When I met her, I had been running away, leaving all my worries behind. Taking only a backpack filled with peanut m&ms and my iPod, I was determined to pretend nothing was wrong.
The quiet hum of my grandfather’s boat turned my thoughts to letting myself imagine the places I would go. I even let myself think that I could leave the marina tonight and never come back.
I mean, I had already paid rent for the month, so I knew I would go back to my inconsiderate roommate and my issues at work, but, in that moment, I felt free for the first time in weeks.
Turning random patterns in the surface of the smooth water, I ended up close to another boat. The sun had set, though the colors of the day hadn’t been completely swallowed by the night yet. I still had some time to turn back to the dock. Getting so close to another boat was the only reason I started turning around.
I still had some time to turn back to the dock before the marina curfew. Getting so close to another boat was the only reason I started turning around early.
I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. Even a stranger on a sailboat could ruin the escape being on the water gifted me from everything that bogged me down on land.
She called out to me, inviting me to come closer. I reluctantly maneuvered my boat next to hers without a word.
She introduced herself as Kari and pointed to the lighthouse on the other side of the marina, telling me she was going to be living there through the end of the summer. Her uncle knew a guy who knew a guy who was the caretaker for the lighthouse. Kari had been there for two months learning all the lighthouse duties before he left it all in her safekeeping until he returned in August. She spoke in awe of the harbor and the dolphin pod she always saw in this spot in the evenings. But now that she was on the water she hadn’t seen them. She asked if I had seen them.
My simple negative response hadn’t deterred her in the least.
Kari told me about how she was going to sail around the world someday, and how all this lighthouse responsibility had been her uncle’s way of convincing her not to. She knew her uncle had intended all the work to scare her off, but she was learning amazing new things that were making her dream more possible.
Before I knew it, Kari said she had to go.
As she sailed away, she called back, “See you tomorrow!”
And, to my surprise, I went to my grandpa’s boat and found her again the next day.
For a month, we were out there on the water every night. She taught me how to catch the wind and steer her sailboat, how to find the north star and spot dolphins a mile away. I don’t know what I ever did that caught her attention, but Kari had all of mine. I had fallen in love with her after the first week, if not that first day.
But then, one evening, she wasn’t there.
Or the next one.
Three days without Kari had me driving up to the lighthouse.
With all her talking, she had never told me about her heart problems.
They told me it had been a peaceful death. Kari had gone to sleep and, essentially, so had her heart. It just stopped pumping and never started again.
She had some sort of heart alert thing, but she was cold to the touch by the time the ambulance showed up.
I thought the peace I had found on the water would die with her, but it’s still where I feel closest to her. She told me her perfect sailing plan, and now I’m living it for her.
On land, people tell me to come back to reality, that she was too good to be true, that I can just move on.
But on the water, I can pretend I pass her sailing in the night. On the water, I don’t feel like my forever is falling down around me.
On the water, Kari is still with me.