On board

BY JANE MILLER

We are on the boat!

January 28, 2017: Just a little over eight weeks from the fall, exactly five and a half weeks after brutal facial reconstruction and removal of my eye, through pain I never imagined, we are back on the boat!

We came across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the Victoria Clipper, a fast ferry cruising along at 30 knots. We had a casual breakfast and coffee, chatted and rested our way through the two-and-a-half-hour trip. Trepidation did not really set in until we slowed, arriving in Victoria harbor.

I couldn’t sit down as I scanned outside, looking for our boat.

“I can’t see her,” I told Erik. I’m still adapting to a limited field of vision. He pointed almost straight off the bow, “There she is. Blue boat, yellow stripe … The dinghy is on the stern.” I could barely make out her lines amid the other boats, so I just nodded.

It wasn’t until we were in line for Customs that I really saw her sleek blue shape, yellow boot stripe just above the water, 64-foot mast jutting into the sunny sky. “There she is!” I was so happy she was still afloat and level. Relieved that our precipitous departure on December 5 had not left her in dire straights.

Erik reminded me again that he had had precious little time to grab our clothes and what Christmas presents would fit into the luggage, empty the refrigerator and freezer, and lock things up before he rushed me from Victoria to Portland and OHSU. I knew that no matter how the boat looked on the inside, he had done all he could under extraordinary circumstances. I hugged his arm tightly to my heart and smiled at him.

We slogged our suitcases the short distance from Customs to our berth in Lower Causeway. My anticipation grew. It wasn’t full-blown anxiety, but honestly, I had no idea how I was going to react when I boarded Foxy. My best friend Laura had told me time and again that I didn’t have to do what I was not ready to do.

I was telling myself to “Suck it up, Buttercup, and get on the damn boat.”

Then I would think, “Wait a minute. I’ve been through a lot … I deserve some time to process this and take care of myself.” I don’t have a history of taking good care of myself, so this voice of reason was easy to ignore.

Heaving a sigh and straightening my spine, I put both hands on the lifeline, pulled myself aboard, and carefully walked into the cockpit. For five minutes it was overwhelming as I remembered the pain and fear, tears came quickly as Erik pulled me into his arms, my head on his chest. 

“I’m not afraid. I don’t know why I’m crying.” But I gave into my emotions, then gathered myself with a deep breath and looked around.

Erik tried to make me pause and not look at the coaming where I fell, but I was drawn to it. There were a couple spots of blood and what looked like either my iris or my cornea.

“Hey, you missed some,” I said calmly. 

Erik looked down where I indicated, and then closely at me. He decided I wasn’t going to fall apart and said, “Hey, is that your missing cornea? Do you want it back?”

I laughed so quickly I snorted. We’d been making jokes like “sleeping with one eye open” but if we could joke at a time like this, I knew we were going to be just fine. He let the dry flake flutter into the water below.

I’m not special. This kind of life-changing set-back is not uncommon. I lost an eye and my face doesn’t look like it did on the morning of December 1. But I never gave up, and just as importantly, Erik didn’t give up. My family and friends, they didn’t give up. People face hardships every day, overcome extraordinary odds, fight through the pain. We are not alone. I thank everyone for reminding me of that.

Erik and I looked at each other and smiled. Turning toward the cockpit, we unlocked the door that led down the steps into the galley. “Ok,” I breathed, then said, stronger, “We are back on the boat.”

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