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Hookup. I hooked up with Sally a year or so after Linda and I went our separate ways. She was a server at a pizza joint just up East Tennessee Street 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 as heck met my people. She started coming to the chanting + meditation sessions and even 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 I later realized had to have cost her lots of choice weekend shifts.

Secret beach. I never liked going to the beach. I burned easily. I hated the sticky, sandy state being at the beach left me in. I was ready to go after fifteen minutes: yep, it's a beach. Can we go now? But 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 of friends who had been there as guides we drove along Highway 98 east of Destin. The had us turn south toward the Gulf onto an unmarked dirt road through the pines and palmetto. The road ended next to a cypress pond full of that dark brown water I had such a longstanding fixation on. We walked on braiding paths to the beach, nearly a mile further through the palmetto scrub. The sand along this stretch of the 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 stained coffee color but crystal clear. The bottom was that pure white sand. The pond was no doubt spring fed. Cypress pond water is mildly acidic. It washed away the beach's sand and stickiness 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. That's the closest salt water to Tallahassee, but don't be thinking beach. The Gulf is still several swampy miles away, down the St Marks River. St Marks the Town lies at the junction of the St Marks and Wakulla Rivers. The Wakulla River is an eleven-mile spring run carrying crystal clear water from Wakulla Springs, a spring of the first water. Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in the Wakulla River. We went to St Marks to hang out in 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 high oil content. But if you smoked your mullet right away it was a delicacy, at the time the best smoked fish I'd ever tasted. But I had not yet tasted smoked chinook salmon collars. We ate raw oysters and smoked mullet, we drank Miller long necks, and we listened to country music on the jukebox. All of which led me to coin the epithet Mullet Miller's & Merle for those rainy afternoon expeditions I went on with Sally, back in the not so good ol' days. But those expeditions were some of the best times we had together.

Denouement. Our relationship was doomed from the start. The denouement was a sad affair. Sally got pregnant. When she told me, it was suddenly all over because 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. The pieces never fell into place until I wrote this story. I was meant to be Sally's ticket out of a life she desperately wanted out of. She wanted to trade it for the kind of life she saw or imagined me living. I never saw it coming; I was way too clueless and self absorbed. But my answer would have been the same in any case. Marriage was never for me. At least not until the time was ripe for that particularly fruitful mistake I needed to make.