So what does a man do when his world is turned upside-down and inside-out? Out of breath 60 feet under the sea, looking for light find out which way to the surface? Having forgotten how to cry, now sobbing hysterically.
Max wasn’t just first mate on our little ship. For the past year and a half, he was my best buddy. We had adventures together, but more importantly we shared our deeper true selves. We laughed about how our over-the-top fun could make for a hilarious TV show. We even regularly spoke in our own zany tongue, the language of Bllimjax. I have always considered myself fortunate to have such close relationships with my adult children.
Now Max is dead. An important part of me died with him. I know that I can never revive this, but I can learn to live without it. I can continue to grow, to love, to live with gusto, and to feel my inner peace. But like everything, these take practice.
So that’s what I’m doing — I’m starting a new chapter. I love the South Pacific and I yearn for new adventure. So, two months to the day after Max’s death, I swallowed hard and returned alone to Akela anchored in Taina, Tahiti. I cleaned out Max’s locker and readied Akela for offshore sailing. Max’s Tahitian friend Hiri joined me for a 3-day upwind sail to Fakarava in our beloved Tuamotu Islands. Laura joined me a couple weeks later. We scattered Max’s ashes in the Tumakohua Pass where Max loved to free-dive with the hundreds of sharks. Few people lived like Max did.
My sister Susie and her husband (and my high school buddy) Brian spent 10 days aboard. We sailed in rain and sun, fished, drank, talked, played music, laughed, cried, and swam with sharks. We joined a beach barbecue with friends where we ate fresh fish off plates we had made ourselves from palm fronds. We find ourselves quoting Max, “Life is good.”
I didn’t forget about Max — quite the opposite. I think of him daily. I fondly remember his incessant twang of the ukulele, his laugh, his poking fun at me, his youthful energy, … And I sadly realize that I’m no longer sharing my adventures with him. How many times has the feeling come to me, “I can’t wait to tell Max”, followed by a physical reaction in my body that is like the pit in the stomach one feels when cresting a hill too fast blended with the tightening of the throat that comes just before crying. I wipe my eyes and move on.
Yeah, it sucks to lose my first mate, son, and close buddy in this tragic way. I’ll never be the same. But I’m still going to be myself. After 6 weeks in Polynesia, I’m returning to Tucson to be with Laura for Halloween (my favorite holiday!) and to commemorate Max at Dia de los Muertes. Then I’ll return to the South Pacific where I’ll host some more visiting friends, sail to the remote islands of Tauere, Amanu, and Hao, followed by a 500 mile upwind passage to the Marquesas Islands. I’ll attend the big Marquesan cultural festival on the island of Ua Pou that is held only every 4 years. And I’ll still be home for Christmas.
Early 2020, I am looking forward to spending a few months with Laura and Charlie in Tucson. Then sometime next year, I’ll head back to Akela for the next chapter. Maybe I’ll sail to Hawaii, maybe Fiji, maybe New Zealand,…