By Sally Curtis
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.
I have been around boats my whole life, which is unremarkable except that I lived for five decades on Barrow Street in the heart of the West Village. My father kept two boats in the Bronx on City Island—a sailboat, the Martini, that capsized in the Great South Bay with both of my parents aboard, before I was born. My mother’s foot went through a porthole, slicing her Achilles tendon; she almost bled to death. The scar on her ankle prompt-ed frequent retelling of that almost-tragic event.
My father also had a cabin cruiser on City Island named the Sark—the first two letters of my name and the last two letters of my brother’s name, Mark. I have memories of family voyages to Martha’s Vineyard, fishing trips, and adventures on the Sark. She sank at the dock and Gus, the old salt who worked at the marina, helped my father hire a diver to remove her registration numbers.
Both of my parents came from old money but left it behind to settle into the Bohemian literary scene at the White Horse Tav-ern and Chumley’s. There, I drank Coke with extra maraschino cherries and played behind the bar and in the kitchen, while my father played chess and drank. He died there in a fight over a chess game on the eve of my eighth birthday. His mother died a few days later and I have been estranged from his family ever since. I do know that his family made a fortune in the pharma-ceutical industry marketing Mother Winslow’s Soothing Syrup —an opium tonic for babies.
I have spent most of my life in psychoanalysis, coming to terms with a childhood rich with risky adventuring on Fire Island and Washington Square thanks to my parents’ laissez-faire style. My brother was not so lucky. He ran away to sea before graduating from high school and eventually became a charter boat captain. We shared many adventures on the high seas before he died of a drug overdose at the age of 64. Alcohol helped assuage the boredom of long voyages between Sag Harbor and the West In-dies. On my last voyage with my brother, sailing from Corsica to Gibraltar, the first leg of a transatlantic journey, I suffered from seasickness for the first time in my life; it turned out to be pregnancy. I did make it to Gibraltar but had to drop out of the trip. I flew home and gave up my life of adventure, risk, and danger to raise my daughter.
Psychoanalysts and dream interpreters agree that the sea sym-bolizes the unconscious. According to my psychoanalytic ances-tor Carl Jung, the sea is a symbol of the collective unconscious, shared universally by all human beings. I have grown up to be a psychoanalyst by trade but I still enjoy less risky adventures in rowboats around New York Harbor. My deep, lifelong love of the sea and the boats that carry me there preserve my connection to my father, to my brother, and to something deep and primi-tive within myself.
Now, as a psychoanalyst, the mother of three, and the grand-mother of five, I take good care of my loved ones and my pa-tients by being more careful with myself. I am the President of the Village Community Boathouse, which builds traditional wooden rowboats and takes people out on less risky voyages, rowing all over New York Harbor. Thus, I indulge my love of the sea, wanderlust, and adventurous spirit through rowing Whitehall gigs, long boats propelled by four rowers on the rela-tively safe waters of the Harbor—relatively, compared to sailing in a small boat in the open ocean out of sight of land.
The waters of New York Harbor can be treacherous for mariners who are unprepared to engage and work with the wild forces of nature—winds, tides, and currents. In psychoanalysis, I launch into the waters of the unconscious, mine and my patient’s, and together we row around seeking to engage the forces of human nature—sex, power, fear, envy, hate, and most of all, love.