By on Oct 21, 2013 in Essays

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Boat with color fade

“I think you need to do something about the boat,” said Manny on the phone. “I was down at the marina, and the canvas cover is torn and shredded. The boat’s being exposed to the elements.”

I felt a pit in my stomach. I didn’t want to hear this. Six years earlier, at the age of forty-seven, my husband Perry had suffered a heart attack, which deprived his brain of oxygen. After a two-week coma, he gradually awakened, slowly regaining part of his cognition and former self. Many parts didn’t come back: He couldn’t practice law anymore; he couldn’t cook or drive. My once lively and loquacious companion of twenty-nine years now had trouble initiating speech or carrying on a conversation. His short-term memory was gone. A full-time caregiver tended to his daily needs, from bathing to toileting. 

Over the past six years, in nearly every other aspect of our lives, I had moved on, carved new pathways, made accommodations for Perry’s disability. Our life before his brain injury had been wonderful, but I felt reconciled with our new life. We still traveled, ate out at restaurants, and our circle of friends and family kept us socially active. I could sit in my office in downtown Los Angeles and gaze at the Gas Company tower where Perry’s law firm was housed and not feel pangs of sorrow. I could finger Perry’s gray and navy business suits and feel okay about storing them in the back of the closet, knowing they represented another life. 

For the last six years, Perry’s fishing boat was the one thing that I had been avoiding because it was still too painful to deal with. It was dry docked in Marina del Rey. The boat was too close to Perry’s heart, my heart. It was the last vestige of our old life. I knew how much he had loved that boat.

* * *

We had bought it fifteen years ago, when our sons Zack and Paul were eleven and nine. The boys had gone to sleep-away camp together that summer and for the first time since having children, Perry and I had five whole days alone together. I envisioned romantic evenings at intimate restaurants or going to plays or movies. 

Perry had other plans. “After we drop the boys off in Long Beach, let’s go to San Diego,” he said. 

“San Diego?” I asked. “Maybe we could stay in a luxury hotel in La Jolla, do some shopping or visit a museum. Do you want to spend the night?”

“No, I want to look for a fishing boat. I saw an ad, and the guy lives in San Diego. Wouldn’t it be great to have our own fishing boat? We could go out anytime we want.” 

Perry had gone out with fishing guides several times out of Redondo Beach and always came back exhilarated. It would be nice for him to have his own boat, I thought. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for a romantic weekend, but I went with him to San Diego. 

We inspected a 19′ Boston Whaler, but Perry was concerned about the rust spots on the engine. The next day we drove to Perris, south and east of Los Angeles, to see another boat. This time, the prospective seller took us on a test run on Lake Perris. We bounced up and down on the choppy lake, the boat slamming down on each wave. The roar of the engine and the hot wind whipping through my hair drowned out any talk. When we finally docked, I was jolted and nauseous.

Near the end of the summer, Perry settled on a beige, 19′ Key West fishing boat with a Johnson outboard motor. Waist-high chrome railings circled the bow so he could fly-fish in the ocean. There was a tank for bait and a GPS device to detect fish. He kept the name “Flytime,” because he read that you needed to properly christen a boat if you wanted to change its name. His eyes danced and his face radiated delight when he talked about Flytime. Slips were hard to rent in Marina del Rey, so he found a dry dock that would hoist the boat into the water whenever he wanted. 

“Come out on the boat with me,” he pleaded. The first time I went, I got seasick. The next time I took Dramamine and spent the entire time in a groggy haze, dozing on the cushions in the bow. I hated the bumping on the waves and the loud drone of the engine. Paul loved being on Flytime. He would plant himself at the bow, taking on the wind and waves by hanging on to the railing. Zack joined them on occasion but decided he wasn’t much of a fisherman. 

We fell into a pattern after buying Flytime. At least once a month, Perry and Paul would wake at 6 a.m. and go north to Paradise Cove near Malibu or south near Palos Verdes. Most times, Manny accompanied them. Soon the tool chest in the garage filled up with fishing line, lures, and hooks. The UPS man delivered special fly reels at regular intervals. 

* * *

The first two years after we bought the boat, it didn’t bother me that Perry and Paul went out once a month on weekend mornings, then napped the rest of the afternoon. I was in graduate school working on my dissertation so I was home during the week, using the hours that the boys were at school for my writing. I had the luxury of grocery shopping during the week or running errands after I dropped the boys off at school so that my weekends were free. 

Before I finished my dissertation, I received a job offer from a school reform organization. I debated whether I should accept a position with the dissertation unfinished, but Perry was supportive. “It’s a great opportunity to ease back into work,” he said. “Take it.” My employer was willing to let me work three-quarter time so I could attend Zack’s and Paul’s Little League games. 

My return to work changed our comfortable home routine. I was working during the week and writing my dissertation in the evenings so the weekend hours became more precious. I resented the hours Perry spent on the boat and his long Saturday afternoons napping while I grocery shopped and ran errands.   

During the week Perry always wanted to have lunch together since we were both working downtown. But I was conscious of my shortened work hours, devoting an hour to lunch meant I had to work longer to finish my tasks, which was another hour taken away from the boys. 

“Why won’t you have lunch with me?” Perry asked. “You are always so busy, you don’t have time for me.” 

“I do want to spend time with you,” I said. “But you are always fishing on the weekends.” 

I was juggling work, home chores, and chauffeuring the boys. I needed more help at home, but I knew his days were full and overflowing. He worked ten-hour days at a frenetic pace at his law firm. Fishing on his boat was a balm for him, away from the creditors and debtors in his bankruptcy practice, away from e-mails, phones, and faxes. But still, with my return to work, nothing in his life changed whereas everything in my life had been upended. I was carrying the burden for the household. Each moment he spent on the boat was a moment away from me, from our family life and the never-ending household chores. 

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Cynthia Lim lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and is working on a memoir about her husband's brain injury. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Legendary, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Rougarou: An Online Literary Journal, and Kaleidoscope: Exploring the Experience of Disability through Literature and the Fine Arts. In addition to care giving, she crunches numbers for the Los Angeles Unified School District.