The thing about sailing is the quiet.
I live in New York City, where it is always noisy. But out there, on Long Island Sound, with the Manhattan skyline in the distance, it is the quiet that I most appreciate.
During the years after Kevin was gone, what most helped me were those stolen afternoons out sailing. Other than an occasional tug pushing a barge, mine was often the only boat out there. No traffic, no stoplights, no shouting. Like a maharaja’s private lake. In the stillness after dusk, I could see the tops of the World Trade Center.
We came together, Kevin and I, because of sailing. It kept us together—the plans, the adven-tures, understanding this arcane, archaic and elitist sport. We shared an unspoken sense of wonder as our boat rushed through the water on her own, while all we did was pull some ropes.
Yes, hobbies are fun. They take your mind off nasty things, like work, T-cell counts and the uncertain future. With sailing, you are out there, responsible for your boat and her crew. On one level you are completely relaxed, on another you are totally engaged. All the time your focus is the boat; her course, her speed, her angle of heel, the steadiness of the wind, the slap of waves. Like a rider on a magic carpet, you sit snugly inside while she takes you someplace.
Even after Kevin’s diagnosis back in 1989, we chose to get another boat. He would take his meds—back then a 40-minute drip—while underway, even at the helm.
Why not? It never stopped us. And for both of us, for as long as possible, the boat always came first.
E. M. Kahn is the author of Deep Water, A Sailor's Passage (Haworth
Press), a memoir of his many years of sailing. The book was an attempt
to give the land-bound a vivid sense of what it feels like to be out on
the water, moving under wind and sail. But more, it is the chronicle of
a long-term relationship, from the start, through the critical
challenges, and the inevitable reversal of roles that secures any human
bond. While Kahn’s lover, Kevin Abend-Olsen, died of AIDS during the
darker years of the epidemic, he wanted to write an optimistic and even
hopeful book. The focus is not about “surviving” HIV, but of building a
life with a sense of future, staying active, and sharing one’s life.
These days, Kahn lives in a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn, cycles,
swims, writes, and enjoys walking his dogs every day in Prospect Park.