The Communication Breakdown is part three of The Diary of a POCF, a limited series written in honor of the Partners of Commercial Fishermen preparing to send or have sent off their loved ones. The following was written in the summer of 2021, yet still relatable today.
Diary of a POCF Chp 3: The Communication Breakdown
Around the two-week mark, just as I’m living my best secret life, the novelty of “being single” wears off, and I miss hanging out with Chris. Sure, I love him. But liking your partner is a different thing. I can name a few people I love but absolutely do not enjoy being around. (I guess anyone with extended family can relate.😆)
Even so, I freakin miss him! And this year hit harder. Maybe since we just got married and the newlywed vibe is best lived in a pair. But, according to other POCFs, emotions wave no matter how long you’re in the game. And that’s precisely why I visit friends each summer. New places, girl time, and remote working is my distraction from feeling blue. And although this plan works for a while, sadness looms.
Usually, hanging with friends or wandering new towns keep me lifted. But on the Fourth this year, I lounged in a lawn chair and zoned out to Instagram while everyone else played bocce. It seems my self-care routine took a different route, and stepping back from the crowd was the ointment I needed for a tender heart…
That wasn’t the only time I bowed out, either. While at a bar with friends and drunk patrons all around screaming Oasis’s Wonderwall, I belted out the chorus while yearning to go home and be alone. “If I leave, can we still be friends?” I asked my friend. “I’ll be the DD!” She laughed it off as a best friend would then handed over the keys. “Thanks for understanding!” I said, leaning in for a hug. “I don’t know what’s up. It’s just where I am right now.”
Recent calls with Chris may have prompted my funk.
We talked as they left the harbor, and before we hung up he said, “We’re going to the ‘Nush.” Dun dun duuunnnn! From what I understand, the Nushagak River is super remote, which means no phone reception and, in my head, looks like a scene from Game of Thrones. My heart jumped a few ticks, but Chris was excited to get out there. So, as a supportive POCF, I stifled my worries and cheered him on, a silent prayer slipping my lips.
Days later, he called, and I could tell something was up. “The weather is shitty, the seas are rough, and fish aren’t showing up,” he said. He was short, blunt, and matter-of-fact. It seems the newness of Bristol Bay wore off, and I’m reminded that every summer that, although it starts out slow, the fish show up. (Not trying to jinx it.) Needless to say, this mood-altering chat drug our conversation a bit. So I went into recovery mode, spouting encouraging words to make it better. “Maybe the weather is stirring up the fish?!” and “The fish will come; they always do!” Silence on the other end meant I wasn’t helping. I can’t “fix” a problem from four thousand miles away, and I can’t control what I can’t control. (Why is this so hard for me to remember?) Realizing he just needed someone to listen, I figured “I’m sorry you’re going through this” was the best I could do.
I change the subject, which was a struggle. A trick recommended by other POCFs is to take notes, so when your fisherman calls so, you’ll be ready with all kinds of random info to share to take their mind off the season. (Anything other than a serious couple conversation, that is.) Unprepared this time, I stumbled through my words, making an uneventful day seem interesting. I blathered about my deadlines, a possible sublet for us during the spiny lobster season in California, and what we’ll do in the first 48 hours he’s back. (i.e. I made him agree not to work.)
I felt weird and uncomfortable when we hung up, and my emotions were validated with a later text: Chris apologized for sounding down – the shitty weather was getting to him, he wished he was home, and as for Bristol Bay? He’s kinda over it. I thanked him for explaining and reassured him that I’ll always be his sounding board. His text kind of saved me from going down a hole. Because for a minute there, I thought it was me.
Of course, on the next call, the script is flipped. The fish arrived (thank God!), and it looks like they’ll get the poundage they need to “get the fuck outta here.” I heave a sigh of relief and immediately want to take a nap. To empathize with a fisherman is emotionally draining. You know the saying, “Happy wife, happy life?” Well, during a hard season, it leans toward “happy fisherman, happy life,” which kind of makes my eyes roll, but it seems to be true – of course, we’ve got to look out for number one (ourselves), but the thought of our partners struggling mentally, emotionally, and physically on rough seas makes the world feel off.
I tried explaining the emotional toll of loving a fisherman to a few mom friends, and one replied, “That sounds like childbirth! You forget about how awful it is until you do it, then you wonder why you put yourself through it again.” In a way, she kind of nails it. As survivors of high-stress moments, we prepare for the “next time” by forgetting the emotional pain’s intensity ahead and remembering only the good.
Today, I’m on emo cruise control. Chris is fishing where he can text “every twenty-four hours,” but know it won’t happen. Even though he has cell service, it’s the peak of the season. He’s fishing his nuts off and won’t have many breaks.
Until Chris returns, I try to forgive myself for missing a call or two and cherish each message. His texts feel like surprise love notes when they come in, his words weighing more from Alaska than when we’re in the same town. I can’t believe three weeks have passed since he left, and we have…wait…only three weeks to go?! Holy crap, I have a long to-do list before he gets home; deadlines, house projects, friends coming to town, weeding the garden… The gears have shifted once again. Here we freakin’ go. 🐟
What is your biggest communication challenge? Have you experienced any something like this? Please share in the comments below!
Enjoy these Helpful Posts for Long-Distance Dating a Commercial Fisherman!
- When you don’t hear from them: here
- When you’re doubting your long-distance relationship: here
- When the satellite phone cuts out when a conversation doesn’t end well: here
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Featured image by Simran Sood