Copyright © 2013 by Larry M. Edwards. All rights reserved. No part of this work excerpt may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Sunday, February 26, 1978
Midnight approached as the Boeing 747 lifted off from Los
Angeles International Airport. I had dozed only a few hours over the previous
two days, yet sleep eluded me still. In the darkened cabin, I reread the
letters my parents had sent from the Marquesas Islands, where they spent the
final two months of their lives. Through their terse words, they lived again.
The voyage from San Diego—two thousand eight hundred
seventy-five miles across the open ocean—had taken nearly a month. Some days
had been fun, others downright miserable. They suffered from seasickness and
equipment problems; they had to motor through the doldrums. At one point they
rode out a squall packing fifty-knot gusts. But the legendary trade winds lived
up to their centuries of renown:
We arrived on Wed., Dec. 14, after 27 days. The island was right where Gary said it would be. . . . The trades are fantastic! Set the sails and did not touch them for five days. . . . Warm rain, it just felt good to stand in it and get rinsed off. . . .
We caught two fish on the whole trip. Both the last day. A small albacore and
42" mahi mahi. Beautiful fish and good eating. Lori likes fish now.
The islanders had welcomed my parents and offered fresh
bananas, pamplemousse (a variety of grapefruit), coconuts, and wood carvings in
exchange for music tapes, Playboy magazines, and .22-caliber bullets.
The islanders also invited the Spellbound crew to a wedding feast:
What a celebration. They have a roofed-over area about 150
feet long. Pits to cook food in, racks above ground to cook meat. They served
beer, wine, punch. The guests were playing guitars and singing when we got
there. I wish I’d recorded it. Then they stopped and the rock band with big
Wish you would have come.
Had I made a mistake by not going? Pangs of envy needled
within. The Marquesas, a sprawling group of volcanic islands some two thousand
miles southeast of Hawaii, seemed to be an earthly Elysium. But could I have
prevented my parents’ deaths? Could anyone have?
In another letter, they wrote:
The mayor of Nuka Hiva let us use a pavilion Christmas day
and we had a potluck with all the other boaters. Boats from England, Holland,
Australia, 2 Canadian, Panamanian and 3 American.
The Monday after Christmas we took 26 people to the north
side of the island. Four boats took part in the operation. Eighty people in
all. They gave us a feast, and we all stayed overnight with them.
New Year’s Eve we went to see a woodcarver and his wife and
had dinner with them. They fed us lobster, raw fish, fruit salad and a cooked
banana dish. Mom ordered some things, so we may never leave.
As I returned the letter to its envelope, a group of
giggling children paraded up the aisle in a game of follow the leader.
How can you laugh? My parents have just died.
Yet, their smiles and laughter evoked memories of my own childhood,
of carefree days exploring the woods that surrounded my family’s home in
semirural Juanita, northeast of Seattle: Playing naked in the ravine behind our
house with Gary and boyhood friends as we reenacted Lord of the Flies;
deer hunting with Dad; swimming at Aunt Betty’s beach; Dad’s laughable first
attempt at sailing the dinghy he had built.
I yearned for those days. Of course, they weren’t all
My biological mother—Birth Woman, I call her—abandoned my
father, brother, and me when I was four, Gary three. In the years that
followed, images of her leaving haunted me: Birth Woman slams out of the house,
vaporous memories ghosting through the mind, teasing clarity, then bowing to
obscurity: Pouting, shouting parent . . . swinging skillet . . . swirling skirt . . . rattling the windows of a little-boy mind as she spins through the door and slips from view, trailing family detritus in her hedonist wake.
Torment lay in words left unspoken, transmitted instead
through a look of disdain, a slam-banged door, her absence. The Little Boy
formed his worldview, his sense of Self, in those hate- and fate-filled Sprang
days—his toddling mind distorted, his life’s well poisoned. Betrayed by one he
loved. Betrayed by his own befuddled brain. Confusion leading to conclusion,
however irrational it may have been.
After she left, we never saw her much. But I sense her
leaving to this day as I stumble over a swayed mind-set, voice shrilled then
silenced by a constricted throat, companion to unembargoed tears. Her chaotic
exit triggered a rockslide that crushed my Self and left our family battered,
like a storm-tossed vessel at sea.
One night she stopped by the house, near my bedtime, wanting
to take Gary and me out for an ice-cream soda. Another pouting, shouting
Three months after the divorce became final, my
twenty-eight-year-old father married Joanne Howatson Peet (everyone called her
“Jody”), a twenty-two-year-old widow with two young daughters. Matchmaking
friends had paired them up at a New Year’s Eve party, and they embarked on a
Jody’s first husband had died on her twenty-first birthday,
following a car wreck. Struck by a drunk driver. She, six months pregnant with
Bobbie, emerged with a broken arm and multiple cuts that required more than one
hundred stitches. Nine-month-old Aileen suffered from a broken collarbone.
Gary and I met them on a wintry day at the house in Preston
where Jody lived with her parents. As Dad pulled into the driveway, I spotted a
small figure swaddled in a heavy coat standing near the front porch. I climbed
out of the car, and Dad urged me forward as the bundle of wool waddled toward
Dad kneeled and said, “This is Aileen. She’s going to be
Her eyes sparkled with curiosity. I smiled, pleased with the
notion of having a sister, yet wondering what it meant. Jody stood on the porch
and beckoned us into the small farmhouse.
As I stepped inside, the heat from the woodstove sucked the
breath out of me, and someone stripped off my coat. Gary pushed me from behind,
then ran toward the kitchen, shouting. My father went after him, and I stared
at the unfamiliar adult faces gazing down at me. A whiff of baking cookies
scented the air. Somewhere a baby cried.
When Dad married Jody that June, I was six, Gary five. Aileen
had not turned two, and Bobbie was six weeks shy of her first birthday. My
father formally adopted them shortly afterward. Kerry arrived a week before our
parents’ first wedding anniversary. For Gary and me, Jody became “Mom.” For Aileen
and Bobbie, Dad was the only father they ever knew. . . .
I blinked awake as the airplane’s cabin lights came on and we
began the descent to Tahiti. A flight attendant addressed the passengers in
French, reminding me that I was about to arrive in a foreign land. As
passengers raised the window shutters and the morning light streamed into the
cabin, I peered into an uncertain future.
What does it hold for my family? For me?