It doesn’t just hit the fan

by Erik Dolson

We left the boat for Oregon a couple of weeks ago, for Irish to be fitted with a new eye. The month in Victoria was not as wonderful as it could have been, but much better than it might have been. Irish was incredibly brave just stepping back on board.

But there was a rare snow storm which kept us locked on board for three solid days, a frozen and cracked fitting on the holding tank that leaked sewage into the engine room, a refrigerator that would not chill, issues with the engine that are going to be expensive to redo … the list is endless. But as they say, it’s a boat, and that’s what boats do.

It’s also a pretty good life. Victoria is a beautiful city and we are right in the heart of it. Irish and I enjoy the rhythm, the stores, the restaurants, and our intimacy.

Except Irish caught the flu on our trip up to the boat. It invaded her lungs and sinuses, causing headaches and hacking coughs that woke her in the middle of the night and attacked her in the middle of the day, to the point where she almost could not breathe.

It sapped her energy and gave her doubts about her strength, stamina, and almost everything else. Including us. Doubts I cannot assuage.

It will be good when she’s over this and can exercise and breathe some fresh air.

Irish took me out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. We’ve taken to sharing meals: She never eats more than half. It’s also becoming more obvious I need to eat much less. I’ll blame lack of exercise at home in the snow covered mountains, and even here on the dock fighting with a bum shoulder. An appetizer and a single meal is plenty for both of us.

The flu that gripped Irish since we arrived here a month ago would not let go. She coughed every two minutes, all day and all night long. When it attacked, she couldn’t talk, breathing was an effort. She hated this, she hated feeling weak. 

The weakness scares me, too, though I believe when she is over this bug she will be as strong as ever.

It’s been three months since Irish lost her job, then four days later she fell and lost her eye, a little over a month since she lost her dad, and here we are on the brink of an adventure and she’s been so sick for an entire month that doing basic life chores is exhausting.

Her Parkinson’s has raised its head in all this, and on occasion, when her words start to stumble, I remind her to take her meds. The expenses related to her medical care mount, for her and for me. This frightens her.

I’ve been asked how I am doing through all this. Usually I shunt the question with “We’re okay. A step at a time, day at a time.” But a couple of friends drilled through my evasion and said, “No, how are you doing?”

Honestly? It’s been hard as hell. A week ago Irish hit the wall, and said she was exhausted, that she’d used up all her reserves. All I could say was, me too.

“This is not how it was supposed to be,” she said.

“I won’t let you starve,” I replied, trying to take pressure off but only making it worse.

“But you don’t want to make my car payments, or pay off my student loan.” She wasn’t asking, just pointing out that there were looming threats.

That’s true, but I still wonder if that makes me incredibly selfish or just reflects something I’ve shared with her from our beginning. But that was then and this is now and we’ve grown together since then and been through so much.

I tell her I think I’ve been a good man, but what does that mean? I don’t know, so again I don’t say what she wants to hear. That’s hard for her and makes me feel shitty, even as I mumble that’s the way I’ve always been.

We did take the boat out once last month, but only far enough to buy fuel and try to empty the foul holding tank that contained our sewage until the weekly pump out.

Fuel was not an issue, except the debit card for the account I thought had money was declined. I had another in my wallet.

At the sewage pump-out station nearby, we put a token in the machine and it made noise. We hooked the hose to the boat and turned on the valve and … nothing. The hose is clear so you can tell when the ugly sludge is leaving the boat. There was a trickle where there should have been a flood. I thought I might have left a valve closed, or misaligned, though I’d done this many times before.

Everything looked good, so I called over to Irish, who was standing on the dock at the machine, to turn it off and then on again. She looked down, did something and said something, but my ears have been too close to unmuffled 427 cubic inch motors for too many years. So I just nodded and went below and grabbed the pump handle and pumped a few times to see if there was a blockage I could help clear.

There was some resistance after a few pulls, so I stopped, not knowing what the problem was but knowing a mechanic was waiting for us back at our slip to remove this tank and install a new one. That’s why we were here to pump the tank empty.

But now we were late to meet him, and we had to go, so I decided to deal later with what remained. I scrambled up out of the engine room to release the sewage hose that drooped from dock to the boat, so we could be on our way.

“POW!” went the hose, now pressurized with sewage from my pumping the handle below.

Shit happens? Shit happened everywhere. I was sprayed, as was the boat. After a stunned moment, I grabbed a hose and rinsed off the dock, the machine that was supposed to pump our our tank but didn’t, and as much of the boat as I could.

“I thought you turned on the dock pump?” I said to Irish.

“I told you … Once it turned off, it didn’t turn back on.” She was remarkably calm, given that she hadn’t been able to avoid the crapnel (like shrapnel, but smells worse) either.

I backed the boat away from the dock with a some difficulty because the wind had come up and we were hemmed in by two bright and shiny tour boats. Irish kept us from hitting either. We made it back to our slip, and Irish threw the line right over the mechanic’s shoulder like she’d been doing it for years, and like she could see out of both eyes.

He left on another errand and we hosed ourselves off, again. Maybe he could sense our recent misadventure.

Whew! A shit storm may not always be the worst part of life on board, but it’s a great reminder that there are times you just know you couldn’t have this much fun with anybody else.

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