There’s nothing like turning to find only ocean. Everywhere. To know that it would take a day or more just to find land. It was a darker night than I’d ever known, as I’d only known the night of land, with all its light and rushing.
Paul and I were on the top of a cruise ship, following the walking track. Just us and a couple of drunks camped out on a bench to the side. I wonder if they noticed how we walked a bit faster whenever we passed their end.
It’s not that I was scared. Paul was over six feet tall and had a fierce look to those eyes, one that stayed even when I made him smile. No, it was because we were both shy, both young and sheltered.
I took his hand and spoke of something or other with him—of the frog he’d tried at dinner, of the towel elephant I’d found in my cabin.
We even talked about school and work and all the Other People. Lunch in the back of the library. Long walks during free hours that led only to silence.
Not together, though. He lived in another state, and we saw each other only on the holidays: Asheville at Thanksgiving, this December cruise. Snatches of his husky-green eyes and that gray streak in his hair he’d had since birth. Hints of him that I’d tuck away for weathering everything else.
And if anything, that’s growing up. Dividing your world into Life and Love; the chase of the latter only when the former allows.
Even in the Caribbean, nights at sea are cold. So we made our way inside to wander, passing the party on the main deck. He pulled me along when I hesitated, distracted by the clatter of high heels on the dance floor, the sweep as a new couple joined in.
We wound up in a nearly empty café. It was pink themed—pink smoothies, velvet everywhere, blush walls with scattered yellow lights up to the ceiling.
He sat down at the piano in the corner and glanced up at me, all devil-may-care.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh, I wanted to inspect the piano’s interior for traces of heroine being smuggled into the United States,” he deadpanned. “I’m going to play something.”
I walked over to him and did my best to loom over the keyboard. “Amaze me, then.”
What I got was a halting “Chopsticks.” But I sat and played the accompaniment, again and again, as the night waiter began to hate our very souls. As our timing unwound and we found each other once more.
But even cruise ship cafes have closing times, and the nearby beating of the dance had its slow fade. Our boat again greeted its dock when that week ended.
For us, it was back to treading water—the nerves, the tests, the peopling. The city lights that masked the great dark I knew to be hiding there. The gentle stars, the forever waves I fell in love with.