Perdido Key State Park, Florida – December 26, 2012
The truth is I don’t know Giulia very well. We share a lot of friends, the dearest friends, friends I would hand my life over to without a thought, but the two of us are more names and pictures to each other than anything else.
I heard stories. I knew she used work as a wild-land firefighter. I knew we went to law school together. I knew her favorite teacher gave me my worst grade. But that’s all resume stuff. I don’t know her.
I went to Los Angeles just over a year ago to visit two of my best friends–one her roommate, the other her coworker–and thought I would finally get to know this Giulia character they’d been telling me about, but I arrived just as she headed out-of-town for work.
“Can you drive a stick shift?” she asked.
I nodded and she tossed me the keys to her truck, told me I could sleep in her room if I wanted a bed, and showed me how to water her garden while she was away. She got back just before I left and both of us laughed about how one day we might get to know each other.
She caught me online a few months ago, just after I’d crossed the Savanna Portage, to tell me she was happy I was alive.
“I gotta come visit California to say hi,” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
We paused then both of us spoke at the same time.
“Or you could come paddle the Mississippi,” I said.
“Or I’ll meet you to paddle the Mississippi,” she said.
We both laughed it off, then silence as the idea sunk in.
“Be careful who you invite to do crazy things because I might take you up on it,” she said.
“I am careful,” I said.
That’s how we ended up standing next to each other a block away from Lori’s house. Our boats lay with their noses in the water and we stared at Arnica Bay. Last night’s storm left a wind that raced at us, punching up waves that crashed and splattered against the boat ramp.
The water looked angry, bad, all reflected chop and spray, unpredictable with little white caps. It wasn’t what I wanted. Giulia had never paddled a sea kayak before in her life and I wanted calm. I wanted glassy water and clear skies. I wanted everything so still that I could lean over and see my reflection.
“What do you think?” I said. “We can always stay another night.”
Giulia looked out at the water, taking it in, digesting it, thinking, weighing that warm house full of joy at our back against the adventure crashing toward us, then grabbed her paddle.
“Let’s try it,” she said. “If I flip, at least I can swim.”
No, I don’t know Giulia very well, but she’s no resume anymore, no picture and name. I love people who know how to leap. They remind you how to live.