The Goodbye

By Elizabeth Rose   |   September 9, 2021

“Diary of a Partner of a Commercial Fisherman” was inspired by Santa Barbara fish wife Margaret Holden Eaton who wrote Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island. Diary of a POCF is a limited series written while Jason fished sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in 2021. I hope to show the emotional journey of loving a fisherman — the uncertainties, frustrations, and joys — to give you a closer look at wild-caught seafood and the people behind each catch.

I have a confession: a few days after Jason and I got married, we slept in separate beds. I know how that sounds, but the thing is, we kind of enjoyed it. We desperately needed rest due to our major house project that we’ve (mainly Jason) has been working on in 90-degree heat. We figured a night or two apart might do the trick.

But while we renovate our 1912 Victorian bungalow — that has sat untouched since the last century — we are staying with my parents, and honestly, thank God! It’s been a dream to spend quality time at dinners with mom, dad, and Jason at the end of the day. Through days of sweaty work, this has kept us sane.

There’s just one thing: although the four-poster bed in my parents’ guest room is quite beautiful, we both toss and turn like breaching whales while we sleep, which makes for a very shaky night. I may even snore a little. I wake him up, he wakes me, and the cycle continues. That’s when sleeping separately came up. Exhausted though intrigued, we wondered if it was weird; we just got married after all. Then, we thought how terrible it would be if we didn’t get rest. The thought of future dumb arguments because we’re tired convinced us to try two nights.

I hate to say it, but the first night was a dream. To sleep well, then walk down the hall to cuddle with Jason seemed like we were on to something “progressive” that worked for us. Yet night two was different. Reaching across the bed to an empty pillow triggered that familiar longing I get when he leaves to commercially fish sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska. To try to describe the feeling, it’s as if my heart grows heavy yet hollow simultaneously. It just seems to float there, in the middle of my chest, detached. 

It dawned on me that in less than two weeks, he’ll be in Alaska. I lay awake asking, “How many weekends do we have left? What do I need to do to help him pack? I need to make a list of all his favorite treats to send in a care package. How soon should I send it?” I’m slightly relieved when I remember that Jason will only be gone six weeks instead of a six-month stretch we’ve done before. My eyelids droop as I plan another Fourth of July without him.

The thing is, we’ve done “the dance” of a commercial fishing couple for more than five years now, and you think I’d be used to it. But even if Jason is gone for an overnight at the Channel Islands, commercially fishing spiny lobster, or gone for months fishing sockeye in Alaska, each goodbye begins the same.

One month until launch, you avoid thinking about it.

Two weeks later, the heaviness creeps in.

It sometimes catches you off-guard when you’re driving with the windows down, singing a favorite song. Then the thought of him in rough seas with minimal sleep flashes through your mind and makes you quiet. You try not to think about what could go wrong, and at least once a day until he leaves, you tell him how much he’ll be missed.

To offset the blues, you think of the semi-bachelorette life that awaits, like long writing sessions, cereal for dinner and sprawling out like a starfish on the bed. (Alone time is the secret silver lining!) But that will come later. There are only nine days until Jason takes off, and I’m going to embrace our last moments in a wobbly four-poster bed. I’ll forget about the long, hot days and sleepless nights, and instead burn into memory how it feels to fall asleep with his hand holding mine.


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