Norfolk just smells like the Navy. As if Saltwater and freshly painted ships were her natural fragrance. Those bases and ships are the blood and bones of her economy and the sea stories of its residents have given her memory. So co-dependant the navy will always call Norfolk home. If the Navy went away all together. I am sure she would gather all the parts from ships sunk across the atlantic. She would use currents like arms and wash them upon her shores. Hide them under her beaches. Hold them tight to her bosom and wait to hear lullabies of sea stories past once more. You can’t walk the streets without tripping over a sailor active or retired. They walk the streets like P-ways. Chiefs are recognized with or without their anchors the short hand jargon of sailors is a second language and understood by many.
As soon as I saw the tunnel I began calling friends I knew to be stationed there. A woman answered I responded “I didn’t know he got married. It has been awhile, oh he is underway. OK” click. I’ll try someone else. “He is in England really?” That’s ok I’ll try… damn on duty. Try again. “In Texas. On leave. Yeah that’s cool. Enjoy your leave man. Good to hear from you too.” This wasn’t the reunion I hoped for. I knew Willie was here. “WILLAAAY!” A greeting that was a dead giveaway it was me. After the requisite chuckle if hearing a familiar voice came the usual “What’s going on bro.” with an unmistakable Orange County flavor. It had the impact of creating immediate dislike from a few in Mississippi who didn’t like the surfer vibe he gave off. I was already aware that he was working an extra job. He was getting married and these are the responsibilities he was taking on, moving off base and new wife required extra money. After the small talk we agreed to meet up after he got off.
Later as agreed we headed out to a crowed bar on the strip. Once inside I began my Habitual scan of the room. Checking clues to who was available and signs of an opening. When my attention returned to Will, there was a smile. He didn’t mirror my enthusiasm. There was a nod behind the smile acknowledging my agenda. He had seen it before he wouldn’t stop me from doing my thing. It was always understood he wouldn’t participate. I was hunting alone. Here we were a hunter and husband. We have done this dance many a time. He always made accommodations for me. He has always been willing to take a cab so I can close. While we made small talk and waited for our drinks I was coming to the conclusion, this isn’t Meridian. I can’t make up for bailing by covering a tab, or catch up with him in the morning. Tomorrow I am gone. This is the one friend who is actually here and he came out to drink in spite of two jobs and being dead tired. I also knew I couldn’t just sit in a room filled with temptation. When Will asked why our drinks were taking so long I used it as an opening. “This place is too crowded to get good service. Let’s hit another bar.” We left without objection. As we did I took another look at the brunette across the bar playing in her drink just waiting for me to introduce myself.
We found a bar far less packed actually it was sadly almost empty. We ordered shots and began to shoot the shit. How was civilian life, about his ship, making 3rd class, recalling times to remember and nights I wish I forgot. Then our conversation came to the future Mrs. William #####. There was always a sense a pride and a change in tone detected in his voice. As his cadence seems to become a melody every time his girl becomes a topic. It was his tell. If this was poker I would have folded every time. He really loved his hand.
After the bar closed, found myself home. I opened the door to the room to flop lifeless on my bed. I heard Wills’ car Leave the parking lot. I shouted “WILLAAAY!, another shot” once more into the pillow. As my eyes shut I considered our IOU account even. I took one for the team. We saw that brunette leave with the ugly Marine and his fat friend in the car parked two cars down from us. The things I give up for friends….. my thoughts trail into the blackness of sleep.
As I left in the morning my thoughts were on Wills’ girl and Navy wives in general. I remembered the first-hand accounts of cleared bank accounts, email notifications of divorce at sea, the ones who simply couldn’t make it another year wrapping presents alone on Christmas, or when the need for understanding comes from a male friend that gets too close and fills places of need left void by absence, or the really bad ones; the wives turned barflies during the months there husbands are away swore fidelity when they came home and professed undying love. Yet why do some relationships seem to grow stronger with absence? As I left I watched the sea looking for a ship any ship to be pulling away I saw none. Those ships that bring money in, bring sailors to distant shores, bring tears to those who will miss them waving on piers, bring me to the conclusion I was never a sailor I don’t think you can ever truly be one without sacrifice.