Wild Children, Full of Grace

This post comes with a soundtrack! Also embedded below:

I found an old mix CD that I made in Maryland the summer I was 20 years old, about to turn 21. According to a billboard I saw just yesterday, the year of my birth (1982) was the same year that Bud Light came out... Great. Anyway, that compact disc is a trip down memory lane, but not exactly, because I still listen to the exact same music. What can I say? I got it right the first time.

I originally designed the playlist around a night out with my "hippie friends," from getting ready to driving there to going out and winding down and driving home. (I used to lose my mind to "Wild Child" in my car on the way home in the wee hours of the morning. I love that part at the end when Jim booms, "REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE IN AFRICA?" What a freak. He's my spirit animal.)  That was also the summer one of us, the one whose family farm is still spiritual home to all of our friend group, had a sailboat. I was home from college, and my mom basically didn't stop yelling at me until I found a summer job, even though all of the good ones were already taken. So when I finally got hired as a maid at the hotel on the Navy base, I accepted it without complaint. It actually turned out to be pretty great. Military men are notoriously tidy and I was always done work by three in the afternoon. I'd drive home, take a shower, take a nap, eat dinner, then head to the farm. We'd hang out for a while, make our way down to the river, board the noble Finneas, and take it to downtown Annapolis. (I feel like I've written this whole story before, but I checked and if I did, it wasn't here.)

It was a terrific summer. Is there anything better than a boat? Not really. And the Severn River is special because it's where I sort of grew up, I mean in fragments, we lived there several times. It has these bioluminescent little creatures that glow white when you disturb the water. I don't know their official name, we just call them "phossies," which is short for phosphorescence. The woods also had a fungus called foxfire that glows at night, too. It's magical. 

Back then, I still wasn't old enough to drink legally, and neither were a couple of the other girls. But the boys all were, so what we'd do is bring an empty growler (a glass gallon jug of beer) on the boat, along with cans of beer and (cough cough) "oregano" (cough), and I think sometimes even light some incense (although my memories are understandably foggy), and go flying down the waterway (we were literally the slowest boat out there). By the time we got to the little part of the Annapolis Harbor that locals affectionately call "Ego Alley," we were well and properly sauced. I always had to pee, because, unlike the guys, I refused to strip naked and jump overboard while holding onto a rope to pee in the water while being dragged alongside the still moving boat. 

We were a sight, sound... and smell... to behold. All brought up on classic rock, which we blasted from some speakers somewhere, our tiny little sailboat put-putting along among the fancy yachts that rich people kept in like, the Caribbean or something... 

Okay I need to put in a little sidebar here to explain. Annapolis is a wealthy town that is home to the Naval Academy and old money. So, like, you've got your Navy people, your rich people in polo shirts and khakis, and everybody else. We were everybody else. Some people have these huge yachts that they live on in the summers and take from Annapolis down to the Caribbean and back again. And those are the people who dock in Ego Alley, and that is why they call it Ego Alley.

And we're back!

So here we come, maybe ten of us on this little boat my friend had gotten for free from another friend's dad who didn't want to bother with it anymore, in a cloud of "exotic cigarette" smoke and now-empty beer cans, to dock in whatever little slip we could find between multi-million dollar yachts and tour boats. Before we were even fully tied off, I had leapt up onto the sidewalk to sprint as fast as my skinny little 20 year-old legs could carry me to the public bathrooms at the Maritime House thingy. Because of the whole no-peeing-while-dangling-from-a-rope thing, plus beer. 

Once the boat was tied off and my bladder was empty (as well as the bladders of the other girls), we, a rag-tag group of ne'er-do-wells in t-shirts and jeans or cut-offs, tanned and beautiful in the full, lusty flush of glorious youth, would make our way up the street to the Ram's Head Tavern. What can I say about the Ram's Head? It's old, it used to be a brothel in colonial times, and it smells like permanent sour beer. Also, they have crab dip. We had a friend who was either working there that summer or whose cousin worked there or something, and he secretly let us refill our growler with beer for free. But only with Yuengling, I think because it was cheapest. (Fordham Copperhead was always my fave from their selection, if you ever find yourself there and thirsty someday.) We'd hang out for a little while, and then once the growler was full, we'd go back down to the boat and sail back home. 

photo from: https://southernboating.com/destinations/us-atlantic/annapolis-maryland/

Those were some good times. One of my favorite memories from that boat was one warm night, as we were sailing back home, the wind started picking up and getting a little cooler. I was in my usual spot towards the prow, when I noticed the water getting choppy. I glanced back and saw lightning flashing in the sky behind us. At the steering wheel was my friend, the consummate free spirit in those days (I once looked up his birthday in this Big Book of Birthdays I had, it's in early February - hi friend if you're reading this! - and his was called "The Day of Youthful Ease," which I still remember because it suited him perfectly). I pointed toward the weather and said, "Lightning." He grinned back and replied something like, "Don't worry, we'll outrun it." I mimed clapping with a little, "Yay!" and turned back to enjoy the ride and the groovy tunes now rolling around in the wind.

We rounded the corner past the Naval Academy, and wouldn't you know it, but there on a lawn that jutted out over the river, waves splashing on the rocks, battered by the wind, was a strapping Navy midshipman doing pull-ups in the middle of the night. What a sight! What an all-American young man, the pinnacle of physical fitness. Such dedication! Such heart! It would be a shame to mock him at a time like this--

"THAT'S NOT HOW YOU DO A PULL-UP!" came the literal-and-figurative-Aquarian's voice from above my head. He had shimmied up the main mast and was hanging from the cross-bar, long hair flying in the wind, "THIS IS HOW YOU DO A PULL-UP!" and he proceeded to a do a bunch of pull-ups from the mast of his sailboat while taunting the midshipman. I believe one or two more of them followed suit. The  testosterone-pumped boys laughed at one another, as did the rest of us. I blew the midshipman a kiss and waved. Good times were had by all. If memory serves, it almost immediately began to rain at that moment and nobody cared. 

On nights when the weather was calm, we'd cruise slowly upriver towards home, the music getting slower and groovier, all of us quieting down, growing pensive. Nay, meditative, passing around a "cigarette." One night it was only three of us, so we dropped anchor by a boathouse in a creek, stripped down to our undies, climbed up on the roof, and jumped off into the water. I never would have done it if I hadn't been a little stoned. I mean drunk. I mean relaxed. But it was beautiful. I couldn't really perceive the water in the darkness once I jumped (I went second, I'm not a complete idiot), so it was a surprise when I met its cool surface with a splash.

In those days, I wanted to get three tattoos: one that said "Led Zeppelin" on my left ass-cheek (for obvious reasons) and one that said, "Vagabunda," somewhere else, I hadn't decided yet (cuz I fancied myself a gypsy), and one of a figure-eight ouroboros on my back (cuz I listened to a lot of Tool and read a lot of esoteric shit). I didn't end up getting any of them. I loved being on that boat and on the river. I used to gaze out at the horizon in quiet moments, searching, wondering where I belonged. 

And now I wonder why these memories are flooding me at this time. I've felt this way before, hints of it, but it's stronger now than it has been in years. There are all these weird signs but I don't know what they mean. I find myself remembering this summer I'm describing here, and the year I was sixteen in Tulsa, when I took that ceramics class and my Wiccan friend and I used to go to the only new-age bookstore in town and chat with the neo-Druids and browse spell books for hours on end. What do those years have in common with now? I don't exactly know yet. I feel kind of like I'm young again. Like I did back then. I find myself reaching for my gold hoop earrings every day, and dreaming about living the life of like, a gypsy bard or some shit, like I did back then. You know, something realistic and lucrative, and that would not also be listed in a Big Book of Medieval Professions. 

I have the urge to visit San Francisco, and show it to my daughter, and say goodbye. Not for morbid reasons, but because people tell me it's not the same as it was when I lived there, and even though, sure, I believe it, I can't believe it until I see it for myself. It feels windy in my guts, like things are moving around in the invisible world. Now I remember this feeling. Like, I'm in the room physically, but I'm distracted. Like the wind is whispering to me, and I'm straining to hear it. It feels like the morning I woke up and heard a voice say, "It's time to go to L.A." and six months later I went. But this time it's telling me to go give California a kiss goodbye, and to visit these same friends I'm writing about one more time "before it's time to go," and that I can't really take another Texas summer. To hurry up and get my teaching license, because soon it will be time to fly. Over the Big Water. I think to Dublin or Berlin? But Dublin comes through stronger. Why Dublin? Why now? Maybe because it's somewhat similar to Iceland, but the thought of living there doesn't make me want to kill myself. I hated living there so much. I mean, I love my family and it's a pretty island and all, but if just Reykjavík burned to the ground tomorrow, I'd honestly be relieved. I'm sure the feeling is mutual, there's no love lost between me and that overpriced dump. But who knows? I never know. I just go.

But I digress.

One night the water was like glass, the sky was clear and full of stars, and we were the only boat still out, it had to have been close to two in the morning. The Finneas was a small boat, so when I laid down on the side, I could reach down and trail my fingers in the water. We had a little Led Zeppelin playing softly in the background. The river looked like a grey silk ribbon in the night. The trees on the banks on either side were black and full of lightning bugs blinking like a million stars. I propped myself up on my elbow a little to see them better. "They're the closest thing we've got to real fairies," said our friend at the helm. "I believe in real fairies," came my reply. 

I laid my head back down and looked at the water, where it was being churned up by the prow slicing through it. What I saw made me gasp. I reached down and scooped up starry, water, "Look, you guys!" The phossies were shining in the water where we sailed and thus disturbed them, splashing against us, and streaming out from the sides in a v-shape. Stars above and stars below, and stars on either side. And all of us, together, sailing through the middle. 


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