Return to Seattle, pt. 1

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An orange sun tinted with a little grenadine was sinking low over the Olympic Peninsula, turning Pugent Sound shimmery and quicksilver below the grassy bluff where we were sitting. I turned off my phone and dropped it on the blanket next to Amy.

We would not be hurriedly decamping from our borrowed Camano Island cottage and rushing the 55-mile drive to Seattle a day early after all, as good an idea as it had seemed for the first few minutes after Amy suggested it.

I hadn’t known the others would all be in Seattle already; I was expecting to meet up with them the next day, the day of Bruce’s wedding, and had only called James to find out where we would be having lunch. After the first call, Amy could sense my disappointment at missing out on the reunion already in progress at the Owl and Thistle, the gang’s old Post Avenue watering hole, the gravitational center of my memories of Seattle and the time, 12 years ago, when I wore Coast Guard blue and worked on a ship that still ties up just down the street.

“If you want to go right now, I’m game,” she said, closing her book on her finger. “We could be packed and down there in two hours.”

The old fire briefly came over me at this, and I pictured myself banging through the door of the bar and ordering up a tray of shots before even looking for the table. I called James back.

“Are you going to stay out and drink like men, or will you be going back to your hotels soon, like small girls?” I asked. Amy looked up from her book, surprised at my turn of phrase.

No less than I was. I guess personality really is relative to situation. Probably I should be glad I didn’t say something much worse.

They passed the phone from hand to hand, their noncommittal answers barely audible over the clamor of the dinner rush around them.

Noncommittal answers from Hunter and James, who had invented Fight Club in 1996 at the end of a whisky-soaked liberty night in Kodiak, returning to the ship after a friendly fist fight with bruises and at least one black eye, about which an explanation had to be dreamed up the next morning for the higher-ups; from Skip, who had once gone out drinking for at least one night with what later turned out to be a collapsed lung; from Bruce, who used to invite you to join him in polishing off a bottle of booze apiece on lazy Saturday afternoons.

We were 12 years younger then, sailors trying to ignore the floating prison waiting at the end of the port break. Now the group comprises a college administrator, a federal agent, a systems engineer, a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer, and some sort of freelance writer.

My fire banked and dimmed a little, and I realized that I was relieved not to be hearing roars of assent, and that I wouldn’t now be forced to hold to my self-selected role as the late-arriving bad influence. Relieved, too, that I wouldn’t be reeling from a hangover while exploring Seattle the next morning, on my first visit to the city since I drove down the pier away from that ship, 12 years ago.

I’m still willing to seize the day, I just like to keep the next morning in mind a little as well.

“Maybe I’ll just see you guys at lunch,” I told James.

I turned off my phone and dropped it on the blanket next to Amy.

The sun was almost out of sight behind the Olympic Peninsula, the waters of Pugent Sound now black and mainly theoretical below the grassy bluff where we were sitting.

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