Derek Christophers fell in love with the Aegean sea years ago when he served as financial consultant to a Greek shipping company, and later with the Greek government on an independent contract during the financial crisis. God knew they needed as much help as they could get after spending money like a drunk kid with his parents’ credit card. What was it with these people? It’s as if they thought they could beat the math by sheer force of will.
With a life full of schedules, budgets, year-end reports, the blue expanse of the sea where it met the sky seemed to transcend all of it. He took out his sailboat, Destiny Chaser, to explore the waterways talked about in the oldest stories in the world, not that Derek put much stock in old myths. He could understand their appeal though. Although he would never think of things this way, he had myths of his own that put him in the role of questing hero, fashioned after years of almost supernatural success. He was in demand from the beginning, even as recessions came and went. He sailed those seas undaunted. That’s how he was able to buy Destiny Chaser in the first place. It was his own private Argo to explore the seas of heroes and legends as a captain of his own fate.
But for the recent mutiny in his life, that is. Heidi had left him.
He met her while at some party in New York five years ago that one of his clients had thrown. She was young and idealistic; just Derek’s type. Heidi was a starry-eyed intern for some PR firm, beautiful, and quietly desperate in a way that only the young and ambitious can be. How could Derek resist? More importantly, how could she? He had just the bait for that particular fish, and she swallowed it whole. He didn’t believe in marriage after being burned three times by then, but he did believe that someone on his arm at all the right parties, someone demure and beautiful, could alter the perceptions of many a reticent business connection for the better. In his business, connections were everything. So were appearances. With Heidi at his side, a knock out in a body-form sequined dress and high heels, business was booming. She would charm them. Derek would seal their fate.
It seemed like the first year or two, Heidi and he had lived on a diet of champagne, nose candy, and mutual social benefit. They both got what they wanted for a while. But, then Heidi went back to school to get qualifications to start her own PR firm. The fights started, and Derek began to wake up to the inevitability of change where all women were concerned. She couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, attend the right parties with him anymore, and Derek was left to do all of the heavy lifting himself. It forced him into the humiliating position of having to make excuses for her absence. Worst of all, Heidi formed opinions. Before he knew it, she formed the wrong opinion about Derek, and left him a note one morning. She left him and everything else behind, including the money. He couldn’t believe it. She left the money, too. That’s how much she grew to despise him. She went back to live with her mother in Midwest Nowheresville where she’d come from to start again, maybe to start her own company in Chicago somewhere, she said. Derek didn’t really know the details, or care. He had things to do in Greece that would take his mind off all of it.
Derek drove up the coast from Athens and stayed on in Volos where Destiny Chaser was docked. He slept on the boat. He couldn’t face going back to Manhattan right away. He needed a recharge, a reset. He missed her, godammit. He hated her, too. Opinions. Opinions on everything from his business practices, to his clients, to his friends, to New York, to the place he ordered pizza, to the quality of the booze he bought. She had opinions about having a baby. There were opinions about Derek that went unsaid, too. Age hadn’t mattered to her at first, when it suited her. But she grew disinterested in him, his girth, his crows feet, his bald spot. He just knew it. Shouldn’t she be the one worrying about looks and how time would change them? What else did she have other than her beauty, anyway? A petty little PR and communications degree from NYU? How much farther would it get her than if she just shut up and stayed with him? She was just a Barbie doll with an increasingly bigger mouth, and with ideas that were beyond her intellect. She’d learn the hard way how far girls like her get when they don’t know how much they’ve grown used to the kinds of comforts and security only a man can provide.
The sea was calm when Derek took Destiny Chaser out. His mind focused on thinking about Heidi, and then thinking about all women and what they all want or think they want. Derek knew all about that even if they didn’t. They want security. They want safety. They want comfort. They don’t want to have to worry about the things that make a successful life work. They just want the fruits of it, even the most ambitious of them. After all, what else was there in life for a woman that was worth pursuing, especially if they’re beautiful? Sensitivity and understanding? He could give them that to a degree, as long as it wasn’t one of those unreasonable levels of sensitivity and understanding that went beyond the realms of logic and sense, taking energy away from his own personal reservoir that was set aside for his own ambitions. To give into that kind of demand would be to lose ground. Derek Christophers did not come as far as he’d come by losing ground to anyone. That’s why beautiful women flocked to him in the first place. What sense would it make for him to give that up?
No. Like children, women need to know where the boundaries are, where the edge of the map is, and how to avoid the rocks, just like a good captain knows about. It would take a captain to remind them of all of that, to chart the right course for them even if they don’t always like the conditions of the voyage. There can’t be two captains, and there can’t be more than one ship either. Maybe they’d complain about it. But in the end, it’s what was best for them, and they would be grateful for it in the end, no matter how long it took for them to learn it. It was all a part of the security he provided for them, which is what they really wanted all along anyway, even if they talked a big game about equality and about “male vulnerability”. You could talk about love and intimacy all day long. But what was love without some kind of imbalance of power to ensure stability, where one party takes care of the other, with that other giving back their gratitude in return? Derek certainly didn’t need anyone to take care of him. The last thing he needed was some molly-coddling mothering type. So his course had always been clear when it came to women. He provided. They gave their deference and gratitude in return. Love was a simple transaction that way. Heidi didn’t see it that way. Derek supposed that’s why she really left. Good riddance to her. As the song says: baby, it’s a wild world.
Derek sailed out on the calm blue-green sea and weighed anchor about noon. He stood on the prow of the Destiny Chaser, imagining himself as a sea-going adventurer, caught in a moment worthy enough to be bronzed. He looked out eastward across the ocean toward Turkey far away. Maybe he would sail there. Or, maybe he would sail south to Crete. He could do anything. What was that Rolling Stones song? I’m free to do what I want any old time. That would be his theme song. Yet as soon as he thought of it, he couldn’t remember how that song went, and soon any thoughts of it disappeared entirely. This is what it is to live in the present, he thought to himself. The wind caught his iron-grey hair, and he breathed in the sea air. It felt like he was absorbing some ancient power that had been there since before the Greeks had founded civilization. He had come out to meet it, to drink it in, and to carry it with him back to New York. How much more powerful would he be then, free of the strife that had characterized his life at home with Heidi? He’d meet someone new soon enough, someone hungrier, and with a bigger sense of gratitude for the security and stability he provided.
Derek sailed on to the south-east toward Skyros, thinking that maybe he’d sail all the way to Izmir. Who was there to argue with now about how far he could go? There was no rush to get back home now, no one there to demand his attention or his time. Strangely, Derek felt compelled to sail as far as he could, as if he was coaxed by some melody in his head that he couldn’t quite shake; sonorous, lyrical, wordless, like one of those songs one hears just before drifting off to sleep, a lullaby that the subconscious sings to the conscious mind to soothe it of the troubles of the day.
The wind picked up in the afternoon, and as Destiny Chaser nosed her way over the increasingly wilder currents, darker clouds gathered on the horizon. Derek kept one hand on the gleaming wheel of the sleek, white, and very expensive craft, his head swimming delightfully for reasons he could not immediately understand and at the same time would not question. The strange little melody that he didn’t immediately acknowledge as a literal melody began to become more insistent. It wasn’t just a feeling, or a mood. It really was a song of some kind. Strange. Where had he heard it before? He knew it somehow. But he could not place it. It was outside of him, or very deep inside of him to the point where it coloured everything around him.
Destiny Chaser rose up on a wave and crashed down in a spray of white froth as the sea suddenly got rougher. Derek didn’t seem to notice. He hummed instead, his eyes zeroing in on the horizon. The song had taken form in his head enough for him to mimic it, and then to fully express it. His dry lips parted and he began to utter wordless musical phrases, his mind reaching for the words he knew were there and yet remained frustratingly out of reach. Nothing else seemed to matter but the song. It was like there was nothing else in the world but that song, his hand on the wheel, and the ever-darkening horizon under angry clouds into which he piloted the Destiny Chaser. That, Derek realized, was where the song was coming from. It was coming from the place between the sea and the sky. It intoxicated him. It called to him. There was nothing more important than getting to the source of that song. He must get to it. He must get to her.
What was he thinking?
Derek could not formulate it in his mind in any rational sense. The song was a woman somehow. No. The song was sung by a woman. It was both of those, he thought eventually. It was a passing thought at that. Thoughts of anything else soon became impossible, not before the song itself ceased to be just in his mind, but rather in his very ears. He was actually hearing it, thinking it, humming it, his hands gripping the wheel as Destiny Chaser careened into the choppy sea.
Come. Come to love
Come to the place where there are no demands
No requests, no obligations, no one to command
Tired, tired sailor on the boundless sea
Bring your love, bring your love, bring your love home to me …
A mist seemed to envelope him. Was it real or was it imagined? Derek could no longer see in front of him either way until she appeared before him, far away and yet close up, too. Distance was an illusion. She was naked and perfect, with a passive and inviting look in her eye, and a kindly smile. It was a smile of innocence, of something that was wholly untouched and unspoiled by the world. She was an empty vessel waiting to be filled, there and yet not there at the same time. She was asking him to fill her, to define her. She would not resist him, just as he could not resist her. She wanted him. She would not hold back on that desire, she promised. In that moment, he wanted her too. He was desperate for her, as if by breathing in her ocean (for it was hers, and hers alone), he would be allowed to partake of Aphrodite’s own wine, to become gloriously drunk on love itself. She had come from the sea, thought Derek. That was where all love was born, and from which all life had sprung. He was coming home, wrapped in her song. She asked for nothing in return. She would not fight him, or contradict him. She would not change her view of him. She would never age, or grow bitter. She didn’t need anything of him other than for him to come to her, to love her.
And he did love her.
Come to me, come to me,
I am your final refuge …
Destiny Chaser smashed herself over a shoal of rocks, and Derek Christophers was thrown into the sea. It was warm like a child’s bath as his head went under, and he was grateful for its embrace. It made him feel safe. He didn’t realize how tired he was until that moment weighed down by so many demands, and with no one to help him with his great burden. But she would take care of him. She would let him rest, finally. The wreckage of his sleek boat capsized in the place where he had gone under. The limp sail of Destiny Chaser floated on the surface of the sea like a shroud.
There, descending into the blue, he breathed her in deeply to let out a sigh. He was so in love.