Rich completed his training and returned excited, confident, ready for his adventure. Apparently a course where you are thrown into a chilly lake to overturn a life raft and link with others as you swim to it is one that I should experience for myself. I feigned agreement. I don’t want to be thrown into a chilly lake.

As the days passed and his call-up didn’t come we both grew restless – not that we were eager to be rid of each other, but a challenge had been set and we had readied ourselves. Him for a journey and acclimatisation to sickening motion (the waves were the biggest they’ve been this year) and me for a return to solitude, now aboard our little vessel. Then one day I got a call, and by that evening I was kissing him goodbye in a place near my work before he drove to Aberdeen.

For several nights I didn’t sleep until just before I was supposed to wake. I wasn’t consciously worried, but I must have been, for both of us. I sometimes suffer with a sort of social anxiety and it emerged like a dog running amok when its owner is away. I keep it hidden, except for in overrevealing conversations with close friends who could never understand. “Oh, I’m having a terrible time with my anxiety” I’ll say, smiling, still maintaining the composure to not fall down and show them what it looks like. It’s a fake, but it can’t be anything else.

That got better, and I started to enjoy the freedom of my own company. Late late nights with miserable films and American comedies, not bothering to cook because there’s nobody to cook for, making and doing in my own time. Rich emailed when he could and I was relieved to know he’s okay, doing what he wants to do, finding his way around this new part of his life and not throwing up. He called a couple of nights ago when the boat was in Aberdeen and we chatted merrily.

Maintaining Gwen is easier than I imagined. I already did a lot of the firemaking and admin crap and emptying buckets is not so bad. The other day I went to empty the fire bucket and mistimed it with the wind. If you’ve ever seen the Big Lebowski, it was like Donnie’s funeral – clean clothes ruined with ash. I laughed. But tonight emptying it was beautiful – hot coals falling and fizzing in the water as the wind blew sci-fi noises across the old paint can’s edge. I like myself when I feel this sort of joy in doing something.

Rich hoped that him going away would give me a chance to make Gwen feel more ‘mine’, and I think it’s done that. It’s also given me a chance to connect more with the community, and at the same time a brilliant escape from it. But in truth, Gwen isn’t mine, and she isn’t quite complete without him here to tell me I’m being silly and everything’s okay, to tell me it’s time to go to bed (it’s 4am now) and to hold and scheme away the evenings with until she sails.


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