My first girlfriend was the Chesapeake Bay. Long legs. Soft shores. Breezy sighs.

I met her when I was a boy. At first I played in her head streams. Up the Little Elk, deep in the reeds. Cattails so thick and firm, I could barely get my little hands around them. At night we’d light them, and their perfume would be as sweet as syrup drifting in the humid air glittered with fireflies stalked by little boys.

When I got older I moved south. I wanted adventure. Her high swells and stiff tides were more than a match for my daring.

On the quiet nights, I’d slide into a cove on her Bohemia and ever so quietly let down my anchor chain. Nothing to be heard but her tender waves and the beating of my heart. I felt my way up her Sassafras in the dark with a lead line and running lights.

I saw her Daffodil Island blooming in June. Pup tents pitched on her thighs.

She taught me how to walk down a pier with a bag of crabs and a bottle of root beer.

No matter what I did ashore at night, she was always glad to see me the next morning. She’d blow the hair from my eyes, then give it a quick twist just for fun. She looked fresh every single day. I’ve always liked pretty girls in the morning.

She’d wake me with a gentle rocking. I’d lie in my warm, quiet bunk and hear her gently licking the laps of my hull. I could look deep into her eyes and see a heron tiptoe through the reeds.

Black skimmers swooped through the mists under her docks and piers.

She loved a good hull. Her favor was a stout keel with an oversized rudder. She’d fondle my transom with a gentle, yet firm, following sea. Her persistent swells would raise and lower my hull with a gentle, sensual, undulating motion, swaying me first to the left then to the right. But never too far.

She had lots of little hidden places. Places where no one could find you. Safe places. Places where only the birds had walked. The only sounds were my footsteps in the sand and her waves on the stones. We loved being alone. Sometimes we’d be apart in Winter. I’d look out my window at the drifted snow and wonder if she was warm.

Some years, during a winter’s gloom, I’d wonder if she really cared that I was gone. She knows lots of guys. What makes me special?

When we’d finally meet again in the spring, she’d always be glad. She’d wear flowers and stroke me with gentle tides. I’d feel guilty for doubting her.

I remember our last summer together. I knew I’d be leaving. I didn’t know where I’d be going but I knew it would be soon.

I’ve never returned.

I’ll go back and see her someday. Though, I must admit, I fear it. We’re both older. When she knew me I could scamper like a squirrel.

I’m different now. My rigging is old and my scuppers are rusty. My topsail’s starting to shred. My bow doesn’t set up nice and smart like it once did. What’s left of my rudder is almost frozen.

I hear she’s gone through some changes herself. They’ve drained her wetlands and dredged her channels. Men make steel where ducks once laid their eggs. She now wears scents that might wrinkle my nose.

They’ve woven ribbons of asphalt through her waves and across her shores. I never thought she needed prettying but if it makes her feel good I’m happy for her. She’d probably say she’s matured.

If I go, I won’t call. I’ll just show up, find a quiet pier and sit down for a while. I want to see if she remembers me.

If she does, we’ll have a talk.

If she doesn’t – I’ll just leave quietly.

I don’t want to make a scene.