In Yonkers, Mr. Spilkowitz was feeling something similar. “I had had this unfulfilling bachelor’s summer,” he said. “Something was missing.” That something was Ms. Knight. When she climbed aboard the Get Free in October, showing off a set of sea legs neither anticipated, love set sail.
Ms. Knight, a novice, was a natural. “I’ve had a lot of guests on the water,” said Mr. Spilkowitz, who learned to sail at Cornell and was boat-sitting the Get Free for a friend. “Some are eager to jump in but hate being given direction. And some just want to lounge out and have a beverage. Somebody who has the courage and the instinct to be a good crew member is rare, but Kamillah was that and more.” By the end of their sunset tour of the Hudson, they were locked into something substantial.
For Ms. Knight, falling in love in an active setting felt right. At Cornell, she played rugby. And “growing up, my mom was great about keeping me active, and she was also good about encouraging me to be myself,” Ms. Knight said. Instilling the importance of her African-American and Native American heritage was important to TaQuisha Knight who, like her daughter, was a single mother. Montclair’s diversity and culture, Ms. Knight said, helped steer her past any negative self-perceptions. She wanted the same protection from judgment for her daughter Kari, part of why she chose to raise her in the area. The family moved to West Orange, N.J., in 2017.
Mr. Spilkowitz, since his graduation from Cornell, has worked in Yonkers at Andrus, a residential care facility for youth with emotional and behavioral problems. His mother, Michele Spilkowitz, said it has long been obvious he would work in a caring role. “Stephan is loving and extremely patient,” she said. “He’s always has this talent for adapting to people.”
He and Kari, Ms. Knight’s daughter, adapted to each other on their first visit, in March 2017, two months after Mr. Spilkowitz accepted Ms. Knight’s invitation to be hers exclusively when they were on a cruise to the Bahamas. Before the introduction to Kari, he fought nerves. But when the little girl pointed out a poop emoji stuffed animal in a Montclair store window, he exhaled. “I jumped in and said the poop emoji is my favorite. And that was it. We clicked from there.”
The setting in which Ms. Knight would click with Mrs. Spilkowitz a year later surprised them both. In the summer of 2018, Mrs. Spilkowitz, a French-Haitian immigrant, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. “She wasn’t herself physically, psychologically or cognitively, but her spirit was still there,” Mr. Spilkowitz said. His family, including his sister, Claudine Lafond, who lives in Australia, and father, Mark Spilkowitz, a native New Yorker raised by Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland, rallied to help her battle the progressive disease. “We weren’t about to give up.”