I called Betsy from a phone booth in Edenton, North Carolina, on the Albemarle Sound, where descendants of Blackbeard the Pirate were members of the Chamber of Commerce. I was on the road, I told her, looking for a house to raise kids in and a sailboat to travel with; I went on with the whole story of my decision to build a family.
She listened without comment, cautious, as she had every right to be. And I should have been more cautious, but a shared thrill—a whimsical, musical exchange of silence took over the conversation.
I invited her out for the house hunt that weekend, offering to pay for an airplane ride, if she would join me in New Bern.
Betsy had once been a real estate agent. She knew value in houses and had a cutthroat attitude about getting her way financially. Her business instincts I considered advantageous, as long as you and she were on the same side of the deal. I was looking for somebody to handle the money.
The California hair was another thing about her. She had the most beautiful head of hair I’d ever seen. It was big all the way. She was six-feet tall with her high heels on, naturally blonde and ruddy-fair; her skin could take the sun. She was tough-minded, physically superb—in better shape than I was—five years younger.
Before we lived together in the mountains, she had been in Los Angeles, taking a shot. She had found her way among boulevard types and hangers-on, accepting invitations to pool parties. The closest she came to a golden ticket was landing a job selling health food and vitamin supplements for a longevity guru.
I liked willingness to gamble with time, jump at chances. To be with her was to have your image enhanced. The men were envious and jealous of you. Other women wanted you because she did, challenged to take you away. Men tried to possess her in fee simple, always completely, and she always had options. Every man who laid eyes on her felt the tug, her the kind men got violent over.
One lover she told me about had gotten rough repeatedly. Probably angry at her for being too pretty, her was not careful to keep his ego pumped. He had given her several black eyes, that had kept her at home where he wanted her. In the end, she pulled a pistol on him.
She would have pulled the trigger, she said, laughing at the memory of him begging her to put the pistol down.
She was not bragging. She told about the incident the way one does who has overcome fear and is acting to defend herself. She laughed with pride, which is a cruel sound. She asserted, and I believed her, she would have shot to kill, if he touched her again, only next time he would not have heard the pistol go off. I found that admirable.
We talked about living together again, neither of us knew if it would work out. But in the mountains, the romance didn’t last long. Dropping it the way we did didn’t cost much.
She wanted a baby more than ever.
I did too.
Driving backroads on the western shore of Pamlico Sound, headed for Beaufort and Morehead City, we didn’t discuss having one, it was understood, like a change in the wind when it blows your way. The sails draw tight, and the boat picks up speed in silence. We held hands businesslike, agreed to a purpose more compelling than romance.
The adventure was underway, like throwing the lines off on a sailboat headed for deepwater. The baby we would make would be real on the other side.