My husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye on our bedtime routine. He’s a light sleeper, early to bed and up at the crack of dawn, while I’m a night-owl who journeys through magazines, web pages and episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians every night in bed.
After twenty years of marriage and conditions like these, you’d think we’d have a Lucy-and-Ricky sleeping arrangement, yet somehow, he puts up with my nightly meanderings and I…well, I sleep so soundly that I don’t even hear him move around in the morning.
Still, he’s gotten the short end of the stick. He’s tolerated my bedside light left on all night, the click-click-click of my keyboard, and the brain-jarring volume of late-night commercials for acne products. How does he cope?
He turns on his side and puts a pillow over his face.
Between the two of us, I’m the one who deserves the smothering, but somehow, he understands my basic needs: a shared bed, a scan of my latest books and gossip rags, a nightly glimpse into Hollywood’s latest train-wreck-to-be and no judging.
He’s a good man, and I try to remind him of this (when I’m not complaining or bitching or stomping) but he knows I’m a good woman, too. After all, he sails.
He sails a lot.
When we first met in college, I thought his little “obsession” with sailing was as adorable as the Laser II sailboat he so desperately wanted. When he acquired one after graduation, we sailed together every weekend in northwest Illinois on a lake where his paternal grandparents’ had retired.
They’d welcome us every weekend, always asking about our shiny new jobs and our dreams for the future. Then, they’d shoo us out for a day of dinghy races, followed by cocktails at 5 and dinner at 6.
An oil painting hung in their living room. I never paid much attention to it, since I was more interested in his grandfather’s extra-short finger (was it an accident in high school wood shop or a World War II wound he’d never tell us about?) and the hallway rug (which actually hung on the wood paneled wall) depicting a scene of wild horses. I loved my boyfriend’s grandparents, but they just didn’t strike me as horse people.
Many years later, after we’d married, had children and sold the Laser II, the oil painting made its way to our own house. My husband’s grandparents, now my children’s great-grandparents, passed away within three days of one another. My husband asked for only two things from his grandparents’ estate: the oil painting and his grandmother’s old typewriter.
For the first time, I really looked at the painting, which shows two sailboats rafted together in a harbor. Neither boat looks fancy. It’s obvious they’ve endured scuffs and scratches. Yet they fit together. Their colors, though muted, seem to complement one another beautifully.
We hung the painting in the front hallway of our house, an older, dusty Victorian rowhouse near Lake Michigan. The painting was the first real piece of “art” we’d ever owned. The typewriter is on the upstairs hallway table. Everyone who passes it feels a need to touch its keys, which I love.
My husband and I watched in amazement as our schedules grew increasingly crowded with activities like soccer games, school picnics and parent-teacher conferences. Finding the time to sail under these conditions (not even factoring in weather and moods) proved challenging. My husband realized that the only way to address his sailing addiction and keep our marriage intact was to find a boat large enough to allow our family of five to sail together. He found a used Beneteau and researched harbors on the lakefront. Her name was Allegro, which means moderately fast in Italian — perfect for the nervous wife who was skeptical about taking little children on a bigger boat.
We’d drop her into the chilly Calumet River waters in late May, sailing her north to Monroe Harbor where she’d be moored for the season; five months later, from the darkened waves in late October, we’d haul her out for another Windy City winter.
Each and every year, the sailing days between Allegro’s drop-in and haulout warmed my husband’s heart like nothing else on earth. I was stunned to learn I had to compete with a fiberglass hull for his attention, but as most sailing widows know, we simply cannot judge.
My husband once said, and I’ll never forget this, “I’d take horrible weather on a sailboat over a gorgeous day on land any time.” I looked at him like he was crazy, but he couldn’t have been more serious. At that moment, I came to understand and appreciate his needs. He is a sailor.
True, Chicago’s sailing season is as short and intense, but it’s the seven months out of the water that really test my nerve. The winterized boat’s equipment makes its way into the house — things like sails, cushions, mildewy pillows, pots and pans, first aid equipment and electronics I hadn’t known we owned. My husband makes trips to the boatyard to fix, repair, measure, tinker and refine. He returns somehow restored after every journey to visit her. I’m told by the boatyard owner he refers to me as The Admiral, especially when it comes to his inevitable purchases for his lady. It’s a nod of respect I believe I’ve earned as a sailor’s wife.
When my husband found himself with the chance of a lifetime to buy a younger, faster model — a Beneteau 10R — he found it hard to resist, particularly when the former owner declared his willingness to show my husband how to race to Mackinac Island. Never in my life have I seen such a complicated plan come together in such short order (such is the way of the obsessed). In a matter of months, our boat was sold and the new boat was acquired and outfitted for the race. Crew was secured and trained, provisions were loaded, and the boys (including our teenage son) set sail on a 333 mile voyage to the other side of Lake Michigan. I knew their trip would be memorable, and I was decidedly envious. I drove a chase car with our two younger children to meet the boat at the finish line and kept my fingers crossed.
Their journey was life changing, to say the least. A squall claimed the lives of two sailors during the race. I will never know the fear and worry my husband carried in his heart that night, but when I greeted the sailors as they stepped off the boat, I’ve never seen more tears, relief and humility as I did that day. Every crew member, including my son, has told me how brave my husband was, how safe he made them feel, and what a tremendous sailor he is.
Upon our return home, we unpacked the bags and talked about the race. As a race participant, sponsors provided an array of promotional items like keychains, deodorant…and sleeping masks for crew to use during the 3-day race. We joked that a mask might help him get through my late night channel surfing, then went back to unpacking.
I recently moved the oil painting to a spot above our bed. I thought it fitting, as our schedules and our circadian rhythms often leave us feeling like the proverbial ships passing in the night. I also love the gentle reminder of the grandparents every time I look at it. I think of our carefree days on a crystal lake, getting to know one another before we even knew ourselves.
And now, that eye mask finds its way over my husband’s tired eyes every night. I never requested he wear it, and he makes no bones about doing so. The eye mask, like the race, has been life-changing. He now sleeps soundly through the glow of my laptop and the flicker of the Kardashians’ endless 15 minutes and the bedside light left on all night. No judging. The eye mask is physical proof of his tolerance for my nocturnal energy, not to mention a silky reminder of his first Race to Mackinac.