I was introduced to Oakley on a summer afternoon when we took a voyage on a Tahiti ketch, owned by a mutual friend, to an island in the bay. Seeing Oakley smile was like watching the sun rise. His smile was spectacular- curving, highly amused, red lips in front of white teeth, accented by a blonde mustache and accessorized by eyes that danced with incorrigibility. I liked him immediately.
For the record, I knew Oakley before my husband did and before my husband knew me. We confided in each other about the sorry state of our romantic lives. We didn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings and we offered one another advice. We behaved badly, separately.
My husband met Oakley through the fishing brotherhood. They behaved badly together. They talked to each other on the radio offshore and met up at the bar after they landed. One time Oakley’s truck got the boot outside one of their favorite bars; Oakley got a torch and cut it off.
We didn’t tell Oakley we were seeing each other for a while because it was so much fun to hear him speculate. When he finally found out, he was almost as happy as we were. We made dinner for him and he hugged me in affirmation before he left. It was always good to see him.
The last time we saw him, he came over for breakfast and commented, at length, about the potential toxicity of my strong coffee. He was on his way to South America to fish. We looked forward to his return. Oakley went to Seattle instead. We didn’t see him again. My husband called me, his voice thick with tears, from a waterfront bar in the fishing town where we’d met. He’d asked the bartender where Oakley was and found he had died.
Yesterday, I looked through a box of love letters that my husband kept from those offshore years. I had written happily of seeing Oakley at the bank where I worked. He’d caused a big ruckus after he found out we were seeing each other. Never a quiet person, Oakley’s voice carried from general enthusiasm and years of talking over boat engines and screeching weather. On his way out he’d smiled his spectacular smile- curving, highly amused, red lips in front of white teeth, accented by a blonde mustache and accessorized by eyes that danced with incorrigibility and he said, “It’s good to see you, you look radiant.” I said, “I do?” “Yup” he said, “it must be all that good scroggin’ you’ve been getting!” and he took his spectacular smile, in his right off the boat fish clothes, and positively swaggered through the mahogany doors of that stuffy bank. I laughed out loud at his irreverent observation.
I think of him and remember his smile, with tears in my eyes.