In The Beginning – How I Met Ted

I could start this story with the moment we first heard the word ‘cancer’, but that isn’t really the beginning. If there is to be value attached to what was lost, then there must be knowledge of it. I guess this is a romantic tragedy. Therefore, the beginning will begin much earlier than that. It will be the true beginning….no, not back as far as my birth – or his. Perhaps the best place to start is when we first met and our lives began to intertwine.

It was long ago and far away (about 40 years) in the subtropical paradise of the Florida Keys. A lazy sunny place of gentle ocean waves and salt-scented breezes; of warm salty beach water and the smell of rotting seaweed; of knee-high Key Deer and almost invisible no-see-ums that I’m sure resemble a set of poisonous flying fangs if seen under a microscope.

I lived in the midst of all this with my first husband, the short park ranger with the Napoleon complex who liked to drink a lot, smoke a lot – not necessarily cigarettes – and strut in a way that a larger man finds unnecessary.

I already knew my marriage to him was a BIG MISTAKE, but was still young and stupid and had no idea of how to get out. Since my Dad told me when I eloped with Park Ranger Man that, “You’ve made your bed, now you have to sleep in it,” I didn’t think going back home was an option.

At that time we lived hand to mouth, I had three jobs, and on just his park ranger salary we qualified for food stamps. I had learned in the first year of our marriage that if I wanted any money to spend on personal items we would have to have rules about spending. The only rule that worked was to split all the bills down the middle, what was left in his hand was his, what was left in my hand was mine. He mostly drank his salary up and ended up borrowing money from me at the end of the month for his share of the rent.

At 7:00 am I went to work at a convenience store in Marathon, at noon I went to another convenience store between hotels on the beach, changed into an orange bikini, and worked as a cabana girl for the afternoon. That was a fun job and I’ve had my photo taken with more couples in matching flowered shirts and shorts than I can count. At 4:30 I changed again and spent the evenings on Duck Key working as a waitress in the Ship’s Inn until 1:00 am.

It sounds terrible so far, but it wasn’t really. We had a 23′ sloop with a roll-up keel and births for 6 that we sailed around the islands on our days off. Sometimes we would join up with other sailing friends – each couple had their own boat – and would tour around the islands for the entire weekend. The Keys were very laid back in those days and I usually managed to work my shifts so that my days off fell on the same days.

One night I came home and there was my husband sitting in the living room with a tall, skinny, dark-haired man, an exceptionally tall (well over 6′) woman, and a shorter pretty woman. I was introduced to Ted and his two traveling companions. The shorter girl was Sharon, his girlfriend, and the taller girl, Candy, was a friend who was traveling with them.

To tell the honest truth, I was not impressed. It was almost 2:00 in the morning, I was exhausted, Ted was too skinny, Candy was too tall, Sharon was too pretty and I was too tired so I said hello on my way through the house to the bedroom and collapsed to the bed, but couldn’t sleep because they sounded like they were having such a good time.

The following day was a day off so I climbed back out of bed, dressed, and joined the party in the living room.

Now, as a ‘hand to mouth’ household, we didn’t have a lot of stuff in the cupboards so Ted offered to order in something. Order in?? This is the Keys. The nearest open restaurant was in Key West – 79 miles away. So…..we all piled into his car and off we went to the donut shop in Key West! Through the course of that drive we learned a lot about each other and became friends. Macho Park Ranger Man was impressed by the fact that one man was traveling with two women, and was overwhelmed with Candy’s stature. I was mildly amused by the whole thing, and Sharon was stand-offish.

Back then gas was $.39 per gallon so a drive of 79 miles cost almost nothing, but within the next few weeks the gas shortage would hit with drastic consequences for driving in the Keys. For one thing, gas stations would only sell a customer three gallons of gas at a time. This meant that a person driving a Monte Carlo and pulling an 18′ travel trailer couldn’t get enough gas to get to the next gas station, much less back to the mainland. Our new friends were stuck in the Keys!

Over the next three months the five of us spent a lot of time together, sometimes sailing, sometimes bar-hopping, sometimes partying at home, and sometimes at dinners out. As we got to know each other I could see that Ted and Sharon were barely hanging on to a relationship and I guess Ted could see the same about Donny and me.

At that time the knowledge of their relationship problems was merely a point of interest. I was dealing with work, a failing marriage, money shortages, lack of sleep, and a myriad of other less urgent problems and felt no draw toward Ted. He was tall and kind of cute, but too skinny, and seemed like a wimpy kind of person.

All good things come to an end eventually, as did the gas shortage, and soon enough it was time to wave goodbye to the Canadians and for life in the Keys to get back to normal.

If you have a comment or a story about your first meeting with the love of your life, please post it in the comments section. I would love to hear from you. Each week the top story will be posted on the Comments of the Week page.

For those who haven’t met their True Love yet, hand in there. The best things come to those who wait. Until next week……Vickie


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