Captain Nan’s was one of a dozen beautiful white boats bobbing in their slips on a dock lit by tiny white Christmas lights. Her sign said she did tours of Islamorada and that’s what I wanted. After years of staying in the same tiny ’50’s era resort on the bay side of the Florida Keys and a couple of disastrous boat rentals when we tore up tender habitat trying to find the elusive boating lanes, churning brown sand into the water that could be seen for miles, probably recorded by satellite for later prosecution, I wanted to take to the sea. I wanted to buzz under the Keys’ bridges, sneak around the tiny islands crammed with egrets where they perched like Christmas ornaments in a monochromatic display straight from the December Good Housekeeping issue. Being in the Keys was beautiful. I wanted it to be more beautiful.

So we made an arrangement with Captain Nan. I liked it that we managed to find a woman in the boat business; I thought it would send a good message to my sons, one of whom seemed to struggle with the concept of female equality. It would be good for all of us to have a woman in charge of our going to sea.

But our trip turned out to be strange and truncated; Captain Nan not quite sure where to take us and us expecting that she would know best. She fluttered from one concept to another. We did see the egret display and we motored back and forth under the bridge that connects Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys. Finally, she decided we should fish. So she dropped anchor and we started to fish but it was hot and the air was very still and fishing quickly became unpleasant.

She started to reel in the anchor. A few turns and then nothing, she gave the rope slack and tried again, hoping to shake the anchor loose. But no, time after time of trying this strategy, the result was the same. The anchor wouldn’t budge. She looked at us for answers.

“Do you think you boys could dive down and see why it’s stuck?”

My boys, at the time, were a lot of things, many of them frustrating and often costly, but they were very fit and could swim. Moreover, they were fearless and competitive with one another. They were in the water in seconds, running their hands down the rope, going underwater, being gone for what seemed like a long time and then coming to the surface. “You’re stuck on coral,” the older one said.

Captain Nan had dropped anchor on coral. That’s a very bad thing to do in the Florida Keys, mess with live coral.

“I don’t know how it happened that we could get stuck on coral,” Captain Nan said, looking at me as if we had caused this situation, like we had asked for something that brought us to this terrible end, damaging precious coral. I felt sick. I love the Florida Keys more than a normal person should love a physical place so the insinuation stung. It was my greed for wanting to be everywhere, do everything, live like the people in pictures that caused this?

“Can you just go back down there and unhook us?” she asked my boys. They both looked at me. What else could we do?

Later they told me that the anchor had been really stuck in the coral and that probably they’d done a lot of damage to get it free. It wasn’t damage that Captain Nan had done, now it was damage they had done. And as oblivious as they were to so many things, social niceties, the value of education, peaceful co-existence, they were unhappy and feeling guilty about the coral.

I thought about this little episode in our lives probably all day today, while making corrections on a very technical proposal for funding for a drug treatment court, and riding my bike a full 10 miles first down a very leafy bike path and then along the shore of Lake Michigan. I really want to lift my anchor, I thought. I am tired of being so tied to people who expect me to know what I’m doing. I am tired of waiting for middle of the night phone calls that come and the ones that don’t, tired of worrying about people, wondering if I will be 100 years old before I can stop wondering if all my children are okay. It’s a burden and I find that I am, very often, as incompetent as Captain Nan.

Even though I have a beautiful boat, my anchor is in the coral.

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#52/100: 52nd in a series of 100 in 100