About three seconds. That’s all it takes. Duran Duran, “Save a Prayer,” or Christopher Cross, “Sailing.”
Three seconds of those opening strains and I’m 22 years old again, leaning back against the rail of a 30-foot yawl, warm salt breeze sliding over my arms, under a moon so bright, I almost have to squint. Halfway between Solomons Island and Pax River Naval Air station on water like glass is where Heaven really is.
I don’t know if the saying is a permanent one among sailors, but back then it was, “if you don’t have the time, don’t go sailing.”
In Southern Maryland in the early 1980s, there were no apartment complexes. If you wanted to live off base, you rented trailers or small houses. The houses were too expensive for junior enlisted, so the two local trailer parks were packed with single sailors and very young families.
I lived in the last trailer on the incoming road of the nicer of the two parks. I was in it one afternoon, fuming. I had blown off my sailing club meeting because I had found out over the weekend that my boyfriend had lied about where he was. I didn’t want my mood to spill over onto my sail club shipmates.
A knock on the door. Terry.
“Come on” was all she said, standing on the step, extending her hand toward me through the open door. She waggled her fingers. “Let’s go.”
“No, Terry, seriously, you don’t want me there,” I said. “I’m in a rotten mood and I’ll ruin it for everyone.”
“Nope.” She was adamant, hand still extended. “Let’s go. Now.”
“Terry, I’m sorry you came all the way over here for nothing,” I said, “now you’ll be taking off late. Please go back. I can’t go like this. I don’t want to make everyone even later.”
Her husband appeared next to her.
“Pack it up,” he said, opening the door wider. “Let’s go. You know this — there are no problems on the water. Move it. We’re not leaving without you.”
Then he sat down on the steps and crossed his arms.
Well. Guess I was going.
Terry and her husband didn’t talk a lot. They were both such a bizarre juxtaposition on a sailboat. They didn’t smile a lot in the course of a workday, either. They were heads down, get the job done types. In the sail club, we were all working toward our blue cards. Terry and I would never earn ours. When the girls got on the boat, the guys told us to just sit there and look pretty. That was one of the times Terry would smile at me and shake her head. Usually we’d insist the captain let us at least set sails. Sometimes he’d let us. Not on my rotten mood day. That day, Terry was the one who told me to sit.
We sat. We leaned back. We let the sun toast our faces and looked out over the bay, wishing a thunderstorm by so we could catch its wind and not have to motor over to the island.
Over on Solomons, our captain would drink too much. We’d pull in and dock at one of the piers off one of the restaurants and pound crabs for hours as the sun went down outside the almost floor-to-ceiling windows. Then we’d walk across the street to the Tiki Bar and forget about time altogether.
Terry and I didn’t drink. When it was clear we were about to risk a captain who couldn’t steer, we’d walk the guys back. The sail back to the base was always silent. Even the captain couldn’t speak in the paradise of a silky nighttime summer sail.
Someone turned on a tape deck. Christopher Cross.
“Glad you came out?” Terry’s hand was on my knee. She was smiling. I realized I had forgotten all about my boyfriend almost the minute we pulled off the base pier.
I smiled back at her: “No problems on the water, right?”
“That’s right,” she said, and patted my knee. “I’m glad you listened. Feel better?”
I closed my eyes, breathed in salt air, felt the breeze.