When my mother told me, I felt a lump rise in my throat.
Why would he do such a thing? I thought. He loved her.
“She” was Betty Boop, my dad’s beautiful little sailboat, all white with blue lines and teak trim. My father bought her when I was six-years-old, right before we moved across country from California. The plan for the move was to spend a winter near my mother’s family in Pennsylvania and then, in the spring, move all of us to the coast of Virginia where my dad would put Betty in the water and we would become a sailing family.
But as the winter months passed in the mountains of Pennsylvania and spring began to bloom, my parents realized: they couldn’t move. We kids trumped Betty, and we loved Pennsylvania and her woods and streams and wildness. Not only that, but we were surrounded by family there. And we all know: family needs family.
So we didn’t move to Virginia. We bought the home we were renting, and we kids spent our childhood days mapping trails and building forts and eating teaberries and wild grapes. Betty was quietly and carefully backed into a corner of our driveway because my dad didn’t have anywhere else to put her—and there she sat.
Not that she was always in the driveway. Periodically she was set free in the Chesapeake Bay. I remember sitting on Betty’s deck, my body at an angle that I was certain wasn’t normal for a leisurely sail, my knuckles white as she raced around the Bay, my dad laughing and shouting through the spray, “Isn’t this great?”
But, more often than not, Betty patiently lay in the boat trailer in the driveway, surrounded by the Appalachian woods, waiting demurely for her next adventure. She boasted of having more sleepover parties under her belt (“Dad, can we sleep in the boat?”) than sailing parties. She knew so many of our secrets and never made a peep. What a good friend she was.
And then I left home. And I never sailed on her again. I heard stories of her being slowly and painstakingly refurbished by my father’s hand, but it wasn’t until the last time I was home, 23 years after I had moved out, that I saw her once again, silently poised in the same spot she always stood when I was a kid. She was looking rather worn and tired. A bit gray and sad. But she was still there. Ready and waiting to fulfill my father’s dream of life on the water.
Now she is at the dump.
I have to say: the mental picture of her lying on her keel in the middle of a landfill makes my heart sink. Frankly, I’ve been a little upset. But my emotions have stirred quite a bit of thought about why my dad did what he did, and I think—thanks to him—I’ve been taught a life lesson about dreams.
We’ve all heard more dream quotes than most of us can muster: “Dream big!” “Hold on to your dreams.” “Follow your dreams.”
But no one ever tells us that it’s okay to give them up.
Dreams have a life of their own. They don’t always play out the way we want them to. Sometimes they don’t play out at all. And while we are constantly reminded about how laudable it is to work and sweat and strain and strive to make them come true, it is a reality that sometimes the journey of the chase changes a dream. One day we suddenly find that we are no longer the heroic pursuer of a lofty goal but instead a shrinking soul fleeing a looming, unrecognizable beast.
A beast that is no longer our dream. It’s a monster.
What do we do with such a transformation? I’ve not seen many warm and fuzzy sayings about that one any time lately.
As for my dad, he mustered up the crazy amount of courage he needed to kill it.
I find that laudable. Admitting that that thing you’ve been chasing your entire life is—honestly, really—NOT what you want anymore?? Dear God. That takes incredible amounts of reflection, a hefty dose of humility, and guts of steel to stand face-to-face with your creation and finally lay it to rest.
My father is not an emotional man. At least not in the weepy kind of way. But I have to imagine that he shed a private tear or two with Betty. He did love her. But she was not the dream; she was simply inextricably wrapped into it. She was the figurehead that bore the brunt of the storm, the lady that the sailor loved but had to let go down with the ship.
I am proud that my father was able to be so self-aware and so humble to make the decision to let Betty go. The life he had wanted that demanded for her was no longer the life he wanted to strive for. The yearning might have still been there but not in the way that he had had years and years before.
And so, with my mother out of town and his thoughts to himself, my father and Betty said good-bye to the dream they once shared and then went for one last drive alone—not to the Chesapeake, but slowly and quietly along the back roads of Pennsylvania to the town dump, the now decrepit trailer moaning and straining to stay together for one last ride, Betty proudly hiding her mouldering insides with her still full and graceful bow.