My best friend Courtenay, the closest friend I’ve ever had (so close we almost killed each other on occasion, actually) moved to New Zealand in October of 2006 with her boyfriend to live, work, play and explore for a year or so. They had a wonderful time. They lived in a van on people’s properties, stayed in hostels and backpackers’ inns, travelled around, got jobs, and lived on a boat for a while. Court emailed fairly frequently. I still have those emails. She told me about how in love she was, how happy to be having this adventure, even the hard parts, how buff her arms were getting from rowing from their boat to the shore, to her waitressing job. They bought a sailboat, and against the recommendations of everyone who loved them, and frankly, almost everyone who knew much about sailing, decided to sail it home. Their vessel, a 30′ ketch, wasn’t seaworthy yet, so they fixed her up first. Court had never sailed, Chris had, and had intermediate level experience. Whatever it was, the power of love, adventure, test runs that went well, stubbornness – they wouldn’t be talked out of it. I remember an email exchange with Court (snippets from ones between us):
Courtenay: We are still hoping to sail home but people around here and our parents are pretty much downers/haters. All like “but you have no experience” and “but people drown out there”… yada yada… But what an amazing, adrenaline-filled experience.. doing something that ACTUALLY puts your life in danger… but then again, you could be killed any day, doing anything.. *sigh*
Me: Um…about the sailing home. Um. Really? Out there in the middle of the ocean with real live sharks, literally no land in sight, relying on weather and technology? I trust and love you, but…don’t die.
…OR YOU COULD TAKE A PLANE. 🙂
Seriously though, do you think you really might do that?
Courtenay: But soon we will be together… ie 24/7 on our boat ahaha… YES we really are planning to sail back home and don’t worry about it… we will be fine. We can survive anything together.
No, they couldn’t. I’m sure it’s been obvious where this blog post was going. They were supposed to be back in October 2007. They left New Zealand in….May? I think? They made the first leg, New Zealand to Tahiti. I have a postcard. They made the second leg, Tahiti to Hilo (Hawaii) fine. I have a postcard. They left Hilo, and….were gone.
And that’s it. You’re probably wanting more details. Well there fucking aren’t any. And the reason I’m writing about this in 2011 is that I still think of them so goddamned often. I hate it. What the parents of children who are abducted must go through I can’t imagine, but it’s the not knowing that gets you. My sister died. There was a body. It hurt like hell and gutted me and sent me into an icy shock I thought I’d never come out of, but there was a body. Cold skin, pulseless throat, blue lips, gone. An empty vessel. And as a result of that, somewhere in the midst of the fetal-position silent scream of pain, unbeknownst to you, a tiny, tiny sprout is unfurling and seeking the light, and starting you down the road to healing and wellness. Grieving the way we need to grieve to survive.
But the real bitch about Court and Chris is that there’s hope. And hope is a motherfucker. I realized tonight, while toasting a crumpet, with a jarring shock, that I was disappointed they weren’t home yet. That some tiny, irrational piece of me that won’t be reasoned with and is insisting on having faith in the face of NO PROOF OF DEATH, has been quietly hoping and praying and finger-crossing.
And that’s the thing of it. I try so hard to understand the ocean. To really, truly, conceive of how large it is. But I can’t. I take ferries constantly, I’ve grown up on the ocean, but I have never been so far out that I couldn’t see land on at least one side of me in the distance. So I don’t think I really have any concept of the enormity of it. Which is maybe why part of me is stubbornly hanging on to the idea that if they were dead, we’d have heard something by now. A body. A piece of the boat. The whole boat. Something. Surely something. But I’m an idiot. It isn’t just giant beyond my comprehension, it also has depth. Fathoms and fathoms and metres and scary metres of depth, down to the dark waters where the terrifying, prehistoric-looking underbite fish live. Down so far your ears could explode, you could go crazy, don’t even take the bathysphere. The ocean wins at being gigantic.
Plenty of room to hide one small boat, only 30 feet, with two small people the world loves and misses. With room leftover to taunt us by keeping them hidden.
I had a dream once that I was at the beach and found Court and Chris floating about 100 feet from shore. Thank God! they cried when I reached them in a rowboat. They had for some reason been unable to make it the last bit of the way to shore, and for some reason been unable to swim and nobody had seen or heard them calling for help. They had been surviving for weeks on Nutri-grain bars, whose wrappers carpeted the bottom of their boat. I was so happy I cried and cried.
What a stupid fucking dream. What a giant, monstrously massive fucking ocean.
I miss her so, so much sometimes.