The morning news from CNN bounced off my subconscious while I made coffee. <... North Korea rattling sabre again... > I don't know WHY I was making coffee, other than it was a habit I'd picked up in the 15 years of my now-failing marriage to John Anderson.<... Corrupt New Jersey cop sought in slaying... > I'd never enjoyed the bitter taste of coffee, only the smell. Was there a metaphor there for not dipping too deeply into life's choices, I wondered, enjoy the surface things, don't dig too deep, you'll regret it? <... Earthquake in China claims at least 300... >
My life with John had started in high school, both of us smitten with the other nearly on first sight. Nothing Special John, Nothing Special Jesse, but special to each other, and that sense of delight in each other hadn't started to fade until we had been married for 5 years, like an old joke, 'My husband and I have had 5 wonderful years together. Not bad, out of 15... '. Our marriage, and our love, was inevitably ground under 15 years of sameness, and little in common, other than a past. John had succumbed to temptation in an office encounter, and to my own shame I hadn't given him enough reason to turn away, though I felt no other emotion.
Now here I was, 34 years old, and it looked as though I wasn't likely to be a part of an "us" anymore. The saddest thing, I think, was the lack of regret I did, or didn't rather, feel. We'd separated 6 months previously, and I can't say that my life had changed much as a result, other than that John was now never around to carry the burden of keeping our palatial home, make that 'house, ' together, though he was so good about paying for all expenses and keeping me comfortable. As a successful stock broker, he had put himself in a position where he could manage that easily enough, and to his credit he didn't drag his feet about paying bills or in any other money matters, so I really didn't bear him any ill will. Worse, I felt nothing inside regarding John.
I took quick stock of myself physically: 34, slightly overweight, a size 14 where I'd almost always been an 8, short, raven-black hair, with whisps of gray showing up, crows-feet developing in the corners of the skin around my eyes, lines, heck, wrinkles, a little more difficult to cover every day, sagging breasts - in short, I was growing older. Mentally: I had no clue. To use a nautical term, I was completely at sea about where I was headed, and what the future might bring. Emotionally: even worse, don't ask.
I had promised John that I would winterize our family boat, a 34' Whisper Jet sport cruiser. It was docked at St. Michaels, MD, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge a few hours from our Bethesda, MD home in the Washington, DC suburbs. I prepared a sack lunch of Boars Head country ham sandwiches with mustard, home made cookies (bought at Zabar's in Manhattan), and some apples and bananas, along with a jug of iced tea I'd brewed my very own self. I climbed into the Dark Blue Pearl Lincoln Navigator, making sure I had my cell phone, and headed out to the Capital Beltway, then east on Rte 50 and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The brilliant fall colors of red, orange, and yellow in the sugar maples lining the streets of our comfortable neighborhood gave a joyous and gay punctuation to what was otherwise a fairly blah day, in both mind and body, so far as I was concerned.
The drive was unremarkable, marked with less traffic than usual, particularly on the Beltway, which had become a slow-motion parking lot at most times of the day in recent years. I had made the drive to St. Michaels countless times, though usually with John, and while I drove, I thought about the missed opportunities for both John and I in repairing our relationship. I had no idea, even at this late date, what or how to fix things, or what I really wanted. One thing I knew in my belated trip to wisdom, I'd better decide what I DID want, or I'd end up making the same mistakes I'd made throughout my life. I had to learn to make choices, whether for good or bad, and be responsible for the consequences. Though I might regret those decisions, at least I wouldn't regret life making them for me.
After crossing over the immense southern span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a drive which had always slightly unnerved me due to the great height of the structure, I drove south down Rte 50, then west on St. Michaels Road, and finally entered St. Michaels itself, a picturesque, but still fortunately sleepy bayside town, that still depended heavily on the Chesapeake area's tradition of fishing and 'ostering, ' as the oyster harvesting business was pronounced thereabouts. But it was also reaping the bounty of increasing amounts of Yuppy and Generation X tourist dollars, as St. Michaels' attractive and historic area was again being discovered by another generation. I drove down Talbot Street, turned left at Chew Ave, then to Meadow and to the marina parking lot.
I pulled up to the marina in St. Michaels, the picturesque town and its Fall Harvest celebration preparations only peripherally on my mind, as I began mentally ticking off the list of actions I'd have to take to get the 34' boat ready for winter. I took out the large grocery bag of food, and tea, locked up the Navigator, and walked down to the dock. The St. Michaels marina is composed of a long central pier extending far out into the Miles River, with cross docks where the water craft are actually docked.
The closer in docks are for smaller craft, like boats, as the water is shallower there, and the outer docks, farther from the shore and in deeper water, are where the larger craft, 'ships, ' are docked, with their deeper draws. As the "Melancholy Baby," a Whisper Jet sport cruiser, was capable of ocean travel and was a little longer and with a deeper draft than many of the other boats berthed at the Chesapeake Bay marina, it was berthed among the fancier craft, including some yachts that exceeded 80, and even 100 feet. I wasn't going to be doing a great deal to get it ready for the cold weather, just adding additional anti-freeze, fuel stabilizer, and doing some lube work on the fittings, setting a trickle charger on the battery, as well as picking up miscellaneous junk left behind during the summer, battening down the hatches and emptying the refrigerator, etc.
Passing a short, roughly dressed man tying his shoes, I walked to the security gate, about 30 feet farther out on the pier past the tackle and supplies store, which was closed for lunch, and pulled out my magnetic pass card to open the welded steel gate. When the buzzer sounded, I jerked the heavy gate open, and began walking through. Just then, I was bumped into by the man as he, too rushed through, muttering a brief apology. I turned and glared at him, but he kept his head down, looking at the silvery gray, weather worn oak planking of the pier, a cheap fisherman's cap pulled down over his face.
I began to feel alarm, and I started looking around to see if there was anyone else around. My hand came out of my jacket pocket with my cell phone flipping open, when the man's arm struck upwards under mine, and the phone went flying into the shallow water. My fears confirmed, the 'man' lifted his face to mine (he seemed shorter than I am, and I'm 5' 8"), though still in shadow, and steel blue eyes locked onto mine, a husky voice whispering at the same time, "I've got a gun pointed at your middle. Don't scream, don't make any abrupt movements, and you'll get out of this without being hurt in any way. Do you understand?"
I stood frozen in fear, unable to move, or even breath. Just seconds before I had been bemoaning the loss of my marriage, and here I was facing the loss of my life. I managed a shaky nod, my hands and the bag they held shaking like a rose bush in a hurricane. "Good," the man said. "Now, where's your boat?"
Barely able to put my thoughts into any kind of order, I said, "Cruiser. Only landlubbers call these ships 'boats.'"
"Shit!" the voice hissed. "I don't give a FUCK what you call the fuckin' thing, where's your goddamn boat!" I pointed towards the end cross tree, and in a tremulous voice, said, "There."
"Take me there," the man said. I managed, barely, to pull my feet forward to walk out to the Melancholy Baby, aware of a heat running down both legs from my crotch. God, I'd pissed myself! We walked, or more aptly, shambled out to the craft, my body barely able to obey the command, the man hunched over and striving to keep his head down as he walked behind.
When we got to my cruiser, he said, "This is it?" I nodded yes, he muttered, "This'll do, I guess," and gestured for me to climb aboard. He followed close behind, and sat down on one of the deck chairs. "Get us out of here," he said. "And I meant it when I said I wasn't going to hurt you."
I started up the engine, the fuel gauge said there was about 150 gallons in the tank, half her capacity, though I had no idea how far this guy was going. The engine purred like a kitten, it had just had an overhaul the previous month. I moved to cast off the bow and stern lines from the dock cleats, and pushed off. We drifted out from the wooden structure about 15 feet, already taken by the tide, and I slowly eased away from the marina, in the 'no-wake' zone. Outside of that, I began to cruise up the Miles River.
"Go south," the man said.
"You have to go north, to go south from here," I called back to the man, slumped in the chair. It looked as though he had dropped a red kerchief from his pocket on the white painted deck. "It's the way the river runs." Plucking up more courage than I had shown heretofore, I asked, "Where is it you want to get to?"
"Florida," he answered laconically.
.... There is more of this story ...