She was a professional sailboat instructor. She’d grown up somewhere by the ocean—the northeast, I think, or anywhere—and had been sailing since she was 5. She’d recently been hired to coach the Vanderbilt sailing team. I remember talking to her about her life and being amazed at how laissez-faire it all was for her. It was nothing for her to pack up and move across the country on a whim, something she’d already done several times.
We met in a tiny nightclub in Nashville that I’m certain is no longer there, a neon closet in the Gulch with a couple of couches and not much else. I remember I was there with my friend Bobbi, who was out for blood, where “blood” was “getting guys to buy her drinks,” but the only other people in the place were a strange couple sitting a little too far apart. He was dressed like he didn’t understand what clothes were for. She was wearing a captain’s hat as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be doing in a tiny nightclub in Nashville on a Tuesday night. They sat silent, staring at the floor, typing on phones. Eventually he got up to have a smoke.
I screwed up every drop of courage I had in me and ended up with barely enough to say hi. (Chatting up a complete stranger in a bar is something I’ve not done before or since.) Lucky for me, she was eager to tell me about what a disaster her blind date was. We clicked—this kind of serendipity is just weird—and we agreed to go out again. She told me to look her up on MySpace. Her page was pirate themed.
We had a brief and breezy romance (oh, those summer nights!) that ended when we went out drinking with a friend of hers who acted like a dick all night and held, to put it kindly, severely regressive views towards women. His father was an important politician in Pakistan—he would refer to this throughout the evening—and this was right after Benazir Bhutto had been shot. He told me no one liked her, and that everyone celebrated when she was assassinated. (I told you he was a dick.) This was all while we were hopping from one luxurious bar to the next, where he would inevitably buy a barrage of shots for us and needle us to drink them. The sailor had no problem—she had the fortitude of, well, a sailor—but I found myself falling behind fairly quickly.
At one point, when the dick had gone to the bathroom, the sailor took me aside and whispered, “I know you’re probably upset that I’m not being very affectionate tonight. It’s just, my friend has very strong views about women, and he’d be upset if he thought I was dating anyone. I’m sure you understand.” We were both sauced. I nodded and shrugged. It was too odd to process.
The last thing I remember is the bathroom at Cabana, where I must have passed out for a few minutes, because I exited to find that the others had left me there. I called the sailor; no answer. She called me back a few minutes later.
“What is it?”
“You, uh. You left me here?”
“Oh, we thought you left,” she said with lucid disappointment. “We’ll come back and get you.”
So then it was a few more bars, or maybe it wasn’t, and then we were on our way back to her place. The dick was driving. He worked for Nissan, with a job title you would expect a dick to have. He kept bragging about how much money he was making for how little work he was doing. He bragged about the car he was driving, because Nissan had loaners so he could drive any model he wanted, and he wanted the 350Z with the aftermarket heated buttplugs and the “Shits to be you!” attitude.
We arrived. I got out very unsteadily. I was in no condition to walk, much less drive. I turned to head upstairs to her apartment, and she stepped in front of me and gave me a hug.
“Thanks for coming out tonight!”
The dick chimed in. “It was great meeting you.” It didn’t seem that way when he insulted my sport coat earlier that evening.
Then they turned, together, and walked back to her apartment.
They’d left me to fend for myself. I couldn’t even find my car. After 10 minutes I realized I was standing right in front of it. I slithered into the front seat and lay there drooling for who knows how long. I think I slept. I don’t really know.
I do know it was about 5 or 6 AM when I finally got home, and that I blasted “Ol’ 55” on the way because the sun was actually coming up and I’m a goddamned sucker for lyrical literalism, and then I slept for most of the day.
I never heard from her again. Not a call or a text or even a MySpace message. She left town soon after to work as a private sailing instructor in the Caribbean. Sometime after that she co-managed a winery in California.
What could I do? I couldn’t be mad. The whole thing was too absurd and it wouldn’t have worked, anyway, with her being so nomadic and me being so enthusiastically inert. So I wasn’t mad, although I miss her sometimes, and I’m grateful to have been a small eddy in her colorful whirlpool of a life.
(Oh, but the dick can go to hell.)
[Post image via Shutterstock]