It’s my first date with the boat captain, and I’ve already told him I’ve had early-stage breast cancer, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries.
I’ve also told him some of the good stuff -- about my recent, post-divorce New Year’s trip to Costa Rica where I zip-lined, spotted baby monkeys and sailed on a catamaran.
In the eight months since my separation, he’s the only man from the dating site with whom I’ve felt a strong connection. I have longed for and dreaded this moment. If this continues, I’ll have to reveal even more. I’m afraid it might m...
It was his coat and his no-nonsense manner that first put me at ease. At 4 p.m. on Friday, I was sitting in a Lake Union oyster bar when I saw this tall, ruddy-complexioned man enter with a ready smile. I recognized him from his profile pictures and noticed he was wearing a pea coat. A real, honest-to-god, working pea coat, not the kind you buy at Abercrombie and Fitch. This coat had seen some action. This coat had been drenched in salt spray.
At 8 p.m., after four hours of drinks and appetizers and dinner, we vacate the table because another party is waiting. We look at each other reluctantly. Just outside the restaurant and feet from the lakeshore, a circle of Adirondack chairs surrounds a roaring fire pit contained by wired-in stacks of oyster shells. “Want to sit for a while?” he asks.
We sit. He steals sideways looks at me in the dark, his face glowing with the light of the flames, and slowly shakes his head. It’s the middle of winter, a clear, freezing night and our fingers are getting numb. I reach over to the arm of his chair to hold his hand and pull it under the scratchy wool blanket on my lap. The fire pit shuts off at exactly 11 p.m. We stand and kiss. Then we kiss in the parking lot, our cold noses touching while a man in a passing car rolls down his window and yells, “Get a room!”
The captain asks if I want to see his place. It’s close by. He lives on a boat docked just around the bend on the lake. It’s got the prime slip spot, furthest out with an unobstructed view of downtown Seattle and Gasworks Park. Inside, it has a wooden steering wheel, a galley, a salon, a bunk, a head. There’s a port and a starboard, a bow and a stern. He has crafted the interior woodwork, he has drawn the framed miniature sketches hanging on the walls, he has read all of the books lining the built-in bookshelves.
He turns on Pandora blues and Stevie Ray Vaughn wails as we sit on the cushion he has made for the wrap-around bench in the salon and make out. He says, “You’re a real, complicated, grown-up woman and you don’t know how rare that is to find.”
At the end of the nine-and-a-half-hour first date, I wrap my arms around his neck and say, “Good night, honey.” He likes that I call him “honey.” He had watched me walk into the restaurant from his boat that afternoon, and was hoping I was his date.
I like him too much. I’m afraid of what comes next.
A few days later, I stand with the backs of my thighs pressed against the edge of the dining table in my beach house and kiss him. When I close my eyes and concentrate on his kisses, it feels right. It feels more right with my eyes closed. I don’t want to talk to him. I just want to experience him, feel him. I touch my tongue against the front part of his teeth. I nuzzle the top of my head under his chin, against the soft part of his neck. I open my mouth against his open mouth and just breathe.
I can’t put it off any longer. I pause and tell him, “I want to take my shirt off and show you my breasts.” In an act of solidarity, he says, “Me, too” and pulls his Henley off over his head. We both stand there bare-topped in our jeans and I explain the territory of my chest to him like it’s a map and I’m the tour guide. “These are all saline. Here, feel them. This is where the scars are. These are tattoos. These aren’t real nipples, they’re just nubs of tissue. They don’t move.”
He says, “You’re gorgeous.” He moves closer to kiss me and holds one of my reconstructed breasts in each of his hands. He looks me in the eyes and says, “These are still a part of you.”
Later that day, he emails: “I can only imagine the courage it takes for you to open your heart and your body to a new person… I am grateful that you seem to trust me enough to take a few first steps in that direction.”
I cry when I read this. He gets it. He understands me.
We make plans to visit a bookstore together in a couple of days, but I back out and tell him I’m feeling like I should slow things down. I ask if we can reschedule our date to the following week. I feel a little scared that things are moving so fast. He says, “Take all the time you want.”
During that week we don’t see each other, I take a planned trip to Victoria. He sends me a “Happy Valentine’s Day” text. He reads all of my published writing.
When I see him the next Wednesday, I sit on the wrap-around bench inside his boat and reach for him. “We’re not going to the bookstore, are we?” he says. We lie together in the cocoon of his bunk for five hours and make love for the first time with the wooden bulkhead inches above our heads, and the gentle movement of waves under us. He takes the whole of my left pinky finger into his mouth. “We’ll just have to find other parts of your body that are still sensitive. It’ll be like a treasure hunt,” he says.
He traces the arc of my right hip bone as I lie on my side and says, “I could draw this.”
I feel at home here with him.
“You’re like an injured bird, but a survivor, too,” he says.
I feel relaxed and accepted. I can’t wait to hole up in his arms again.
He’s been gone, away at work, in a different state. When I see him for the first time in two weeks, it’s late evening. He hands me a glass of wine in the salon and says, “You look great.”
“It’s not sweet. It’s the truth.” He continues, “Look, I need to tell you something. Since I saw you last, I’ve started dating two other women.”
He says in the past he’s committed too soon, and he wants to avoid making that mistake again. He wants to keep dating the three of us women for a while before settling into anything. I tell him that makes sense, that’s smart. I look away. I hope he can’t see the hurt in my eyes.
We lie tangled up together that night all night like animals, him dozing off between bouts of love-making, never loosening his arms from around me. We both awaken around 3:00 a.m. and I tell him, “I’ve never been skinny dipping in a lake. It’s on my bucket list.”
He takes me by the hand and says, “Come on.” It’s March, too cold for a dunk in the water. He leads me, both of us naked, outside onto the bow of his boat. I stand in the cool moonlight with the full length of my skin pressed against the full length of his skin behind me, his arms encircling my waist. We stand silently there together listening to the waves of the lake slap against the side of his boat and feeling the wind on every part of our bodies. The lights of the city sparkle in the distance. I turn to face him and he hugs me against him.
“It’s not skinny dipping. But it’s as close as we can get tonight.”
A few hours later, we lazily get out of his bunk, dress and walk to the nearby convenience store for orange juice and The Seattle Times. He points to the condo where one of his friends lives and says, “He’d love you. He’d never want to let you go.” When we return to the boat, he chops mushrooms and green onions and peppers on his grandmother’s wooden cutting board and makes omelets with bacon on the side. He brews espresso for lattes and I pour a mix of Prosecco and orange juice into wine glasses.
Standing outside my car before I leave, I loan him my favorite book of poetry, “When My Brother Was an Aztec” by Natalie Diaz. He’s not really into poetry, but says he’ll take it just so he has an excuse to see me again.
He stops by my apartment the next day to return the book. I notice he’s no longer wearing the pea coat. It’s almost spring and the weather is beginning to turn. He’s leaving in a couple of days on a trip. “Will you be available the days I have open when I get back?”
I nod my head. I send him a link to an article I think he might like while he’s away. I never receive a reply.
I assume he’s falling in love with one of the other women he started dating, but I’m not sure. Who knows? Maybe he’ll turn up again at some point. I feel disappointed, but grateful, too. I’ll be braver, more practiced next time. The captain showed me that I’m desirable in spite of the imperfections of my body, that my flaws are not reason enough for rejection. In the end, I was rejected for the most ordinary of reasons: He simply fell harder for someone else.