March 24th, 2001.
I walked into Cafe Patachou, a trendy breakfast spot on the north side of Indianapolis. Despite being flanked by parents who fit in, it was obvious I wasn’t from around there.
It was late March, cold, rainy, and blustery. My deep tan and long hair bleached blond from months of sailing the Pacific marked me an outsider. The faded red Birdwell shorts and Ugg boots were a dead giveaway that I’d been in California long enough to pick up the local style.
At 23 years old and cocksure the world was built just for me, I was a victim of fashion.
Lee saw me right away. She was waiting tables at the cafe, recovering from recently losing her custom tour business in Africa. Her business partner and great friend, a Tuareg born in Mali but raised through a stroke of fortune in Indiana, had been killed. The business folded, all their assets in the Sahara stolen. It was a disaster, the wounds of loss still fresh.
She’d lived in California years before. Ocean drifters with deep tans were not a new species to her. She came over to our table and opened with, “You have got to be from Southern California.”
We started talking. She was (and still is) a beautiful woman, by itself rare enough. She shared a common history with me in Southern California, and she’d lived in Nicaragua, where my boat at the time was anchored. Sensing interest and an opportunity, after breakfast I went over and asked for her number. She gave me the number to the restaurant.
I called later to invite her out, but she wasn’t looking for what was written all over me: One night stand.
I gave her my email over the phone as a Hail Mary play. It might have worked if I’d made sure she’d written it down correctly, but when Lee went to write me a week or so later, the email bounced back: No such address.
Luckily, somewhere during our breakfast meal, my Mom had handed Lee a business card with “Nik, sailing through Panama Canal” scribbled on it.
Lee kept that card, and when the email address I’d given her didn’t work, she wrote my Mom, who forwarded it to me.
It’s not the first time Mom has saved my ass, nor the last, but it’s one of the highlights.
By the time Lee wrote, I had flown back to my boat in Nicaragua and pushed on south.
At the next port of call, when I went in to an Internet cafe to check my email, Lee and I began a written conversation that lasted months.
We were both driven to travel and explore. We were bookworms and lovers of empty places. The howling wilds of star sprent desert nights and the wine-dark sea called to us powerfully.
We began to know each other through a long, slow rhythm of conversation. Every few days I’d come into a port and eagerly find a place to check email. I’d read what she wrote, repeating it in my head, memorizing her words, building an image of who she was.
She’d tell me to read Rumi, or write about her time living in Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra affair, or quote Ezra Pound’s poetry. I’d sit back on the night watch, thinking about her letters, her experiences, and what kind of woman she must be. We fell in love an email at a time.
As I made it through the Panama Canal and headed north, our conversations slowly shifted from what we had done to what we wanted to do.
I ended up in Ft Lauderdale, Florida working in a small shipyard as a rigger while I waited to sell my boat. I’d teach sailing on the weekends to plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists to make extra money. The contrast between the conversations I’d have with them and the letters I exchanged with Lee couldn’t have been more stark.
Eventually, emails were no longer enough. I spent a week’s pay on a plane ticket back to Indianapolis, back to Lee. I arrived at my parents’ house off an early-bird flight. Not having any more patience then than I do today, I called Lee. It was 6 in the morning.
“It’s Nik. I’m here. In Indianapolis.”
I found this in a journal almost a year later:
"Today is January 22nd, 2002. It has been almost eleven months since I first met Lee. We flew to England after I got back from Jamaica and had a perfect vacation, one of those that stick in the mind not because of the weather or the food, but because of the people. We had a lot of catching up to do, and we crammed as much as we could into the ten days we had together.
Lee and I have not been apart for more than two days in the the last five months, and those five months have been...amazing. I have never given much thought to things like God or Fate since I was kicked out of the church choir when I was eleven, but every time I see Lee it is a reminder that somewhere out there, someone is pulling strings for me."
I would be remiss if I didn't remind you Valentine's Day is around the corner. Want to pick out a box of Treats for your sweetie?
Too much reading...
How about dessert?