunset lately. Nobody's impressed when I say that I can steer a straight course in lumpy seas. I drive down the freeway now and can't tell east from west.

When we were cruising, people asked us where we'd been and where we were going. On land, people ask us what we do.


We live. We laugh. We love. We eat. We especially love to eat.

No, they say. What do we do for work?

Work seems like such a woefully narrow and inadequate way to describe people.

Well, then, where do you live?

We were living on a boat. Now we're looking for a place to live on land.

You were living on a boat?

Umm, yes....

We're trying to fit in, but it's slow and painful. Last month, we filled out our first rental application since our return. Naming "boat" as our last place of residence apparently did not inspire confidence. Lack of a phone number didn't put us into the agency's good graces either. Listing "Freelance Writer" as my work title was probably not the strongest part of the application. By California standards, I'm sure our monthly income looked pretty weak. When the rental agency suggested securing co-signors for our lease, my husband's face flushed red and his hands curled up into tight fists of rage.

"No. That's not necessary," I said, trying to make light of an embarrassing situation as I thought back to renting my first apartment, when the manager asked if I had a co-signor.

"How much do you want?" my husband barked. I turned to see him waving the checkbook through the air. "We'll pay cash. How much?"

What in the world is going on, I wondered. I stared in awe at my husband, a man I suddenly felt I did not know very well. Hasn't he ever been treated like this before?

No, apparently not. My husband had never been treated this way in his life. A tall, imposing professional white male with a deep voice, his way of life had never been examined or questioned.


We've eaten the same food, slept in the same bed, lived in the same house, but my husband and I have been living in two different worlds. I remember my previous jobs, the blatant sexism and harassment I've endured. Even now, I'm cautious about how I present myself. Before I handed in the rental application, I called the friends I'd used as references. "Don't mention the boat," I said.

My husband thought I was being ridiculous.

After seeing our first atrocious apartment, we hit the streets in search of a different place. On the drive to meet another landlord, my husband turned to me with all seriousness and suggested that we not mention the boat on our first meeting.

Ahh. So it sinks in. Gradually he learns. How scary it is to admit that you are different. Deviate from the norm and life gets a little complicated.

Now I'm filling out job applications and trying to explain the little gaps in my resume. The dates don't match up because I graduated from college a year early. There's a year missing? That's when I traveled around the world. The next line? Yes, I was in the Peace Corps. It was challenging. I loved it. Well, yes, that was graduate school. Actually, I was racing sailboats at the same time. And I was a sailing instructor. How did I get a job as a sports reporter in Florida? I can't imagine. I guess they thought I could type, interview people, and write.

I don't even have to ask how my husband's job interview went. He started work today.

And so I sit in our rented cottage. I type. I look at the sheep in the backyard. I look at my resume and try to think of "proper" ways that "professional" people would fill in all those gaps. What do I admit to and what do I drop?

When I think of how to fill those gaps, I get creative. Maybe call the time on the boat a sabbatical. Something to expand my professional horizons.

A rooster crows in the background. Ducks quack. The dog barks.

My resume sits on the desk. The gaps leer at me, taunting me as I try to explain the crooked path that makes up my life.

Maybe, I think, I should just write fiction. Gaps.

© Michelle Potter

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