I guess you could say I live a Bohemian lifestyle, and have since I moved to the mainland. I live on wheels, in a little retro (and retro-fitted) RV trailer that’s “cute” to people who don’t live in RVs, and an “eyesore” to RVers who drive their million-dollar buses around the country at five miles to the gallon. I’ve been told my Land Cruiser isn’t a real towing vehicle, but I say she does just fine pulling Holly (with which name I’ve christened the turquoise trailer—a bastardization of the Hawaiian “hale” for “home.”) I got a turquoise paint job on the Land Cruiser to match her, and have been adding detail to both with my own brushes as I go.
Holly doesn’t have a lot of room for living, most of her limited space being devoted to my art studio and instruments. Thank goodness for the invention of e-books, or my library would never fit. And thank goodness for cellular hotspots and digital media, which allow me to market and sell my art without remaining at any fixed address. I prefer “boondocking” (camping without electrical or water hook-ups) rather than parking in the RV rows of established campgrounds, and Holly’s solar panels usually serve to keep my phone and tablets charged, and myself in business. Still, I’ll regularly pay the storage fees to park securely while I fly home to visit Tutu Ma and recharge my own batteries with some island time.
And that’s what I did after my weeks of detective work in New Bedford, uncovering everything I could get my hands on, wheedling and cajoling even for records that aren’t usually in the public domain. I followed one clue to the next, like my arrival in New Bedford aboard Westphalia from New York, which led me backward to my unprepossessing (apparent) arrival in 1841 New York City, the manure-cart incident that got a mention in the paper and gave me a date to work with. (I wasn’t sure but what I’d have to jump into a manure cart on purpose to get that mention… But I’d do it if that’s what was needed.)
And I’d worked forward from that same point to find as much material as I could—more of it touching on my husband than myself, but all of it relevant. I had photocopies of ledgers from the owners of the ship on which he was master, detailing the business transactions related to his voyages. And that’s where I’d found the first New Bedford mention of my own name, listed as an agent of the underwriter arrived from New York. So that was how I would insinuate myself into his notice—I’d just have to assume that my role as an imposter wouldn’t be (hadn’t been) uncovered while it still mattered. I wouldn’t be making material decisions, surely—just posing as a sort of inspector.
I had the parish records of my marriage to Obadiah not long after my arrival, and baptisms of the girls between his voyages. I didn’t yet know their birth dates, just guesses at the years. Mallory and Katherine had been christened together in 1845, Mallory being noted as “three yeare old” at the time. I speculated that the girls would arrive at sea—another daunting prospect for me, who had never delivered a child or even been around a newly-delivered mother. But Elizabeth would arrive at home, and at least her birth date in March of 1848 was recorded in the parish register with her baptism.
I had the contents of one ship’s log as well, perused under close supervision by its current owner, a descendent of the Coffins who had owned Obedience—and therefore the legal document that was her log. I rather wished it were a log from the first voyage I’d take with him, not only to confirm that I would join him from the get-go, but also because I thought it most likely that at least one of the girls’ births might have been recorded there, if only the record had survived. Still, I could maybe make use of the knowledge of the unusual business dealings Obadiah would undertake on the California coast. Maybe I would be the reason he undertook them.
I found myself frequently entangled in questions of choice and “predestination,” which is not something I’d have said I believed in. Still, the fact that I would go into some situations (not least of those, the Time-Travel itself) already knowing the outcome must necessarily affect decisions I would make. So did I have free will in this? It’s one of many topics I wanted to be able to talk over with my grandmother. There wasn’t another soul I could share this with, and I felt lonely for the first time in my little trailer. (Maybe I needed a cat. You can say anything to a cat. No, then I’d be abandoning a cat—that wouldn’t do.)
I love that moment when the airplane door opens and you can smell the island, the rainforest rushing in to the plane as the canned recycled air whooshes out the airlocks. Tutu Ma met me at the Hilo airport with a maile lei and kisses, as she always does when I return home. Not the gaudy tourist leis, but waxy dark green leaves with plumerias from her own trees woven in. I swung my carry-on into the back seat of her little Suzuki Samurai and she merged into town traffic and headed straight to Zippy’s drive-in for a curry katsu plate lunch. I didn’t need to ask—island food was always our first stop when I came off a plane. She waited until I’d cleaned up the last of the mac salad and rice before she held out her hand for my phone.
“Let me see that picture, keiki. Tell me what you’ve been finding.” I pulled up my best shot of the museum photo and handed over my iPhone. Tutu enlarged the view of my face, ignoring Obadiah for the moment, and gazed for several long minutes while I fiddled with my empty fork.
“It’s you all right. Even got that scarring over your eye.” My hand rose involuntarily to my forehead where an outcropping of coral had left its mark in a surfing spill. “And yes, that’s your name-Sign, no way that would be accidental.” Her eyes refocused from the screen to my living face, considering. Her tone told me she was simply confirming what she had already believed from me, and my sudden surge of gratitude caught me off guard.
“I’m sure you’ve already constructed a timeline of what you know”—my almost-guilty start raised a smile from her, who knows me so well—“but I want to know how you feel about all this.” Her hands spread as if to encompass two centuries, and a life that would span them both. “I doubt your lists cover that.”
Trust to Tutu to get right to the heart of the matter. I pointed my plastic fork at her. “I’m excited. And worried, and bewildered, and overwhelmed. I know more about my future than anyone else, and I don’t know nearly enough. But there’s also this… opportunity… of eight years where I can experience an outrageous adventure and know I’m coming out the other end of it. Or at least until the end of it.”
“And what about the other end? What do you know there?”
“I’ll be—I was—reported as a loss overboard during an electrical disturbance, St. Elmo’s Fire in the rigging. But what else would they say if I just disappeared? Of course they’d assume ‘overboard.’ It’s going to happen—it happened—in the Bermuda triangle, and on the summer Solstice, in case either of those things are factors. I just don’t know, though. I think I’m going to time-travel to 1841, and I think I’m going to time-travel out of that time exactly eight years later. But how that works…” I shrugged, and felt the frustration on my face. “I don’t know how it works. I’m planning to be prepared next July 21, though, and in the same place where I’ll land. I mean—if it’s going to happen, maybe it happens regardless of where I am, I don’t know. But it’s what I can think of.”
We had discarded our styrofoam plates and climbed back into the Suzuki, headed up the hill to her house with its ginger flowers and birds of paradise and bougainvillea and stubby banana trees.
“Okay. What does your ‘prepared’ list include?”
“I worried that nothing would Travel with me, but I think it would have merited more mention in the New York paper if I’d stumbled naked into a manure cart, so I’m operating on the assumption that what I’m wearing will transfer with me, presumably whatever’s in my pockets or on my person.” Tutu nodded, wheeling the car into her cracked driveway.
“So… I’ll need some funds, so I’m thinking gold jewelry I can sell in New York. And clothing that won’t weird people out when I arrive—though I’ll make a sight at this end, no question. That’s okay, weirder things happen in New York City. Maybe we can make something like a cloak that would look like it fits in, but with a rubber lining hidden in for waterproofing. And some underwear with elastic!” I grinned. “I’m going to miss elastic. But seriously, a corset kind of thing that’s not whalebone and cinched laces. And more seriously…” I hefted my carry-on out of the back seat. “More seriously, there’s this issue of disappearing off a ship in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, and if I’m right that I’ll transfer to the same geographical spot in a different time—well, that poses a serious problem.”
She was nodding, already thinking ahead of me. “Well, here’s one thing. I’ll know what date you ‘disappear’ from here, and we already know what date you show up there, so whenever you do go, I’ll know a little more about the mechanism. I mean, if you leave on June 21 of this next year—and show up on June 21 of that year, I’d guess the same would work in reverse at the other end.”
“So… What? You’ll be expecting me back on June 21 eight years later?”
“Exactly.” She nodded once, decisively. “And for that, we can plan.”
For weeks now I had been taking particular notice of the modern luxuries I’d be living without. Indoor light at the touch of a switch, potable water (hot if I wanted it) at the twist of a handle, refrigerated food, the spice aisle in the grocery store, my memory-foam pillow, the microwave and washing machine, my oh-so-comfortable Skecher shoes… Even little things, like Ziploc bags, toilet paper, toothpaste, sunscreen, chapstick, my Leatherman multi-tool, credit cards, the Glock pistol in my purse, spiral notebooks and ballpoint pens, a lime slice in a Corona…
And more than anything, my iPhone. I don’t consider myself a huge social-media junkie, but I do leverage social networking in marketing my art, and spend more time than I’d like to admit on Facebook and Twitter and working on my website and blog. Aside from the art itself, it’s what I do with myself. And I read a lot—I’ve got a few thousand books stored on my iPad, and can’t imagine a life where a book is a rarity. If I thought it was tough quitting smoking, I can’t quite imagine going “cold turkey” off my phone and iPad. Yet I know that will be the least of it.
I won’t even have the relative luxuries of a home ashore, let alone the luxuries of my twenty-first century version. I’ll be exposed to the elements without even the protection of fleece fabrics or Gore-Tex or my waterproofed hiking boots. Wool (and it won’t my SmartWool socks—though I guess I could wear a pair of those) and treated oilcloth is as good as it will get. Obviously it’s survivable—thousands of sailors lived with what they had—but it’s not going to be comfortable, by any stretch of imagination. Especially given what I’ve been used to. Boondocking in a trailer doesn’t come close—I still have electricity, and running water from my tanks, and a TempurPedic mattress, my iPod and earphones, and all the available consumer offerings of Amazon, or whatever WalMart is near.
What a contrast, to stock a hundred-foot ship for two years at a time for thirty people.
Tutu Ma’s coffee table lay buried in lists and photocopied documents detailing the history that would be my future. As much as anything, I wished I could know more about the character of this man I would be following to sea, but a ship’s log doesn’t read like a journal, and doesn’t shed much light on the personal characteristics of the men who are mentioned. I wasn’t mentioned often—I wondered if the mate objected to me, or if I just weren’t worth mentioning officially—but it still gave me an adrenaline rush to see my own name in the faded ink of the ship’s roll. Every mention of me thereafter was simply as “the Captain’s wife,” and there were few enough of those.
One of my lists comprised “things to research” before next July. I was waiting on an Amazon delivery of a box of books, covering topics ranging from whaling ships to the California gold rush to historic sailing charts to linguistic shifts in American speech to home births. I wouldn’t be returning to the mainland with only a carry-on, that much was sure.
I vacillated between feeling determined and in control (I could prepare myself and research the heck out of this situation!) and feeling absolutely at a loss (how could I even be contemplating this undertaking, and could I get out of it after all?). When my mood swung in the latter direction, I would go out to Tutu’s garage and fire up my motorcycle. Add that to the list of things I’d miss: speed. Somehow things seem simpler on the road, where all you have is the next curve ahead of you. And ultimately, that’s the approach I resolved to take toward my upcoming “adventure.” Sure, I’d do all the research-legwork I could think of (like studying a road map ahead of a trip), but ultimately the best approach would be to just take what came at me. If I could keep myself in that headspace, this thing might be manageable.
I sometimes wished I could take Tutu Ma—and for that matter, the motorcycle—back to the mainland with me. Both helped my mental clarity, and I was especially grateful for Tutu’s practical approach and quiet confidence. We might have been planning a camping trip for all the turmoil she showed. Though she did have a discomfiting tendency to ask probing and perceptive questions about my feelings. I do better in the realm of thought-and-action; feelings have never been my forte. Our regular exchange included my frustration that “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel,” and her response that “feelings don’t come with ‘supposed-tos’ attached.” It wasn’t far off the conversations we’d had during the turmoil of my divorce—though at least there are books about how to deal with that. I wasn’t wasting my time on time-travel fiction to sort out my feelings about this.
Give me the tangible over the emotional any day. And so I kept doggedly on with timelines and lists and maps and diagrams and facts. As many facts as I could lay my eyes on. I even island-hopped to Lahaina to visit the whaling museum and dig around in that historic whaling port. And I got a start at my cover-up-lying at the museum there. My name and my art aren’t unknown among locals, and I told the curator that I’m taking on a series of illustrations of whaling and whaleships. She spent nearly four hours with me, going over the oversized scale model of a whaleship, talking about the parts of the ship itself and various aspects of life aboard her. I almost bypassed the famous scrimshaw exhibit, focused as I was on “practical” matters, but an intricate carving the length of a whale rib caught my eye. Another two hours later, I emerged into late-afternoon sunlight with my mind full of sailors’ own images of their lives.
Once again I didn’t know how to feel, but as I told Tutu on the phone that evening, I was definitely “having feelings.” I know my disgruntled tone sounded as if I were telling her I was having symptoms of some distasteful disease, but those scrimshaw images had raised emotions that no number of “facts”—or even prospective discomforts—had engendered. Maybe that’s what art does for me, when I’m trying to process everything through my brain instead of through my heart.
I hadn’t tried my hand at carving since college classes, sticking pretty religiously to my pencils and brushes, but now I got back on Amazon to add another order, this time a selection of potential scrimshander’s tools. Maybe I’d hit my limit on preparations and wanted to put my hands to something now. Yeah, art is definitely how I process emotion.
It was a couple nights before my return-ticket to the mainland that Tutu sat for most of an hour without words, watching me scratch away at a cross-section of antler with a pointed scribing tool. I was working my way through her features, mostly from memory but occasionally glancing up at her. It’s not just my affection that makes her lovely; I’ve often wished I got more than a quarter of my genes from her. (Well, that and a fraction more. One-fourth plus 1/1,024th, if I had my math right, given that she’s in my family tree twice.)
Though I’d thought of it as carving, the scrimshaw actually lent itself to my existing skills for line-drawing. The etching involved is really a matter of drawing with a sharp instrument rather than a pencil, eventually rubbing ink into the etched lines to make them stand out. I’d mostly been doing the flowers from her garden, experimenting with colored inks the sailors didn’t have access to (some of them using tobacco or coal or other dark substances rather than ink at all) and overall pleased with the results. With departure looming, though, I’d sat down to do her face. She couldn’t yet see what I was working on, but sat as still as if she truly were sitting for a portrait.
“You’ve got this, girl,” she said suddenly, but softly. “If you can adapt your art to a different world, my doubts are erased.”
It was the first she’d mentioned of doubts, but I let that go. I had needed her projected certainty, and I’m sure she knew that from the get-go. It was just an opinion, this solidified certainty of hers, but it carried all the weight of a fact to my ears. And with solid ideas for my retrieval from the ocean on disappearance-day-plus-eight-years, I realized I was feeling strangely comfortable myself. I’d no doubt be terrified on June 21, but tonight I could handle the curve ahead of me.