The Wife Aquatic

Key West '73


My first wife, The Wife Aquatic, was a second wave feminist.  More in the junior ranks, as a daughter or a niece or a kid sister or all of the above, but a second waver nonetheless.

I was a surfer - at Jax Beach starting in the mid-sixties - and a feminist fellow traveler by college.  Before that I was a nice, fairly decent Catholic boy with three younger sisters.  A former altar boy who did some of his best work in Latin, at old school mass, pre-Vatican II; but coming out as apostate by the time I started college.


In high school she was a community pool lifeguard in the summers.  She was, is, a Libra, I’m Aquarius - air signs, but our summer air in J-ville was so humid we might as well have been water signs.

We both had French surnames, both occupational names in the original French.  Mine means one who embroiders. Hers designates an usher or a doorkeeper, one who ushers you across the threshold.  Pronounced in the original French it sounds more like an irresistible courtesan. 

We actually met at a swim meet, a suburban neighborhood league event in J-ville in the summer of 1964.  She swam butterfly for Colonial Park,  I swam breaststroke for Arlingwood.  In our little red tank suits and speedos.  She was almost thirteen and I was a year and a half older. 

I had to practice hard just to be competitive in breaststroke, while she  was a natural in the ‘fly. And by a natural I mean the girl was built like a she-dolphin. Brunette, she competed with her hair pulled back into a braided ponytail. Impressive shoulders and not just on a girl. She was sleek and petite and buxom all at once, with powerful legs. Her tan was more of a tawny glow and she was freckled in interesting places.  Pretty in a handsome kind of way, she was not shy; she had a disarming way of looking you right in the eye, and her little laugh was infectious. It was the only time I saw her that summer, but she made an indelible impression, in her little red tank suit.

She graduated eighth grade a year behind me and from a different parochial school.  I had a girlfriend by then - lucky for me - and sense enough not to attempt a swim through high school in the wake of my future Wife Aquatic.  But that undertow would always be there between us.

She was the girl the nuns had kneeling on raw rice kernels in the hallway because her wool plaid uniform skirt was too short.   She and I moved in different social circles, neighboring orbits that rarely intersected. She was already “dating up” with a guy in my class whose name our peers pronounced as Why Gull.  A self-styled make-out artist type.  Definitely not an upgrade for the girl's reputation.  But her little laugh was more killer than ever...


 Bi-Coastal memoir by SB