I admit there are myriad impracticalities inherent in being a kayak-owning Manhattanite.
To date, this has not caused me to give up my boat.
How, you ask, did I come into possession of a kayak in the first place?
I was in my early twenties, and living in Washington, when a kayak seemed like a good idea. I was leaving George, getting together with Andrew, and I’d gone out to San Francisco for my cousin’s wedding and to say “goodbye” to George’s family, with whom I’d always been extremely close.
George’s father caught me on the LL Bean website one night, looking at kayaks.
What are you going to do with that; with a kayak?
Row the Potomac, I think.
We looked at each other, and in an instant, he knew that I was gone. George’s parents drove me to the Oakland Airport the next day, with Luka Bloom’s Sunny Sailor Boy playing prophetically on the car radio. They hugged me extra hard at the departures driveway and we exchanged “I Love Yous” like we always did. I never saw them again.
I went back to Washington, where I bought a 13.5 ft Perception Carolina kayak, and I’ve had it ever since.
Andrew had a kayak, too, and we would take them out on the lakes around Washington; out on the Potomac. My law school experience was, in many ways, characterized by boating. Bad day? To the river! Good day? To the river!
In winter, the river would freeze, and we’d wait for the thaw; wait for the cherry trees to bloom, and the water to rush angrily around the Three Sisters. As the spring came, the trees in the backyard of our house in Burleith would shower our boats with blossoms and fuzz. There was some kind of magic in the spring cleaning — the warmish day when we could justify hosing out the boats and loading them on to the car. Then off to Thompson Boathouse in the trusty old Volvo station wagon!
We moved to New York six years ago, and the boats went to Connecticut. I learned to kayak on Long Island Sound; retrofitted my boat with a rudder myself because the water was just a wee bit too choppy for me. We would go out on weekends and holidays; it was the thing that kept me sane while I studied for the Bar Exam.
Watersports were the one thing that my ex-husband and I did together: sailing; kayaking. But I am a Pisces and he had a fear of drowning, despite his skills at sea. We were doomed — our shared interest was no match for the Atlantic. My kayak stayed in Connecticut.
In October of this past year, the time had come for me to retrieve it. I picked it up after I ran the Hartford Marathon — me, strong, still wearing my finisher’s medal. I strapped the boat to the roof of a rental car. Where does one keep a kayak in Manhattan, though? Storage? There were no facilities large enough. My then-significant other offered his parents’ house on the lake, so we drove it there. His parents were nice enough to wrap it up and store it properly; they had experience with boats.
But here’s the thing: having bought the boat out of a failed relationship; having retrieved it out of a divorce, I knew that drydocking couldn’t last forever. The boat was mine; my responsibility; my cross to bear. No one in their right mind was going to store it for me indefinitely without either wanting to take it from me, or wanting me for keeps.
So the time came, again, to take back the boat. This time it was messier; the man with my boat wouldn’t return my phone calls; wouldn’t give me a straight answer about anything, least of all my kayak. My Perception Carolina sat in purgatory.
In that boat, I had rowed my way through my breakup with George. I had kayaked my way through my father’s grisly open-heart surgery. I had navigated the Potomac in inclement weather in uncertain days at the end of law school and I had taken on the challenge of the Sound while terrified about the Bar Exam. Andrew and I had faced the swells off of Pear Tree Point, together and apart, as we knew our marriage was failing.
I had given up so much in relationships in my twenties into my thirties: time, money, dogs, furniture, cars. I had walked away from material possessions; people. I had swallowed anger; I had kept my cool; I had tried to take the high road.
But for all these years, and all these moves, I have been kept afloat on those 13.5 feet of red-orange plastic, and I don’t plan to give it up, just yet.
And to the man standing between me and my kayak: this isn’t your life. Those aren’t your memories. That wasn’t your father on the table, or your mother-in-law you needed a break from. That wasn’t you, sobbing on the Potomac when you found out your beloved grandfather was dying.
You already took everything that wasn’t nailed down.
That’s not your fucking boat.