The Fairytale Virus

It’s almost here, the day when my father and his partner are scheduled to leave their home in Key West for a month-long stay in a small European village. Dad has been looking forward to this trip for months. We talked about it a lot the last time I visited Key West…oh that was a trip!

Recently separated from my significant other, I traveled to Key West alone to spend some healing time with my eighty-two-year-old father. I was only able to stay with him and his partner on their live-aboard trawler because I was traveling alone. No one else would feel comfortable inserting himself into this tiny, cluttered world.

They cleared out the main bunk for me, so I lived like a princess. After wading through the refuse of life, beginning in the cockpit and strewn through the galley forward, I crawled into the V-bunk, closed the curtain against the chaos of the world, and only had to deal with the rudderless thoughts swirling in my own head.

By the time my visit was over, I had experienced all of Dad’s favorite coffee stops and met a gaggle of people whom Dad had come to regard as friends and vice versa.

Each morning, Dad woke me up before the sun to join him on his daily bike ride. In the dark, I wiggled into my workout clothes hidden by a borrowed long-sleeve shirt and met him on the dock. On a borrowed bike, I followed Dad into his morning world with both trepidation and wonder. We saw the sun come up over the water and met the other semi-insomniac members of society. By the time my visit was over, I had experienced all of Dad’s favorite coffee stops and met a gaggle of people whom Dad had come to regard as friends and vice versa.

I became part of the leisurely life that thrived on the trawler. To me, the word trawler, a boat that instead of planing out above the water trudges through, pushing water at a rather slow rate of travel, says it all. We didn’t jump right up after a meal to clean the dishes. Bunks weren’t made up into daytime sitting stations as soon as our feet hit the floor in the morning. Sun-baked laundry lingered like colorful flags pinned to the railing long after it was dry.

Laundry aboard the trawler was actually an event I was privileged to witness. Late one morning, I crouched in a sunny corner of the cockpit, still in my bathrobe, grazing through the news on my phone with no sense of urgency to join the day. Suddenly, I realized I was part of a tableau right out of a foreign film, except I didn’t need the subtitles to know what was happening.

The clothing was then hand-wrung and plopped into a second bucket for rinsing. Hand-rung again, it went into a third and final receptacle that I can only describe as a giant salad spinner.

I struggle to rectify the idea of doing laundry, or in fact any activity meant to clean things, in a space that is itself not clean. The cockpit was strewn with odd reading material partially abandoned or possibly just set aside for the moment, random shoes with no feet in them, and coffee cups long since rendered dry. It was in this cozy setting that Dad’s partner embarked on his regular laundry ritual. He started with a bucket and a hose, two common elements in a marina setting. One item of clothing was dipped into the water, presumably with soap. It was pulsated with an instrument that looked like an upside-down plunger. The clothing was then hand-wrung and plopped into a second bucket for rinsing. Hand-rung again, it went into a third and final receptacle that I can only describe as a giant salad spinner. Spinning the laundry was a two-hand job, feet holding the spinner still while upper body sustained a steady workout.

As I watched this process unfold, I realized it was all playing out against a background of Ella Fitzgerald. Yes, our laundry master is also a jazz aficionado, two qualities that I never thought would slam together in such a bizarre scene. But, there I was, like the proverbial fly on the wall, a witness for the ages. It was at that moment that I thought my newly single life was becoming weird.

Fast forward several weeks, and I was fielding daily calls from Dad about getting off the boat. The chaos and clutter of such a small living space had caught up with him, and he was done. Every time he talked about the new house they would rent and how they could sell the boat to move forward in their lives, I thought back to my recent visit.

The calming sunrise bike rides, the ruffling clutter, the weird laundry ritual all gave me mixed feelings about Dad’s change of arrangements.

I supported his desire to make changes, though. That’s why, as his planned trip to Europe got closer, I brought it up often in our conversations. For the time being, that trip was the escape he was wishing for. It sounded fabulously relaxing, a month in a small apartment in a small village where the most exciting activity would be a daily walk to the local market to choose food for the day.

Just days before Dad’s departure, when my sister tried to impose her hysteria on the situation, I supported Dad’s desire to go despite world events. He was going to go anyway, and I didn’t see any reason to try to stop him. My sister sent long emails with precaution instructions to Dad and simultaneously texted statistics to me suggesting they were crazy to travel out of the country right now. I pushed for calm, responsible behavior in the airports.

As I suspected, Dad and his partner arrived at their destination in perfect health, and although they were tired from their travels, they were bolstered by what they saw. The apartment they had chosen was even better than the photos. It met their romantic notions of a remote European get-away in every way. The gardens outside the dining room windows were enchanting. The imposing hearth in the main salon was breath-taking. The small apartment afforded many luxuries including several nooks in which to tuck into a good book.

After a long snooze, they explored the village, found the local shops and cafes, and settled into a month of leisure. It was a perfect counterpoint to the small, stressful world they left behind. Their preferred routine of reading, walking, eating, and napping overtook them in no time, and life was good!

Halfway through their trip, I got a text from Dad that Macron had closed all public cafes. This was the only piece of news that affected Dad and his partner because they enjoyed interacting with their immediate world. And, as I’ve neglected to mention previously, Dad is a true foodie. There was no sense of concern or urgency in Dad’s text. I received the text at a frantic moment in my own life but answered it with the calm affirmation it warranted. Dad followed my calm instructions to get in provisions and prepare to luxuriate within the walls of the apartment, that fairytale escape.

Dad and his partner truly escaped the crazy world events swirling all around us. They remained safe, healthy, and comfortable in a quarantine location that epitomized what it would take many of us months to discover — the calm, relaxation of the severe slowing of a world that had previously spun out of control.

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  1. Christine…. I am not sure we can return to what was. I live out in the country and very little changed but I have friends that lost their businesses , some didn’t recover from the virus. It is such a dark time. It feel like those that lived in the cities were impacted much more that those of us that lived in a kind of isolation before the darkness came. I loved your article and hope that we see the other side of these times.

    • Thanks for reading, Larry. I agree and believe this current crisis is our next 9/11 in that it will alter our world forever going forward. I think the others who were impacted greatly are those who did not realize their lives were spinning out of control, until they abruptly stopped.

  2. Christine – Sounds like you learned a lot from stepping away from the pressures of the 9 to 5 world where success is measured in the size of your office and the number of people who report to you. And in the process, you realized that what we all need is time to sit back and collect ourselves. Well – this worldwide surprise has given us an opportunity to do just that. The big question will be what do we learn from this. If we rush headlong back into our old routines, I fear we will have wasted the important lessons we should have learned. Great article. Thanks for sharing and good to see you writing again.