Confusion filled every pore and cell in Cal’s body as he lay in his bed, flat on his back, eyes barely open in the bright sunlight pouring in the room. Where was he? How did he get there? And, why is he just now waking up when the day has obviously been underway for hours.
Ok, he knew where he was. However, he did not think he was in his room until he opened his eyes. Until that moment he had been out on the sea, riding the swells up and down, breathing in the fresh salt air. He’d been with his old friend Rudy, who had just shown up on the boat (the way people do when you’re deep in a dream). Rudy was indeed an old friend, but the trouble was he’d died twenty years before.
His death had come as a shock to Cal. Rudy was the consummate sailor, who had taught Cal to sail. He’d infected Cal with his love of the sea, and the warm Gulf water. He sometimes took off for days, even weeks, by himself. He’d call Cal from Key West or Turks and Caicos, regaling him with his stories of daring, and stories of dolphins in the starlight, and cups of coffee as the sunrise spread its rosy glow across the water. A squall had come up as he’d made his way from somewhere in the Florida keys to somewhere in the Bahamas, a dangerous white squall where the seas rose and began breaking over the bow under the almost hurricane-force winds that accompanied it. The Coast Guard determined when they finally found his 40′ yawl drifting in the Gulf after days of searching, that his boat had capsized in the squall, sending him into the ocean while his boat flew away on the wind. His body had never been found.
Laying there now in the stillness, he could still hear his old friend’s voice telling him stories about what he’d been up to, his laughter filling the air like the wind filled the boat’s sails. It was such a wonderful dream, to see his closest old buddy once again. They had talked about real things, like Cal’s brush with cancer and how the experience had changed him. They even had a conversation about Rudy’s death, how Cal had missed him and sunk into a depression for a long while after. The depression had sent him out to sea, literally, where he found himself most at home.
Rudy smiled at him, “Well, this always was your place, wasn’t it?”
“Yours too….” Rudy replied, his voice tinged with sadness and introspection.
Yeah, it was a place they both loved. Cal always felt closest to whatever consciousness had put him there. It allowed him to climb out of the depths of sadness and grief, once again feeling grateful to be alive. He loved the feel of the water beneath him, the sight of the wind filling the sails, the rhythm of the boat’s rise and fall in the swells. Rudy knew, having spent countless hours on a boat with Cal.
Finally, Rudy said he had to go. He reached into his pocket and then held out his hand. “There’s something I always wanted to give you, and never had the chance.” He opened his hand, and Cal saw the beautiful nautilus shell, it’s edges trimmed in gold, that Rudy used to wear on a gold chain around his neck. Rudy always said it reminded him how life expands, and renews over and over again. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember ever seeing Rudy without it. Rudy took Cal’s hand and put the shell in his hand.
“I gotta go, buddy, but think of me when you wear this. I’m always with you, no matter where you are.”
And with that, Rudy was gone, and the shock of his leaving, Cal realized, was what woke him. He breathed in a deep breath. He thanked whatever powers that were for letting him see and talk to Rudy once more. What a great dream he’d had. A smile slowly crept across his face, as a tear rolled down his cheek.
He was awake now. He was aware of the sunlight pouring in the windows, and of the palm fronds swaying in the breeze. As he began to move, he realized he was grasping something in his hand, holding onto it so tightly that his fingers were aching. He slowly opened his hand. In a mixture of disbelief and complete awareness, he clasped the nautilus shell, trimmed in gold, to his heart, whispering “Thank you Rudy. Thank you.”