It all started with the rainbow. The rainbow appeared after a thunderstorm the first night out on a Tartan 27 Cruise. James was the first to notice the thunderhead looming like a black billowing mushroom low on the horizon and moving rapidly toward twelve sailboats lashed lazily together.
The crews had climbed clumsily over lifelines from one boat to another precariously balancing trays of shrimp dip or sweet and sour chicken wings in one hand while carrying a tall drink of the alcohol of their choice in the other to the cockpit of the anchor boat in the middle. The sun was over the yardarm and it was happy hour.
“Break the raft!” James commanded preemptively. He spoke with the sharp assurance of the commander he had been in World War II, and everyone rushed without question to comply. Heavy winds of a thunderstorm could bash their masts together like matchsticks in a log jam.
Skippers bee-lined for their motors and soon had them humming up and down the line. First-mates, less agile over life-lines, headed for the bows of their boats where they listened for commands to throw off connecting lines. These must be captured and contained. A loose line tangled in a turning propeller would render the boat helpless. With shouts and yells screaming over the resonate clanking of the rigging, the boats peeled off the raft on both sides, one by one until the anchor boat in the center lay alone.
After Aquarius peeled off, I freed the anchor from the bong chords which secured it on the foredeck, pulled some of the anchor line through the deck fitting from its storage area in the anchor locker below, threaded it properly through the cleat on the rub rail and crouched nearby, ready to heave the anchor overboard on command.
The boats circled wildly around the small bay to find spots to anchor far enough from one another that they would not collide on the swings they would make back and forth on their mud-bound anchors. They would each need long anchor lines to make sure the anchor would dig deeper in the mud with each thrust of the wind during the coming storm.
Jonah was uptight as usual in an emergency. With his unreasonable fears galloping through his head, he got so far from the other boats that he chose a spot too close to shore. “If the wind shifts after the storm,” I reasoned, “We’ll be on the ground for sure.” I said nothing, however. I knew that if we went aground there were plenty of Tartan sailors around to pull us off, and the bottom is only mud.
The anchor plopped loudly into the water as I heaved it overboard. Jonah reversed the motor to set the anchor, and I headed to the cabin as soon as the boat started to swing, a sign that the boat was secure. The temperature was already dropping even though the rain had not started.
I thought about Jonas. The last two months of his life which I had spent with him were the worst and the best two years of my life. Watching the slow wasting away procrss involved in an AIDS death required all the moral stamina I could muster. I knew, though, that my love was a sustaining force that brought us so close together that Jonas was able to die with a smile on his face. Now he is gone.
The storm was already upon us with the wind plastering my clothing against my body like a coat of paint as I faced into it. As the raindrops began to beat prickles on my skin, my spirits lowered with the temperature. The depression set in pushing into my gut like an eddy of emptiness grinding deeper into my being with nowhere to stop.
The storm was violent with rolls of thunder making arpeggios against the roar of the wind and the screaming rigging clanking against the steel mast. As the rain increased, the smell of freshness filled the air until the rain became so heavy it was almost hard to breathe. The greatest violence, though, was Aquarius leaping back and forth through the water as she repeatedly reached the end of her tether only to return again. Jonah came below deck to anchor his position with his back against the bulwark and his feet securely placed against a sturdy table leg across the sole.
I seethed inside as violently as the boat writhed outside. Why did I have to live? My duty was done. Jonas was gone, wrapped tenderly in the arms of God. I no longer needed to live.
The thunder cracked and the boat hit a wave that gave it an extra heave. I braced myself by clinging to the forward hatch. Suddenly I could no longer hear the storm. I was in a strange place. I felt my head bumping into something soft yet firm. When I looked down I saw black butterflies falling to the ground, dead. Then I heard the scream. It was soft at first gathering strength as others joined. When it became so strong I could no longer stand it, I screamed, “Help me!
Jonas was there, laughing. “When you’ve seen one, you’ve have seen them all.”
Slowly I came back to the now, and realized that the storm had abated. In a few moments it was gone altogether, as swiftly as it had come. I opened the forward hatch cover and stood on the bunk below so I could get a rounded view of the situation. Tartans were bobbing gently all around the small bay with sunlight shimmering on the quieting waters. Then I saw it. Clear across the sky from which the storm had come, I saw the rainbow!
Entranced, I climbed through the hatch and stood on the bow of the boat so I could better see its wonder. It stretched in double glory clear across the sky from one horizon to another. The rainbows were in a mirror image with the red in the center, spreading from the warmest to the coolest on the outer fringes of each arc. Each hue claimed its bright space, yet faded blissfully into its neighbor so the full majesty of the spectrum could unfold. Two pots of gold would be needed to accommodate to this rainbow because each arc survived to its horizon. The very first rainbow could not have been so magnificent.
I stood with my legs apart and my hand on the jib mainstay to steady myself on the still bobbing boat. The fresh washed air after the rain smell invaded my nostrils while the cool air from the temperature drop enveloped my skin. For the first time since I could remember, I felt good. The depression was gone! Rainbows were for promises, and this rainbow was for me! I would live again!
“This is a signal from the unobstructed universe,” I thought. “The Power that created the earth and this rainbow is speaking to me through Jonas. I will now begin to find a life that will be more than endurance. My first years were spent serving my mother. My last years I spent serving my family. Now they no longer need me and I am free to serve myself!”
The scream of the butterfly had faded under the thrill of the message of the rainbow. Now Jonas placed me gently in a birchbark canoe to carry me through muddy waters.
This series begins with Scream of the Butterfly.
Next: Scream of the Butterfly 5.