Tom bought KittyTub, his sailboat, on Lake Union. The hull needed work, as did interior hardwoods. KittyTub was more Tom’s therapy than transportation. The vessel promised escape—from America, from expectations, from his life. Tom sought release from work, from parents, and (I hate to admit this) from me. Tom wanted ultimacy, not penultimacy. Tom longed to voyage around Vancouver Island, down the west coast, past Mexico, then to parts yet undetermined. Tom fought to haul anchor and vamoose if the locals started bugging him. Tom’s bottom line bothered me most: Tom had no intention of returning. He was going for good. Leaving.
For two years, I reasoned with Tom over beers and breakfasts. I emphasized connections and our twenty years of friendship. I advocated the social and psychological importance of work. I criticized American mobility. I chastised his self-indulgence, perhaps too frequently. I described the pain of Tom’s plan—for Kim and me, but also for himself and his wife, even his cat. Tom humored me. He defended his dream. He tolerated my dissent, even toyed with staying. But Tom kept sanding and varnishing. KittyTub took shape. I helped, not because I approved, but because Tom was part of me. I scraped hull. I painted. One afternoon, I helped liberate KittyTub from a vengeful shipyard. I observed, but failed to share, Tom’s exuberance. Lancasters threw Tom a bon voyage party. I penned him a poem rhapsodizing the safe harbor of home.
In the end, Tom stowed his gear. He christened KittyTub; her sails caught wind. I stood on the beach at Shilshole as breeze pushed KittyTub out of sight toward Port Townsend. Over years, Tom’s local “family” withered, as he had wished. Tom never returned. We don’t write any more.
Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 2nd century) asserted: “Men exist for each other. Then either improve them, or put up with them” (Meditations, Book 8). Tom imagined a third alternative. I doubt he found it. We are stuck: help people or tolerate their inanity. Regardless, we must persevere. I hope Tom prospers, wherever the breeze blows him.