It was the summer of 1990. “Black Velvet” was playing on every jukebox in bars I wasn’t technically allowed to visit quite yet, and hairstyles were slowly starting to climb down from the cosmic heights we had spent most of the last 5 years trying to achieve while simultaneously doing our part to destroy the planet’s ozone layer.
I had been seeing Tom since the beginning of June when his backhanded flattery and sexy, sun-bronzed surfer looks knocked me onto my back for what ended up being about a three month roll in the hay. He was twenty-seven years old, which was attractive to me as I was tired of dealing with boys. His eyes were a piercing blue, his hair was flaxen and long untouched by any barber.
I would say we were dating. In fact, at one point, I thought we were dating. I was nineteen years old shockingly naïve about some things for as worldly as I was about others. Maybe I was just hopeful and infatuated. But three weeks into our relationship, I suggested maybe going out in public to do something instead of only meeting somewhere off the beaten path to rip each other’s clothing off. It might be fun to go see a movie. A new Tom Cruise movie was playing in the theater, and I knew he was a fan of the actor.
“You know I’m married, right, honey? That’s not going to work.” He snorted, looking at me like I had just suggested we eat scorpions.
Well, no, my mind-reading powers had never fully developed, nor had my ability to pick up on clues that would later smack me across the face, hindsight being what it is. Clues like never meeting for anything other than for quick, mostly one-sided sex in places where there was zero chance we would be seen by anyone he was acquainted with.
But, for some reason – perhaps it was the boost my self-esteem received from being paid attention to by someone so good looking and so painfully cool, as I had always felt invisible and mostly unwantable before that summer – this declaration of casual infidelity didn’t send me running in the other direction as it probably should have. After my initial disbelief that I had been carrying on with a man who had promised himself to someone else, we went along as we had since we met – meeting at lunch, after work, sometimes at the beach on a Sunday, or in a van from the used car lot where he was employed. We never had time for much more than screwing around, and I told myself that was enough for me. For now anyway. He promised that it would be different later on. Of course.
The casual hook-ups continued on for several more weeks, when one day, he brought up the idea of going out on his friend’s fishing boat later that evening. It was short notice, but I didn’t care. He told me that his buddy Mark, along with the rest of the men in his long-established Astoria family, was a commercial fisherman like many in my hometown were at that time. He had a large gillnet boat with a big cabin, and that it was pretty awesome to be out on the water at night with the music on, a few cold ones, and no one to bother you.
It sounded like magic to me. I grew up near the mouth of the Columbia River, but I didn’t personally know anyone who owned a boat anymore. I missed being out on the water, so this would be a treat.
I happily agreed to meet him down where the boat was docked around 10pm that evening. Tom asked me to keep this trip to myself because, technically, taking his friend’s work boat out was against the rules. I promised my lips were sealed. I wouldn’t tell a soul about this plan, much like I couldn’t really tell anyone about him anyway. Everything was hush hush. Our date on the boat would be no different.
Later that evening, I drove myself to the mooring basin and parked off to the side of the lot near some shrubs where my car might not be so easily spotted by passersby. Tom was standing at the top of the ramp to the docking area next to the small convenience market that sold bait, hot coffee, and other such necessities that a fisherman might need before he headed out. He was talking to a man I hadn’t seen before.
It then dawned on me that the man was his friend Mark. Until that moment, I had the idea that it was just going to be Tom and I. Finally, out together in a manner that wouldn’t jeopardize his secrecy. But, as I gave it some thought, it occurred to me that Tom probably had no real clue how to pilot a boat like this. I guess this wasn’t going to be a romantic night on the bay for two. Of course, my teenage brain still hadn’t fully understood what the relationship was really about.
“Hey, there you are, girly. This is my friend, Mark.”
Mark politely reached out to shake my hand, gently smiled, and told me he had heard a lot about me. He seemed like a pleasant guy, a good five or six inches taller than Tom’s stocky frame, with dark curly hair that reached just past the collar on his weather-beaten jacket. Not bad looking, though my nostrils were being assaulted by the shitty aftershave he wore in an attempt to disguise the faint odor of the fish he worked with every day.
“You look real sexy, hon. Ready to go?” Tom held out his hand to me, smiling.
I told him I was, and we headed down the ramp onto the dock and approached Mark’s old gillnetter.
The thought that this may be a phenomenally stupid decision did not occur to me until we boarded the boat and it pulled away from the dock.
Then suddenly it did.
Tom stood there holding a 12-pack of beer in one hand, and, in the other, a 4-pack of what all teenage girls drank at that point in time: Seagram’s Wild Berry Coolers. It tasted like soda, but it did a fantastic job dulling any inhibitions a young woman my age might have.
I looked behind me to see the dock and the store becoming smaller and smaller as we motored ahead into the night, and then turned to Tom.
Something just felt…off. I couldn’t yet put my finger on it, but my gut was yelling at me that I needed to go back.
“Hey. What’s up? Am I missing something…?”
Tom laughed and turned to me, moving his face close to me so that I could hear his voice over the sound of the water splashing off the bow and the wind whipping by.
“Don’t be a stupid girl, hon. The night is young. Relax and have a little fun with us.” He kissed my ear, and then took a long drink from the beer he had opened for himself.
I started to realize that he had more in mind our “date” than I had even begun to consider. Because why would my mind even go that direction?
I suddenly felt exactly like the stupid girl he had just told me not to be. I was spooked, and I felt cornered. I tried to stay calm because I still thought maybe I had misunderstood and there was still time to change the plans that seem to have been made for me. Maybe I was just confused.
“You know, I don’t think I’m really up to being out too late tonight. I have go in to work in the morning. Maybe drop me back off at the dock?” I suggested as firmly as I was able, but my voice came out more timid than assertive.
He looked me directly in the eye and spoke to me in a tone I hadn’t heard from before while shaking his head slightly and chuckling, “Look, I made plans, and we’re here now. It’s not like you have a choice in the matter anymore, now do ya?”
I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“I suggest you just enjoy the ride and do what you’re told,” he snapped, which seemed to surprise even him, and I flinched from a man who, just minutes before, I was pathetically infatuated with.
Then he grinned and tousled my hair before he headed back to grab another beer.
He was right. Where could I go?
Yes, I would do as I was told.
No one had a clue where I was, and there wasn’t a living soul around at this time of night who would see me. It occurred to me as I looked at the black glistening surface of the river we were cruising on that I could easily disappear out here if things didn’t go ‘as planned’. Maybe I read too many “true crime” novels.
Whatever the case, I was, for all intents and purposes, trapped.
I could protest more, I could cry, I could throw a fit. None of it was going to get me anywhere good, I knew that in my bones. I may have been naïve about a few things, but I wasn’t new to how men could be when they were told no. I had been a witness to it my whole life. I had seen consequences first-hand at home.
You chose your battles. And hoped you chose correctly.
So I grabbed a bottle out of the 4-pack of the wine coolers Tom had so generously brought for me to loosen up with.
“Well, here I am.” I popped the lid off, and drank the whole thing down at once.
“That’s my girl,” gushed Tom, as if he was proud of my resignation. What a turn on.
I walked up the deck towards the bow of the weathered vessel, the paint peeling on the outside shell of the cabin. I picked at it a bit with my index finger, the flakes blowing out into the water as they easily fell away. I looked out to the nearly half moon balanced just over the Youngs Bay Bridge and thought to myself. Nothing in particular, just what I had done that day, what I should do tomorrow if I got out of this ridiculous situation, things like that.
“Hey, hon, why don’t you get a little more comfortable over there. You are a little overdressed for the occasion if you get my meaning. Don’t be shy around Mark, he appreciates a nice view,” Tom snorted, turning to his buddy. “Better than what you got at home, right man?”
Mark shot him a look, and Tom assured him that he was only half-kidding.
I hesitated and said under my breath to no one in particular, “Well, this is how it’s going to be.” I didn’t know this man. Either of them.
I unzipped my denim shorts and stepped out of them, leaving myself standing there in a skimpy pair of bikini underpants and a blue halter top that I had picked up on my last trip to Portland with my mother. I should have been cold, being out on the water at night, but I didn’t really feel it. I was textured with goose-bumps, though, so I know my body was still capable of reacting even though I was slowly shutting off my mind. With the assistance of the cheap alcohol of course.
“Jesus Christ, will you look at that? That’s what I’m talking about, right there. SO fucking nice,” Tom praised as he and Mark took in my silhouette back-lit by the moon. I stood there on display, just gazing out over the water, consuming my second wine cooler a little faster than I normally allowed myself.
“That is damn nice, alright,” Mark agreed. He didn’t say much. He didn’t have to.
We continued a little further out towards the edge of the bay. Or past it. I couldn’t be sure exactly where we were at this point, I couldn’t see any familiar markers from where I stood. Mark slowed the pace of the boat and shut off the engine. It got so quiet. I considered jumping.
“Why don’t you come on over there with me now,” Tom said from directly behind me. I hadn’t noticed him approach me.
I hesitantly made my way past some old work boots and orange crates filled with fishing gear over to where he and Mark were standing and followed them into the cabin.
Inside, there was a captain’s chair, a desk, a dinette table, and a sleeping area with a small, tattered mattress, everything covered with a layer of grunge from being in a constant state of dampness from the typical rainy days that Astoria enjoyed most of the year.
“Finish that drink,” Tom commanded more than suggested as he removed his pullover jacket and turned to me. He started nuzzling my neck.
Before this night, his touch warmed my body, his hands making me quiver with young desire and validation. Tonight, I felt nothing but nausea and irritation at the situation I felt I had gotten myself into, his touch doing nothing to change this. The smell of beer on his breath made me shudder.
I glanced over at Mark, who, at this point, was silently watching us as if he were watching a sultry scene in a movie.
“Mark, she’s looking at you…you see that?”
I was wondering if Tom was really as stupid as he sounded in that moment and I had never noticed before right then, or if this was some script they had played out at a previous time. Probably both, I guessed.
“Hey, man, come here. Come see what I get to have any time I want,” he beckoned to his friend.
Mark awkwardly cleared his throat a few times. He removed his jacket, tossed it onto the table before he came over and sat down on the mattress to the left of where I stood. He hesitated before reaching over with his calloused hand and rubbing it up the inside of my bare thigh.
I jumped a little bit, but had no place really to pull away with Tom standing there, his body pressed up against me.
“Oh she likes that, doesn’t she…let me get out of your way,” Tom said as he maneuvered me down onto the mattress next to Mark, and then moved over to where his friend had been watching us from and got comfortable.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” Mark half whispered, half growled into my ear as he proceeded to lay me back, kissing my throat and collar bone as he pawed at my chilled body.
Tom sat there guzzling what was left of the beer that he Mark had been sharing during this trip, only a few remaining so soon into the voyage. He sat there at his captain’s perch, glassy eyed and waiting for ‘his turn’ after selflessly allowing his friend to go first.
Though the actual ‘sex’ portion of Mark’s fumbling didn’t last long, unsurprisingly, culminating with an pleased groan and him rolling off to the side, it still felt like a small eternity to me.
He stood up, grabbed for an old shirt to clean himself off with. “Hey, thanks.”
He thanked me? I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said nothing. He ambled back over to the captain’s chair, careful not to bump his head as he was just tall enough to make that an issue. Tom, sensing that he had been ‘tagged in’, got up, and Mark sat in his place.
Tom rushed over to me. “Oh, babe, that was awesome, wasn’t it? That sure looked hot from where I was standing, you liked that, right?”
I just shook my head and half chuckled, reaching for my third wine cooler. I had absolutely no idea what to say because I had no idea how it would be received. And how that would affect the rest of my night.
After an extended swig, Tom removed the bottle from my hand and laid me back again. He decided when I would drink and when I would entertain him. An unnecessary reminder that I wasn’t running shit.
He reached down with one hand, pressed it hard between my legs, and audibly inhales.
“Damn! She is so wet! She fuckin DOES like this.”
I nearly let out a laugh, but I no sound came. Maybe I had laughed internally. Because did he really not realize that he had his hand covered in what his friend had deposited once he finished with me?
“Geez, babe, that’s so hot…you’re so fucking wet for this, damn. You came around alright.”
So I smiled. “Oh yeah, that’s right I am….you like that, sweetie?”
I didn’t recognize my own voice, but it was filled with phony sex and genuine snark. I was a nineteen year old woman who, during a disgusting fucking situation, fully realized that sometimes men were really goddamn stupid.
I reached down between my legs, soaking my right hand in Mark’s semen, and I lustily pawed at Tom’s lips, inserting my index finger into his mouth, his tongue automatically flicking at it.
“You like that, honey, don’t you…so fucking wet,” I purred. Tom agreed and couldn’t get enough. “You fucking moron,” I murmured.
When he crawled on top of me to take his rightful turn with the human being’s body he bragged about getting to have anytime he wanted, the body he believed entitled to share as something he owned, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had ‘won’ a little bit. I guess sometimes we look for little victories where there are none.
As Tom finished a short time later, Mark had already started the engine back up and it appeared that we would be making our return to the docks. No reason to be out too late, really. Harder to explain to a wife he had waiting for him at home I’m certain. They were done anyhow.
I rose from the newly re-stained mattress, leaving Tom where he was on a mess of old blankets, and I grabbed the same old shirt that Mark had used to wipe himself down. I cleaned myself up as best as was even possible in that situation. I reached for my clothes, and I realized that I was finally starting to shiver, but unsure if it was from the cold. It didn’t matter.
Taking a perch on a large, green toolbox to the port side cabin, I left the men inside to compare notes while I drank my fourth and final wine cooler, stared out into the black, and pondered the inconsequential. Any ‘peril’ was no longer at the forefront of my mind, as these dumb fuckers were pretty well convinced they had given me a pretty good time, never mind my upfront, fully ineffective protests.
I didn’t know what to call what had just transpired for a long time. There are days I am still not settled on it, even though the night still creeps into my thoughts regularly enough even a quarter century later. Sometimes smelling beer on a friend’s breath will trigger the memory. Other times, while visiting my mom as I do often in my hometown where she’s lived for nearly ninety years now, it’s just the smell of the coastal air that feels specific to Youngs Bay.
I still find it fascinating how people can allow themselves to perceive a situation however it suits them, to fit their narrative. And I’ve since realized that sometimes it can be that very skill that goes a long way in keeping you sane in the long run when that narrative has included you.