merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

July 02, 2013

left behind

    I used to perform ultrasounds for a living and it so happened on one of these occasions I had the opportunity to scan a merchant mariner.  Of course we began to talk of that way of life, how long my husband was gone for as opposed to my patient's work schedule.  Eventually we got around to his family life and he mentioned that he always felt his wife and children had it the hardest when he went to sea.  When I asked why, he said that he was able to leave that life completely behind with little to nothing at work which would remind him of home, family, etc, but his wife and children lived with the memory of him every day as his footprint was all over the house.  He finished with "'s the wives who have it the hardest because they've been left behind."
    That conversation stayed with me for the rest of the day and those two words, 'left behind', lingered for more than a couple of weeks, triggering a surprising bit of anger in me.  Is that how Beady sees me, is that how my family and friends think of me?  Am I left behind like a comfortable sweater or a favorite book that one is assured to be reunited with in the future?  Or am I an object to be pitied and worried over by others until my mariner returns? And how does one even behave who's been left behind?  I mean the phrase clearly implies I should be upset and/or depressed by the lack of control I had in his decision to leave, right?  'No, No, No!', I thought vehemently while listing each and every reason as to how I was in no way, shape, or form a victim of my circumstances.  As my list grew longer, I began to calm down then wondered, 'What the hell am I so angry about?'   
    And it hit me, a story my mother once told me a while back about a merchant mariner get together she'd attended at the beginning of her marriage to Big Daddy Mitchell.  It was the 70's and a typical party where the men scattered to the garage leaving the women to chat in the kitchen.  As they went around the room introducing themselves, each woman gave her name, number of kids, and what they did for a living.  Most were stay-at-home moms, a few worked outside of the house, and then there was "That Woman" as she would forever come to be known in my life.  After revealing her name, her no-children status, and how long her husband sailed out for each time she simply stopped talking, so one of the ladies asked her what she did for work.  "Oh, I don't work...I just wander from room to room until he comes home" was her answer and my mother tells me the house went silent, one of those really awkward, eerie silences because no one could believe she had said it or that she was even serious.  It turns out she was serious and it turned out I despised her for it.  I thought she was weak, useless, even undeserving of her husband's sacrifice.      
    So for the next few weeks, as I digested the mariner's words about being left behind, I couldn't stop thinking about "That Woman" and feeling that this must be the type of person he was talking about because I just didn't see myself as being left behind.  Then I thought about all the times people had asked me how I managed when Beady "left me behind" and how my reaction was so dramatic...cringing, defensive, angry.  I remembered my obnoxiously proactive efforts to take a more narcissistic view of the situation in seeing Beady as the one moving in and out of my life rather than the other way around.  And my absolute obsession with not thinking of him in a way that would inhibit me when he leaves for sea, a way that might induce me to cease all important actions in my life until he returns.
    Now while these particular thoughts are healthy for keeping one's sanity in Merchant Mariner Land and I certainly stand by them to this day, the lengths I went to in the past to maintain these ideas were ridiculous at times in that I would deny my true feelings, lie even, all the while bristling at the idea of someone thinking I was left behind.  And why did I do that?  Why such a violent reaction to two tiny words, seemingly harmless?  Simple (although it took me years to realize it).  I did it because a little bit of "That Woman" lives inside of my heart, a very little bit, and my anger toward her was created out of fear...fear that I would become her, fear that I knew exactly what she meant when she uttered those words to a room full of strangers, and fear that others would judge me pathetic, just as I'd judged her, if I was negative in any way about my husband's absences.  
Fitting pic

     I certainly don't think of her in that way anymore, took a very long time to come to that, rather I feel sad for her, sad that she couldn't experience control of her own life at the time.  I definitely do feel as if Beady moves in and out of my life, rather than the other way around, but in a more settled and peaceful way and not out of fear.  And at the same time, I definitely feel as if I owe her a debt of gratitude for the gift of perspective.  For whenever I start to get really blue about Beady being away, I look in the mirror and say to myself, "Well at least I'm not wandering from room to room."       

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. I sometimes thought that I work to live when I was at sea. The life at home is the one I am living with the people I love. I didn't long to go back to work as I did to go home. I appreciated I was the one who needed to slot back into their lives upon my return. My non seafarering family.
    My life went on hold when I went to sea plans made around the trips but no one elses lives did. The ones that I left at home. But I dont feel like i left them truely the emails the letters and cards all seemed like little gestures to friends and family made me feel like I was sharing their lives while mine was on hold waiting to go back to them.
    I sometimes didn't feel like I left them at home but stepped out of their lives for months. My family being the most amazing people that they are let me step back in. The lives of those I left behind never went on hold. My son grew my family expanded and contracted. But when I stepped back in it definitely wasn't like putting back on a well worn sweater but like my real life beginning again.
    I am so glad that you see beadys stepping in and out of your life this way!

  2. I was 17 when I meet Dan. He had already been at sea for a few years and was just going from deck hand to AB. I stayed with him for a year. He was gone for 30 days and home for 15. Dan walked miles to call and if he was lucky called me from pay phone at the dock. I got love letters when he could send them. He always signed the letters the same way,"Love Dan, your tug-boat man." The phone conversations would be about everything and anything, we could talk and still can for hours. 30 days sometimes stretched into 45 to 60 one time it was over 60 and then home for only 15 days. Dan wanted to marry me. He wanted me to be there where he got home. I was 18 and wanted something more "Normal". Dan loved the sea and wanted to be in the wheelhouse. I was jealous of his boat. She got more of his attention than I did. What a fool I was, what a brat. I split with Dan leaving him wondering what he did wrong. Nothing Dan I didn't want to be "that lady". I have reconnected with him and regret the years we missed, the children we did not have together. Dan is in the wheelhouse now, 16 ton master licences and I am proud of him and ashamed of myself for not staying by his side. All the years I lost...what a fool I was, what a brat.

    1. Bridget, go easy on yourself! Imagine if you'd stayed with him how miserable you would've been? You weren't ready for it and it shows a truly sound mind to have stepped away from someone you love because you just weren't ready. I think you were very brave to do that, not a brat, not a fool. You were pretty smart! And now you appreciate him all the more...don't ever be ashamed! You have him now, that's what counts, and he has a happy Bridget, not a sad and angry one! ;)