PART ONE: A Little More Than a Three- Hour Tour; or, I Wanna See You Be Brave
After a day in Sarasota of provisioning, resting, and anxiously reading and rereading the instructions for the life raft, we took off at 11:30 on Thursday from Clearwater, and headed into the Gulf of Mexico. Clearwater had been cranky the night before, and we were given quite the lightning show, glad that she was getting it out of her system.
The stretch was 142 miles of wide-open ocean, which would take us approximately 23 hours at our cruising speed of 8 knots.
Exiting Tampa Bay, we set our course for a buoy [323° to be exact] just outside Carabelle, FL, timing it so that we would arrive just as the sun was rising, its light guiding us back into the intra-coastal to Appalachicola, just about another twenty miles to the west.
The skies were clear, the sun was bright and the ocean breeze made the chilly 97 degrees actually feel comfortable. The water was a flat calm blanket of blue as blue could be [probs Cerulean if we’re talking Crayola here], and it seemed as if Poseidon got over banana-gate and was actually throwing us a bone.
Entering the Gulf, we were greeted by an escort that seemed to be sent from the sea god himself as 8 or so dolphins, in the clearest water imaginable, surfed off our bow, seemingly leading the way. About 20 miles into our trip, with Tarpon Springs to our east, the coastline disappeared, cell service was lost, and we were alone with the sea. As the sun was setting, we found ourselves 50-55 miles away from anything besides the water and its inhabitants.
With only the three of us on board, we had carefully crafted a watch schedule to make sure we had enough downtime to maintain the energy to make it through the long run. Previously on the trip, we’d pretty much all be present on the bridge for the day, switching off steering and navigating, but without a structure for rest on a day like that, we might be liable to throw at least one of each other to the sharks.
We structured our watches in rotating 2-hour increments, 2 hours steering, 2 hours navigating, and then 2 hours off. When night came, the 2 hours as navigator could also be used for resting on the bridge, as stand-by for the lady pirate at the helm. When I steered, A was my 2nd, my mom steered and I was her gal, and when A was at the helm my mom took the backseat.
Of course, not much navigation is necessary when you are keeping one course for over 20 hours straight without any markers between. So when we were in the 2nd seat, we kept a look out, kept each other awake, and made sure we didn’t somehow manage to eff it up.
Refreshing doesn’t even begin to explain what it was like to put this big girl on autopilot out in the deep blue of the Gulf, after spending months of anxiously watching the depth finder while navigating through narrow canals shared by large commercial vessels [Virginia Cut, anyone?].
Since I’m usually the night owl, I took the helm for the first night watch, starting at sunset. I turned on the Hamilton soundtrack, knowing that singing every word from top to bottom would make the time fly by—oh. Yeah, that idea—maybe not so good on account of people need to sleep and stuff and Lin Manuel’s sick beats don’t really make a good lullaby for everyone I guess ok whatever my b.
We had been monitoring some thunderclouds that had been forming menacingly off the west coast of FL for some time. But, our skies were clear, we were 50 miles out from shore, and it seemed like the storms were hanging out ruining the end of everyone’s perfect beach day instead.
We had been hearing a little bit of Coast Guard chatter on the radio, but the reception was very quickly deteriorating. Luckily, before we completely lost it, we heard every other word of a securitae from the Coast Guard warning of severe storms on the coast:
“Securitae xxxxxx –uritae all stations xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx coast guard sector xxxxxxxxxxxxx severe thunderstorms xxxxxx west co—xxxxx xxxxxx 60 knot winds xxxxxxxxxx water spouts xxxxxxxxxxx caution xxxxxx Out.”
Thank god we heard that, cause, you know, before I was actually not really worried about that storm. And now…
WATER SPOUTS!?! NO, I MEAN, WATER SPOUTS THOUGH, REALLY POSEIDON, REALLY????????????
Great. Just great. 50 miles offshore, my beautiful, calm, little mental paradise of blue, blue, blue, in which I was currently frolicking with dolphins, was invaded by a giant SHARKNADO. Also, pretty positive those jerk clouds were enjoying the torment a bit too much, as they set their autopilot to 323° just to watch me squirm.
Without access to radar on our phones, we had no option but to watch the clouds light up, occasionally allowing a strike to break through and threaten the ocean below, letting off maniacal laughter and giving us the distinct impression it was coming for us and this was how it ended oh my god are you kidding me we made it all this way and went through all of this bullshit THREE WEEKS IN CHESAPEAKE and we just had a beautiful day in the gulf and now this stupid storm is going to attack us and strike us and sink the boat and then we’re going to have to get in the life-raft and float for months and months and months and omg we’re probably going to have to eat one of the dogs and omg I would die before I did that and OMG we will all kill each other first anyway so nothing even matters.
Then, a phoenix rising from the ashes with a magical sword, the enormous full moon pulled itself up from behind the clouds. The storm, clearly frightened of actual confrontation, stayed right where it was, a cyber bully talking a big talk and screaming obscenities, leaving no doubt that behind its computer screen was a fat, smelly, un-showered, lonely little jerk binging on Doritos. I SEE YOU, STORM, AND YOU HAVE ORANGE DUSTY FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER YOUR WIFEBEATER.
Moonlight poured down and lit up the glass around us so brightly it was almost difficult to see the stars. All was well. All was calm. Plus, Sagittarius was one constellation that was still visible, leading this fellow archer along.
I broke from watch at 1230, nothing to report, and enjoyed a brief nap on the bow, under the stars. I mean. I know. It was actually a dream.
PART TWO: ES-CAH-PAY;
or, Mom, Don’t Read This Part
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed [LOL LOL JK], I took up watch again two hours later. A laid down on the settee behind me, my crisis intervention officer for the next two hours.
Stars. Moon. Ocean. Me. Silence.
You guys ever been in your head? Like, really, REALLY gotten in there, all deep and stuff? Jiggle some locks and open some long-sealed doors, go through some old junk and hold a yard sale [and not like a yard sale where everything is $5 even though it should have been $1 and no one is buying anything and really the only reason it’s all $5 is because you actually never wanted to part with it in the first place].
It’s kinda SCARY in there. I mean, y’all have met the VIMH©, but even SHE doesn’t dare go down that far. [As a matter of fact, she stood there, watching with a look on her face of pure terror, no doubt praying I’d return so she wouldn’t have to run the show.]
[VIMH©: She’s right. I don’t want to deal with that real-life human shit. I exist solely to second-guess Alyssa and tell her she can’t do things. And occasionally provide her with a hilarious joke that she can take credit for.]
When I started this blog, I started with a slew of f-bombs and an incomplete thought about why the hell I was doing this.
Why was I taking this trip?
On the surface, I know why. It was the trip of a lifetime, I got to spend time with my mom, I got to get out of the city, I got to reflect on the challenges that the past year has thrown at me, go soul searching and—have fun?
Be brave, right?
“You can never cross the ocean until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Fitting, as I reflect on the past [nearly] 3 months, for this quote to cross my mind again while doing just that.
With nothing but the sea and sky around me, and with no shore as a crutch, I force myself to delve deeper. I think past the challenges of just this last year and I give myself credit for facing the challenges of the last TEN.
I give myself credit.
I never give myself credit. It isn’t humble. No one wants to hear about your struggles and how you overcame. And BTW someone always has it worse than you. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a husband who loves me, and the support of my entire family, so therefore my challenges aren’t legitimate.
But you know what? My 20s have been HARD. They have been MUCH harder than I ever thought they were supposed to be….
I fumbled for the skeleton key that suddenly appeared in my pocket [dress pocket, obv] and opened the big red door separating the expansive beauty of the Gulf around me from the dark scary part of my brain, and started to sift through the millions of pages of archives that make up my mosaic, zeroing in on those that seem to slice the deepest.
[Archive box #8876098: October 2009-2012] The abrupt death of my husband’s father of a brain aneurysm two months before our wedding forced hefty life decisions on barely-adults just starting out their lives. Putting any career goals on the back burner, we stayed in RI, where I blacked out and was somehow swept into the banking industry, which I never had any intention of becoming a part of. I rose to a position that MBAs covet, and woke up silently screaming in the middle of the night. One mental breakdown later, we trashed our ready-made lives so I could pursue theatre, just 3 years late.
[Archive box #88876549: April 2013] I started therapy [and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder II, after lots of doctors and 2 years of trying to figure myself out]. In that time, I stayed up all night re-teaching myself piano until my fingers ached. I basically forced my husband to move into an apartment in a dilapidated but beautiful old multi-family building where I spent hours upon hours attempting to renew it to its original glory even though it was a short-term rental.
I felt high and creative and brilliant. My close friends & family knew something was wrong. I spoke very fast; ideas and words, fleeing rapidly from arbitrarily moving lips, made no sense. I made bad decisions. Stayed out all night. Didn’t call. And fought. Fought. Fought. Kicked. Screamed. Fought.
Outside of those close to me, I buried this struggle under layers upon layers of different multi-colored, molded masks. I got so good at it that I could convincingly be a different person to everyone I met. A true chameleon, it became difficult to figure out who it was that I actually wanted in my life and whom I was just trying to win over. Which parts of me were genuine, and which were fabrication?
I convinced myself this was just who I really was. That this was the person I grew into. I convinced myself I just needed to find people who actually understood me. I convinced myself I was making it all up. I wasn’t sick. That it was blown out of proportion.
I nearly lit my life on fire during an un-medicated four months of mania.
[Archive box #78877654: November 2014] After getting back on mental health track, we moved to NYC to allow me to give this career a good go. I booked a great regional gig. While I was rehearsing, my husband experienced a health scare while I was hundreds of miles away and spent a week in a stroke unit without me. He would later be diagnosed with an incurable condition affecting his vertebral arteries, much too close for comfort to the condition of his late father. This will affect him for the rest of his life.
[Archive box #879872334: April-September 2015] After coming down from another show and with nothing on the horizon, I experienced the most trying time in the battle for my mental health: sleeping for days, ignoring my goals, skipping auditions and work, distracting myself by refinishing our NY apartment and lying to myself daily about how I felt and what I was doing. My doctor was overmedicating me via a 10-minute appointment once a month. I started with a new doctor and felt like there actually might be a way out.
[Archive box #79823472398: October 2015-May 2016] My mother-in-law was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and, in my husband’s place, I spent nearly 7 months pretending that I knew what the hell I was doing, traveling back and forth from NYC to Boston to bring her to her appointments each week.
I burnt-out. I cried at night. I loathed myself. I did nothing for myself or for my career. I spent all my time working at a restaurant or drinking after my shifts until early in the morning and I felt like I was losing any semblance of myself.
I finished flipping through the last box of archives and sat still for a moment. Letting everything sink in.
So, no, self. You didn’t do this for fun, did you?
You did it to escape.
The word ‘escape’ echoed in the hallowed halls of the archive room, and I heard an explosion outside as bombs dropped on my little town. [VIMH©: Told you so.] I ran as fast as I could [like a solid 20-min mile], lungs pumping and legs burning to the old stone church that stood in the middle of town, crumbling, looking for respite, opened the doors and found it on fire.
As a matter of fact, I noticed, the entire town was on fire.
The reality of the serenity and quiet that I was surrounded by rescued me from the inferno in my head, and I found myself staring off into the distance, tears running down my face.
On a very basic level, the word “escape” shouldn’t elicit the action-movie-worthy horror that occurred when the realization hit me initially. But, the thought gave me pause, as I was certain that what I’ve tried to do most in life is not escape. To face it all dead-on, find the right path to success, and go from there. In my life, in order to face one thing, I may have had to abandon another, but I’d like to think the abandon was less borne of escape and more of ambition or responsibility.
“Escape” isn’t really in my vocabulary. Wasn’t.
Yet, as I sat in the Captain’s chair, relatively alone on the bridge, and stared out across the expanse in front of me, I realized that ‘escape’ was exactly what I intended. The ‘soul-searching’ that I spoke of in my first/second entry, at the time, was meant to illicit fluffy connotations like: “connect with nature,” and “do yoga” and “recharge.” When, really, it meant, GTFO of dodge, skirt all responsibilities, and figure out whether or not you still think you’re a person.
You may be happy to know, that I’ve decided that I do think I’m a person. Maybe a little effed up, maybe a little incomplete, but I think I’m finally starting to become whole again.
This trip has given me the opportunity to remove all the distractions and challenges of real life and focus on the immediate, the moment, the simple actions necessary to complete a simple task: get to Texas. And that has in turn helped me focus on getting to know the real me, without the masks, and I think I kinda maybe like her…?
I realize that not everyone can get this opportunity, and I am so grateful for the support of my husband and my family on this journey. Like a true Sagittarius, the desire for adventure and excitement runs deep, and restlessness seems to keep showing up like a bad penny. Perhaps this escape was just what the doctor ordered.
Suddenly, on the horizon, lights. Shore.
PART THREE: To Be Continued; or, I Didn’t Have Time to Finish
There’s a lot more to fill you guys in on, so stay tuned!
With the flooding in Baton Rouge, and the closure of a major lock in New Orleans, we decided to hire a couple captains to take us offshore, around Louisiana and into Galveston, TX.
Just a couple hours ago, we set off for this 55-hour journey, sometimes bringing us 100 miles offshore. Won’t have access to the internet, so wanted to post this update now!
You guys. WE MIGHT JUST GET THIS BOAT TO TEXAS.
Houston, you have a problem.
PS: As an added treat, here is a video of me and one of our captains, Brian, playing horribly after too much tequila.