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
Well, then, where do you live?
We were living on a boat. Now we're looking for a place to live on
You were living on a boat?
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
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
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
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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