11 June 2012

A Meditation on Saying Goodbye

You're sitting in some dive tiki bar on one of a thousand Caribbean islands.  The sun is setting; the air smells like sea.  There's a medium sized crowd; all locals, except for you and the over dressed woman at the end of the bar near the exit.  You get the feeling she's there out of guilt, as though she'd gotten lost, needed directions and the bathroom, and felt obliged to stay for a drink.  The bartender guesses this and considers her pathetic, and because of that amusing.   You can tell by the way he nods over his shoulder, pointing her out to a few of his regulars on the opposite end of the bar.  There, with them, he's safe.  He can laugh at her and they'll keep his secret.  Not that he makes a habit of laughing at his customers, not even the wealthy, nearly always there-by-accident ones.  Hell, if he did that... Well, he knows word would get out.  Cruising communities are small and tight like that.  It would affect things.  Maybe not forever, but who needs the hassle?  Whatever.  You know, you can almost feel him hoping that she'll finish her drink, pin her hat on her head and go back to her yacht, the kind that on the inside is indistinguishable from a house.  If you're right, the bartender won't have to think about her much longer.  She'll take a few more sips of her umbrella drink and run for cover.

On some signal that you don't catch, conversations start to die out.  The whole bar quiets down.  A guy walks over to the mic, taps it, straps on his guitar.
The singer, this evening's--every evening's--entertainment at this bar: he's that guy, the guy who will single-handedly start a style of music.  Or maybe he's the guy who inspired that guy, the one who really deserves the credit, the one no one else's ever heard of.  Doesn't matter, not to this crowd.  He's homegrown which makes him theirs and he's good which makes them his and everyone concerned knows the score.  It's been that way for at least a generation.

He starts with something tuneful and bouncy, a musical ice-breaker, as if he needed to introduce himself.  It's the only number all night he decides on ahead of time.  Long ago he stopped making set lists.  They're a waste of his time as far as he's concerned.  The audience, his audience, they tell him what they want to hear.  It's not the kind of song that holds your attention so your mind starts to drift.  You wonder, a bit cynically, where he gets his inspiration for new songs after all these years, if maybe like begets like.  Maybe, maybe by accident, his new ones sound a little like the old ones everybody asks for.  Maybe more than a little.  What if he's been using his audience as a barometer of sorts and none of them realizes it.  You imagine what would happen if you went up to him between sets and suggested it. Would he agree?  Would he consider it sucking up or laziness or would he think he was just being realistic?

You order another drink hoping your choice doesn't peg you as a tourist.  It's easy to tell what the locals drink; hard to tell what they don't.  Not that you care whether the waitress thinks you're a local; you just don't want her or anyone else to take you for something you're not.  It's a point of pride. You're a traveler and there's all the difference in the world between that and a tourist.  Tourists are dilettantes and everyone who's not one knows it.  They come, take their pictures, buy their T-shirts, go home.  Ask them how their trip was and they'll tell you about the food, show you photos of some awesome hike they went on.  The wife will dangle her souvenir gold earrings at you.  There's your answer. That's all they know about wherever they've been.  And it doesn't matter where they've been cause they never really leave home.  They do what they always do wherever they go.  Pathetic.  You, you're a sailor, an explorer.  When it comes right down to it, you're an addict, always hoping to score a fresh breeze.  There's a place you go--the place you're from--only when your other options have run dry and then only as long as it takes to earn some scratch, just enough to buy parts for your boat and pay for another stamp in your passport.  You live your life thin, right to the bone.  It's not your style, per se; it's the way it has to be.  Just now, this drink, you didn't expect to order it, it's one more than you usually spring for.  But the guy, the singer had just started a number when the waitress came by and there was something about it.  Something told you it was that kind of song.  The song you were born with, the one that calls to you, a sailor's and a traveler's song.

The melody, not haunting, not sad, just resigned; the lyrics spare, only saying what always was and what always will be.  It's a weird life you live: one half lonely; the other half borrowed.  You go adrift for days on end.  Once you had secrets; now the wind knows them all.  Another course set, another port where you'll swap stories with old friends you never met before.  If they aren't doing what you are, they did...or they will...or both.  Someone'll happen to have a part you need; somebody'll need something you can do and you're practically a clan before the week is out.  That's fine and it's nice for a very short time, but you know from the start it has too little pull.  Why you're like this you don't know.  You never get tired of your own company and the sea is just about all the love you need.  On the other hand, if you could you'd mount a flotilla, you would cause it gets wearisome leaving folks behind.  But it is what it is and you are what you are and you'd already left even before you arrived.  The stayers get by on a much smaller world.  But you: the horizon, the one always rolling away, that's your home.

You snap your head back to catch the last few drops of your extra drink, but you'd already drained the glass.  You weren't thinking to get away with anything when you took a seat at the back of the room.  Most of them are here, the other members of this new tribe of yours, but no one spotted you. And somebody must've called in because you've never seen the girl before whose been waiting your table.  That's OK, it's better this way, better to take some time to think.  Tomorrow, with a cannonball tethered to your heart, you'll start the good-byes.  Some will talk about meeting up with you sometime in another country.  Maybe they will, maybe they won't.  It's just what people say when they can't say goodbye. You'll be back here a few days from now pounding them down one after another.  No harm to the budget then; they won't let you buy a one.  You'll get up to leave before anyone else.  No one will be offended.  It's expected.  You'll stumble back to your boat and crawl into oblivion.  The next day, you'll be up before the dawn, your anchor weighed by the first light of morning. You'll watch another place, another world slowly fade away until it slips over the edge of time.  And there'll you be once again, a captain on the ocean, a sailor on the sea, alone aboard your vessel except for a fresh crew of ghosts.


  1. "On the other hand, you'd mount a flotilla, you would cause it gets wearisome leaving folks behind."
    I miss you, my friend. This is beautifully written and beautifully you.

    1. Miss you, too. I know so few people who can tease humanity as lovingly as do you. I miss that.

  2. Beautiful, Ean. I like thinking of you as a traveler. Bless you and all your voyages, always.

    1. I'm sitting at the front of the boat, with a glass of Jack and a cigar, watching a superb sunset and thinking how wonderful it is to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Deb.