I always knew I’d stand on this deck, look out over those boats, smell that sea.
I’d seen it in every possible season, although only in my mind. Snow piles glistening with ice leaning crazy-high, carved sideways by a January wind. White sailcloth slicked with the silvery gleam of March rain reflecting a leaden sky. Peach hues bleeding into blue as a June summer day edges toward dark.
We were young, impatient, passionate. Heads tumbled over heels, distance a rebuke we ignored. We decorated our transoceanic digital Victorian courtship with pictures. An adventurous climb, sunset from my balcony, the arc of my cheek as I smiled during an interview. A glowing fire, the lazy cat, occasionally your hand or the edge of your jaw in a window’s reflection.
Over the years, we built an empire of those images. You sent them as fishing lures, I used them as anchors. We knit them together, patching up the holes created by my ambition, vanity and your health, your destroyed nerves. The elastic future was ours if we wanted to claim it, shaped only by the stretch and snap of our attraction and our fear. Wanting to be almost-perfect for each other, patiently edging towards and then ducking away, sure the dance would end with us side-by-side.
Is it patience if you think you have all the time in the world?
I lined up all the strands of my life that were separate from you so they would lay smooth and orderly; you stitched together the patchwork of changes you’d make in order to let me in. I traced the pictures until they bled into my dreams, decorating the borders of my desire with this deck, those boats, that sea.
Would we make this deck the altar of our morning coffee and our evening wine, my solitary grumbling yoga in constant battle with your world-weary espresso and newspaper? Would those boats bear witness to my baptism in the morning parade down to the dock for the morning swim, breath stolen by the shocking chill? Would that sea bless the long stretch of our evening walks into high summer midnight, and our fleeting tastes of winter sun?
We would spend the infinite wealth of summer exploring the rocky bluffs, hosting crayfish picnics and tracing the compliant waves. Model shipbuilding and Mozart would duel through our winter nights with pasta experiments and laughter. I would watch your fingers teasing idly through the cat’s gray fur as you read, and lose my train of thought. You would watch me across the table at your brother’s house, tracing the curve of my mouth with your eyes, and lose your will to argue.
Your arms, safe haven in foul weather, your hands, slack and trusting on our pillow as we tumble toward sleep. Your wit entangled with mine.
I never thought I’d stand on this deck to hide from your fragile broken body lying inside behind me, look out at those boats with the desperate yearning of a stowaway, suck in the sting of the sea to scrape the metallic film from my lips.
Those hands that could turn me to shivers as they stirred fire in my body are now distress flags. Veins are blue ice, fingers trembling.
Your eyes, grey of smoke and ice, rebuke me. The words I need to give you lay sullen in my throat, my heart resisting what my head knows. Our new beginning is lost, and you don’t want me here as you slide away. You want me to kiss your sunken cheek and whisper farewell, leaving you to dream your way into death, and me to carry on. And I want to freeze this landscape of imagined joy in my mind, one last picture before I surrender to my new unwanted life without you.
This deck, those boats, that sea.
Laura E. Bailey is a recovering economist and passionate traveler who believes the Oregon Coast is the best place possible to nurture writing. Her essays and stories have been published in RAIN Magazine, the North Coast Squid, and the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. She lives in Manzanita with her rescue dog Bruce.