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Hookup. A year after Linda and I went our separate ways, I hooked up with Sally. She was a server at a pizza joint just up East Tennessee St from the hippie sandwich shop where we put on our weekly chanting + meditation sessions. One night after being all holy and shit I wanted something a little greasier than those hippie sandwiches, so I walked up to the pizza joint for a slice or two, and Sally was my server. She was slim with tightly curled mouse brown hair she wore in an afro. Not what you'd call a looker, but pretty in her way. She had a refined look to her. That doesn't make sense in the big picture, but there ya go. What do I know?

Flirtation retarded. She seemed unusually talkative for a server in a pizza joint. Despite being profoundly retarded in this particular dimension of human interaction, I finally realized she was flirting with me. So I clumsily flirted back, and before I left we had a date: I would take her out to dinner. I offered to pick her up, but she insisted on meeting at my place. I said great, we can have a glass of wine there before going out.

Butterflies. She wasn't someone I'd normally notice. Plain compared to high school and college girlfriends. But it had been a long dry spell. I was aflutter the night she was coming over. My apartment was spotless. I was in my third or fourth outfit. The wine was open to breathe. I saw her park her little beater, heart in throat. She rang the buzzer, I let her in, and I don't think we actually said a word after that, we were just all over each other. We were together a little over three years.

North Florida cracker. Sally's accent was just like mine, only she was the real deal, not some chameleon faker who was just passing through and found it easier to adopt the local lingo than to stand out as a foreigner. I never met any of her family or even other friends. Now I realize she was hiding all that from me.

Family. She sure met my people. She came to the chanting + meditation sessions and got one of the t-shirts I had designed with our lotus logo. She started coming with me on my regular weekend trips to visit my folks over on the Suwannee River, which probably cost her lots of choice shifts.

Secret beach. I never liked going to the beach. I burned easily. I hated the sticky, sandy feeling being at the beach left me with. I was ready to go after fifteen minutes. Everyone else wanted to stay for hours. The car ride home was nasty because my thin skin was sunburned, gritty, and irritated by the salt. But Sally loved going to the beach. I'd heard about a secret beach near Destin that was supposed to be amazing and mentioned it to her. She really wanted to go. I gave in without much fuss because I was curious what all the foofaraw was about. With a couple friends along as guides we drove along Highway 98 east of Destin then turned south toward the Gulf onto an unmarked dirt road through the pines and palmetto. The road wound around and ended next to a cypress pond full of that dark brown water. We walked on braiding paths to the beach, nearly a mile futher through the palmetto scrub. The sand along this stretch of the Fla panhandle is touted as the whitest in the world, and the beach was indeed lovely. We played on the beach and I got tired of it sooner than anyone else. To my surprise, my friends were happy to head back. When we got to the cypress pond they dove in and relaxed in the dark water. The tannic water was crystal clear, stained coffee color; the bottom was that pure white sand. Cypress pond water is mildly acidic. It washed away the sand and stickiness from the beach and soothed my tender skin, irritated by the harshly alkaline environment of the beach. Like the ads say, it restored my skin's natural acid balance. My skin felt smooth and happy after my stump water soak. I had finally found a beach I could live with.

Topless. On a rainy afternoon when there wasn't much to do, Sally and I liked to drive south to St Marks. St Marks was the closest salt water to Tallahassee. There was nothing like a beach. The Gulf was several miles down the Wakulla River estuary. We liked to go to a classic funky dive, Posey's Oyster Bar, billed as the Home of the Topless Oyster. Besides oysters, Posey's served smoked mullet, sometimes still warm from the smoker. Mullet is an oily fish with a bad reputation: it spoils fast due to the oil content. Local wags called The Tallahassee Democrat The Tallahassee Mulletwrapper. But if you smoked it right away, it was scrumptious, the best smoked fish I'd ever tasted. At the time I had not yet tasted smoked salmon collars. We ate raw oysters and smoked mullet, drank Miller long necks, and listened to country music on the jukebox, leading me to coin the motto Mullet, Miller's and Merle for those rainy afternoon expeditions.

Denouement. Our relationship was doomed from the start. The denouement was a sad affair. Sally got pregnant. When she told me she was pregnant despite our precautions, it was suddenly all over. She didn't get the response she was hoping for. At the time that response never even entered my mind.

Atlanta. I drove her up; one clinic still offered abortions. It was the most miserable trip of my life, and clearly much worse for her. Soon after we hit the road home, she started having terrible cramps as the air used for inflation worked its way out. The nurse had said, "There may be some discomfort." Discomfort my ass. Her pains got so intense that we finally pulled into a La Quinta Inn so she could lie down. The desk clerk was a fucking asshole, all but outright proclaiming us a john and his ho, but I gritted through it and got the room key. Lying down was a relief, but the air was so dreadful between us she soon chose to get back on the road. She wanted to be home and done with me. It burned to leave after an hour, fully justifying the asshole clerk's assessment of us, but that's what we did.

Clueless and self absorbed. The pieces never came together until I started writing this up. I was to be Sally's ticket out of a life she wanted to escape. I never saw it coming. But the answer would have been the same, however clueful I might've been. Marriage was never for me until it became time for that particular mistake I needed to make.