I haven’t been in a canoe since I owned one, back when I was a married homeowner with a pickup truck, shotgun, and other accoutrements of New Hampshire domesticity that got jettisoned when my ex-husband and I downsized from a three-bedroom house in Hillsboro for a two-bedroom apartment in Keene. As the end of July approaches, it’s been almost three years since my ex-husband and I separated, which means I’ve been living in Keene without a canoe for four years: one year married, and three years on my own.
When my ex-husband and I bought our flat-bottomed canoe, it cost $500 from a sportsman’s store stocked with hunting and fishing gear, and the salesman waiting on us was flummoxed by our insistence that we wanted a canoe simply for floating on quiet rivers and still ponds. “You mean you won’t be fishing or hunting with it?” he asked incredulously. When my ex-husband and I sold our canoe, we all but gave it to a young couple who couldn’t believe the $50 price tag it bore the first day of our house-clearing garage sale. “Are you sure you want to sell it for so little?” the woman asked. “It’s so nice, and it looks like new.”
Truth be told, we used that canoe only a handful of times in the several years we owned it: once on a flat stretch of the Contoocook River in Antrim, and several times on a quiet, secluded pond in Henniker. Once, we’d canoed with Reggie; the other times, it was just the two of us trying to make a go of it in a vessel that stumped salesman at the sportsman’s store had called a “divorce boat,” the delicate, cooperative navigation of which stresses even the best partnerships. The memory of selling, cheaply, our “divorce boat” to a young couple who looked active, enthusiastic, and happy is something I’ve remembered fondly over the years: I’d like to think they took the time and care to take it out of the garage more than we did, and I’d like to think their relationship, unlike ours, has managed to stay afloat.
Today as a companion and I watched paddlers, singly and coupled alike, making a go of it on the Charles River in Newton, Massachusetts, I had no desire to try to prove myself (or test any relationship) by demonstrating my presumed prowess with canoe, pickup truck, shotgun, or any other accoutrement. If you and your partner are heading in different directions, or if you and your partner are long-accustomed to competing and keeping score with one another, any vessel becomes a “divorce boat,” your relationship being unsafe at any speed. In retrospect, my marriage was on the rocks long before we bought a house in New Hampshire or a canoe at a sportsman’s store stocked with hunting and fishing gear; in retrospect, the only domestic accoutrement I needed then was the courage to leap out of the boat called “marriage” and into the calm, buoyant water of “happily after.”