It had all the trappings of a relationship on solid footing, even though our feet were often sinking in the sand. This slow shift into confident comfort comes one little moment at a time. Finally feeling certain that there will be a date next week inches into speaking of next year without dry-mouthed hesitation. It’s ok to cut toenails in front of each other. To go to sleep at different times, in different places.
It made me remember in 2013, sitting at the bar by the pool overlooking the ocean. I barely knew Steve then but my being was full of him, uncertain but thrilled with the idea of him, of us:
One beer down, my bag on the empty stool next to me, I was trying to wait for 4:00 to finish the second. That’s when Steve, who was back in Bloomington, and I had planned a virtual toast, drinking beers apart, together.
The green icy bottle of beer, a Dos Equis with a small round of lime floating midway down, sat in front of me.
I’m never able to sleep before early flights, so each year I focus on making it to this bar, to a beer. Not a walk on the beach, not a trip to the store for groceries, but a beer, chips and guacamole in this bar. The Sirena is a circular thatched-roof open air place right in the middle of the beach and pool experience. It’s where I take my first look at the blue on blue on blue. Not subtle like the gray on gray on gray of the Indiana winter, but bold and bright.
Finding a seat with the good view of people and, most importantly, the blue of the pool against the blue of the ocean against the blue of the sky can be hard. But I had mine.
The wind was slight and cool. The sun was brilliant. But it wasn't blue on blue on blue. The aqua of the pool lapped up against a gray indigo sea against a pale almost white horizon that lifted up through a spectrum of blues to a scattering of clouds.
Steve floated in my head. I had thought his eyes would match the sea, but not today. They matched the gentle blue of the sky.
I’d thought about having my beer on the beach and had walked down to the beach bar twice, but rejected it. It’s too low at sea level; I wanted the high overview. And the music from the pool above the beach, the place where they play Mexican bingo and do water Zumba, was loud and throbbing.
As I had stood considering this option, I'd seen a man out of the corner of my eye. Standing, talking with his friends. He had a rhythmic sway, perhaps he was doling out a one-liner joke. His Steve-like easy smile, trimmed-up Big Lebowski beard, and build arrested me. Froze me to my place on the little wood and rope walkway that lines the back of the beach. For a brief moment I imagined that Steve had gotten a plane ticket and showed up. Quickly I left that silly thought to bake and shrivel on the beach like an unfortunate crab left in the withdrawing tide, and turned away from Steve-not-Steve to find my rightful spot at the Sirena bar.
I love my life I thought as I scooped a freshly fried tortilla chip into the glop of guacamole, twisting over to pick up a little of the salsa too. This is my slice of paradise - I wondered if Steve would become part of it. How long had it been? When was our first date? I looked it up on my iPhone.
Two weeks. We’d only been seeing each other two weeks. Way too early for me to be so crazy about him. I cursed those endorphins that hid the ridges and jagged surface of reality like the ocean masks the unseen rocks lurking beneath its surface, awaiting eager bow of a shore-bound ship.
The Mexican timeshare salesmen say, “If you’re going to get wet, get all wet,” but I knew me, I had to wait; take lots of time. Put my toe in first. Had to get past the 30-40 day mark before dousing. That’s when the rigid no-go correction had set in with every guy I had seen since Jim’s death seven years ago. What about Steve, how might his heart operate? I didn't know.
This toast had been Steve's idea. When he said that he would raise his frosty mug at our appointed 4:00 hour to the ”warmth I bring to his life,” my heart had flooded with hope.
Even though I couldn't see into the future, I knew that I had to let our early wonderfulness wash over me. For if this was a fine thing, if indeed we were aligned, then this wonderfulness would be part of the legend of our start to which we would always refer. The Steve and Claire creation legend, like the myth of turtle upon which the world rests.
A couple squeezed into the chairs next to me. The short, round woman with spiky dyed black hair struggled to climb into the high-seated bar chair, its iron legs hard to move on the tile floor. She asked for a wine list, but this was the pool bar, there’s no wine list, just Chardonnay and Cab, corrected in a second to only Cab which was okay with her. The guy had that I’m cool with life look about him, comfortable in his t-shirt and gray short beard.
I smiled, lifted my beer, and said, “This place makes me love my life.”
He smiled, and she did too. “Yes, it’s like a dream,” he said.
They were from Toledo and tickled to find themselves in the company of another Midwesterner. We talked about the weather, the 2012 drought. About old dogs dying and not being replaced for ease of traveling. About coming home from Cabo to a car iced-in at the airport. I ventured forth my idea about building winter chops, so that the chill is not as cold, and then losing it to Cabo and never being to regain it before spring, shivering until after the crocus. They nodded agreement.
I drained my second beer as I told them my guy was not here, as if Steve were my guy and we were a regular thing. I blurted out that my fella couldn't come because he was busy building a house and he couldn't get away, but that was a good thing, lucky to have work in this economy. I claimed him as a part of my life.
“You have to get him to retire,” the woman said.
“That’s for him to decide,” I said, as if I knew his middle name.
Then we veered back to talk of our perfect lives at Hacienda del Mar: a paradise, a garden like nowhere else, a dream. So it was okay for me to imagine that Steve and I were all worked out smooth and sure of each other because that was a dream too and the people from Toledo would never know that I had only been seeing Steve for two weeks.
We talked of retirement and traveling. I mentioned my upcoming trip to London and they want to know if my invisible lover was coming with me. “We will just have to see,” I said. They exchanged a look that I couldn't decipher. Like maybe things between Steve and I were on the rocks instead of perfect.
My new Toledo friends paid up and left me alone. I didn't tell them about the virtual toast. Because it was real, not some tale I’d spun. A private affair.
I ached for Steve to be in the chair next to me. To see the blue horizon with me. The clock inched toward 4:00 and with two beers already gone, I considered cheating. I was slightly drunk; I should have gone more slowly. Maybe I could toast with the empty beer bottle. But I knew that I could not. I had to be true to the moment; Steve would be.
I caught the bartender’s eye. “Una cerveza más, por favor.”
I squeezed the small lime round into the neck of the third bottle and imagined Steve at the Upland Brew Pub, mug in hand, something hoppy.
Silently I toasted the blue on blue on blue, looking into the section of the sky that matched his eyes, knowing that it was too soon for him to be there with me. Timing isn't everything; but it’s one thing.
My phone dinged. His picture, mug in hand, arrived in my messages.