I picked my phone up and chose the Instagram app. It was my way of taking a break – a little trip taken to Cabo, Miami, or the CMA awards in between the endless pages of engineering specifications I was subjected to on a regular basis. Part conformance verification could be a little boring.
The other girls I saw in the postings lived in some universe beyond my own. The pictures of them in tropical forests, big city restaurants having amazing meals, poolside in bikinis, and walking down the street holding hands with their man – it was all a life I not only didn’t lead, but could only dream of.
Dream of it I did, too, on a regular basis, actually. It was a life I wanted, but didn’t have. Sure, I was successful in my job, perhaps even respected, but I longed to understand what it felt like to kick back and have a drink – to say nothing of doing it with friends.
It wasn’t that I was…deformed, or anything. I didn’t go to the gym, but I did home workouts regularly – I kept myself together. I knew what a bar of soap was, and everything was shaved and trimmed that needed to be – Sasquatch didn’t reside in my apartment.
I knew what to do.
I just didn’t know how to do it.
Okay, scratch that – I really didn’t know what to do. It happened so naturally in social media, but it was another matter entirely in reality. I didn’t know how to have an adventure or laugh or carry on with friends or even find friends, for that matter.
But I wanted to…
The first thing I realized was that as a development engineer, I had no idea how to jump the rails my life was on and see what is on the other side. Like everything else I didn’t understand, I researched it. Google seemed like as good of a place to start as any.
Do something unexpected. Learn to say yes when your head says no. Find an adventure. Say what you really mean. Make your passion the center of your life.
It seemed like there was a lot there for me to work with. I just needed to make some friends, learn how to drink, learn to dance, visit another country, and…basically, stop being afraid of my own shadow.
I opened the notes app on my phone and started another list just off the top of my head. It was easy to write down - Lingerie, Karaoke, Drinking, Drugs, Sex, Zip Line, Adventure Vacation, and Fast Car. Thinking some more, I wrote down ‘Man’ and underlined it twice.
Was it that easy? If I cast off my comfy granny-panties, sang ‘I will Survive’ in front of a crowd, drank a beer, smoked some weed, had sex a second time (let’s not talk about Johnny Clements and prom), scared the crap out of myself, went for a trip, and drove something exotic in front of a hot guy, would I finally be spontaneous?
Would that make me interesting?
I cleared my desk, grabbed my purse, and locked my office door behind me.
After all, there was only one way to find out.
I felt like I was in an old commercial for lunch meat and hotdogs, only it was my underwear that had a name. The Aphrodite’s Delight minimal cup push-up bra and thong panty were, honestly, kind of intimidating to put on. Once it was there, underneath my work clothes, the biggest thing I noticed was that I kept wanting to tell people, ‘I have lingerie on.’
I’m not crazy – I didn’t do it, even though the simple feeling of the fabric of my skirt against my now-bare backside was a constant reminder that I was wearing about a third of what I usually would down there. I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of the hair removal I’d been through to make such a thing presentable.
It was all so awkward…
“Hello John,” I said as I filled my coffee cup in the break area.
“Cathy,” he smiled.
Was he looking at me like I’d grown horns? Could he…see? “How’re you doing this morning?”
“I’m good. I should have the design on that tank finished this afternoon.”
“That’ll be great,” I said. “Things treating you well otherwise?”
“Not much to it lately. I work, I go home, lather, rinse, and repeat. You?”
“Very much the same. Say, would you like to go to dinner tonight to celebrate the weekend?”
Holy cow! I meant to think that – not say it!
“I would love to,” he smiled. “The food across the street is actually outstanding. Have you ever been?”
I shook my head as blood rose to my cheeks.
“It’s a great first-date place. After work then?”
I nodded. “I’ll knock on your door at five.”
I’d never been to the bar he suggested, but I knew it was popular with the rest of our work crowd. John wasn’t awkward about leading the way – he seemed almost happy to just be leaving work. That wasn’t surprising, as happy had always seemed to be his default.
We had a great time, talking and laughing through dinner. It hadn’t been a conscious decision to come here, but when they started setting up Karaoke, I asked John if he would mind if I hung around to participate. His smile said it all – I could see the shock in his eyes.
“It’s on my list,” I smiled before I went to sign up.
“What are you up to?” He asked, not unkindly, when I returned and sat back down.
“I’m trying to become a little more…spontaneous. Have you ever seen your life fall into a place where every day is just like the one before, and identical to the one you know will come after?”
“Well, I was before a few days ago, anyway. It didn’t take much to make things a little more…unpredictable.”
“You seemed all right to me. I always figured you had it together, and that was why you kept to yourself.”
“Next up is Cathy Logan, singing a cover of Brittney Spears’ Overprotected.”
The walk from the table was the hard part. Once I got up front, I just pretended like I was in my shower, and everything else more or less took care of itself. Let’s be honest – Brittany’s voice isn’t the most melodic on its own anyway. Not that I was great, but I sounded fine.
John hugged me when I got back to the table. “You did great!”
“You want to get out of here?” I shouted over the crowd.
“Absolutely,” he smiled.
The shower washed away my tears. It did nothing to stop them.
I sat on the floor with my head in my hands, thinking through my list of mistakes.
My impromptu date with John hadn’t been one of them – we’d had an incredible time. Talking, eating, singing (I’d glanced at him in the Karaoke audience – he’d been singing right along with me) had all just been a lot of fun. He had taken my hand in both of his when we said goodbye, but he wouldn’t kiss me.
He didn’t want to make things awkward.
My plans were working so well, I went back inside, and found…whatever his name was. I let him take me to his place and scratched sex off of my list of ways to jump my life off of the rails. It was fun…I guess…rough, vigorous, and exciting.
But it wasn’t love.
It left me far more empty than I had been before I met whoever he was.
I had ABSOLUTELY no problem leaving when we were done, and I have no intention of ever seeing him again.
Sex wasn’t something that was going to change my life. It just wasn’t enough fun to let it happen again. I knew right then that what I needed to get my train off of the track was love – the kind of love that you read about in silly novels and watch in chick flicks. It might be just the same thing but with feelings, but it turned out those feelings were everything to me.
It kind of seemed like it felt like being with John.
I had more than a few doubts about smoking weed. Technically, it was still a federal crime even though our state had legalized it recreationally some time ago. Personally, I just didn’t understand drugs.
Why anyone would put something in their body that might harm them was beyond my comprehension.
My friend Lorraine was into it though. She laughed when I finally opened up about what I had in mind, and promised me the experience would be just this side of spiritual. She even sourced my joint and gave me some pointers for how to go about it. More importantly, she promised me that as long as I smoked the out on the back deck, the smoke would dissipate without leaving behind any lasting odors.
I’m the first to admit that I was pretty relaxed once it started to take hold. I guess that’s what they call being ‘baked’. Speaking of baking, I moved into a point where I would’ve eaten my right arm if I could have figured out how to cook it. I might have been out ten bucks for the weed, but I easily went through another thirty dollars in groceries.
Saying I got REALLY hungry doesn’t really describe it.
Then sadness set in.
It was like I was looking down at myself, surrounded by food wrappers and soda cans shoveling stuff into my mouth. What was worse, I’d just done something I’d sworn I never would to experience it. I was crying again before it was over.
Smoking weed wasn’t doing a single thing for my self-esteem or my waistline.
I didn’t know what I’d done, but I had no doubt I regretted it.
Headache…enormous, throbbing, and absolute. The light I found when I opened my eyes was beyond unpleasant. Yeah, I didn’t have a stitch of clothes on, either. I could see and feel enough to tell that I was on the living room floor of my place, which was great – I hadn’t gone anywhere.
Oh…no….this was binge drinking, or what happened afterward, anyway.
Sitting up took two tries.
Once I pulled it off, I realized a lot of things. There were lots of beer bottles and one impressively drained tequila bottle on the coffee table. My laptop and wallet were both open, and…I had business in the bathroom.
A lot of things happened in there – most of them weren’t very pleasant. Once I had myself cleaned up, my hair in a pony tail, my breath at least…better….and dressed in some sweats, I went to the fridge, got a little orange juice, and set about cleaning up from last night’s binge.
I avoided my computer like it had the plague. I knew the space between the third beer and finding myself on the floor was a black hole, and the thought of confronting what I’d done during that time was more than unpleasant.
I thought I’d like the loss of control – that’s what this all had been about. Now I found myself terrified of what I’d done without it.
I knew I’d have to face up to it sooner or…oh no…the orange juice…bathroom…
Okay…not only did I have to deal with the blackout, but now I had another mess to clean up.
If this was life off of the rails, turn me back into the caboose.
So…I got drunk, went online and bought a non-refundable trip for two to ‘Sun and Beaches’ luxury resort in Barbados.
The money wasn’t the problem. The time off wasn’t even the problem. The fact that I’d bought a luxury trip for two was the problem. This wasn’t ‘Field of Dreams’ – just because I’d bought a luxury trip didn’t mean I was going to find anyone to go with. I wouldn’t have thought I could feel any more stupid, but now that I’d turned into a weed-smoking binge-drinking social misfit, I could now add lonely world traveler to the mix.
My job made me have a passport, but I’d never used it.
It was so ridiculous that I moved straight past tears to maniacal laughter.
“Are you all right, Cathy?”
“‘Hi John. I’m…fine.” Brain says no… “I did some really dumb stuff this weekend, culminating in getting drunk and buying a non-refundable trip for two to a resort in Barbados. What in the world am I supposed to do with that?”
John shrugged. “Go?”
“Just up and go? With who?”
He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows. “I’m available.”
“John, I had a great time with you, but…”
“So you did some stupid things. We all do. Did you learn anything from them?”
“Mission accomplished, and I’d be honored to join you.” His smile was boyish and genuine and so hopeful.
“Pack your swimmies and passport. We leave Saturday morning.”
I hope I didn’t think for too long before I said, “Yes. I am”
He held my hand while we waited in line to board the plane. No man had ever done that before – it was a simple, calming gesture that felt new and familiar at the same time.
I looked up at him. “How not to? This is working out a little better than I’d figured it would.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” he said genuinely.
They say there are some activities that test any couple – home improvement projects, planning finances, and traveling were among them. He seemed to innately know when to talk, when to crack a joke, and when to simply enjoy the view. I never would have thought it was possible, but I was already feeling more relaxed by the time we landed in Barbados.
“I took the liberty of arranging for our rental car,” he said when we got off of the plane.
“You didn’t have to do that. This is my mess.”
“It’s not a mess, and it was my pleasure.”
There was a guy standing near the baggage claim with a clipboard and a set of keys. After John signed the paperwork, he flipped me the keys he’d been given. “It’s just outside the door. I paid for the red carpet service.”
“So, you’ll buy the car, but you won’t drive it?”
“I will, of course, if you don’t want to.”
“What did you do?”
His smile was coy. “Let’s go see.”
A brilliant red rocket on wheels was highlighted by the cloudless tropical sky. The world was warped into slow motion around it.
Did he know driving a fast car was the next item on my list?
It was time to get cleaned up for dinner by the time we got to the hotel room and settled. There were plenty of options for John to sleep, but I convinced him to stay in the master with me.
He didn’t seem opposed, and I ordinarily would have said no.
Showering in the second bedroom seemed to be more a matter of logistics than privacy to him. A relatively muted Hawaiian shirt had just fallen into place when I came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.
I wasn’t sure I took a breath until he left for the sitting room.
Torches and candlelight, flowers on the table, open to the night sky glittering with stars and a soft ocean-scented breeze – it was easy to tell that the restaurant was made for lovers. Sipping my guava-pineapple something-or-other and listening to him tell me about his son felt more relaxing than I could have guessed.
I was glad we’d left the water cooler chit-chat at work.
He’d been more engaging than I ever would have imagined.
My drink was about empty. “I took the liberty of arranging for snorkeling tomorrow. I hope that’s all right.”
He looked shocked. “You snorkel?”
Surprise turned back into his hopeful smile. “Your list, then.”
“Am I that transparent?”
Hiding the smile that tugged at my lips and heart would have been impossible. “I’m glad to hear that.”
“Thank you for letting me join you. This is beautiful.”
I tugged at my sarong self consciously. “Thank you for being willing to come with me. I’m glad you’re here.”
“You’ll regret it if you don’t do it. You’ll go home and look back on it the wrong way, I promise.”
“At least I’ll be alive to think about it,” I said, looking down at the ground beneath the zip line tower.
“You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Can’t do it, Cathy. If I leave, you’ll go down. I don’t want to bring up your little self-improvement project, but I will, if I have to.”
I grinned. “That’s not fair.”
“I’m not here to be fair,” John shrugged.
“Let’s get on with it,” I told the attendant that was waiting as discretely as possible on the other side of the small platform. “Just make it tight – if I can live through to beat up on Mr. Inspiration here, that’d be great.”
Trees, flowers, blue sky, and clouds slid by her almost soundlessly as nothing other than gravity carried her down the line. It was incredible. She felt alive – not scared.
Jumping into his arms the second he hit the landing platform wasn’t a choice – it felt like a necessity. The electricity of the kiss that followed was fueled by its spontaneity.
“You did it,” he smiled when we parted.
“I had good help.”
“Let me get out of the way here. We’re holding up their show.”
My hand was back in his as soon as he was free of the harness. The simple contact brought excitement and wonder not unlike the zip line.
Saying yes when my brain said no was beginning to have its benefits as far as I was concerned.
“So, you’re alone?”
His smile was forced. “It sounds pretty bad when you put it that way.”
“How do you explain having your entire family either die or run off before you graduated high school and make it sound good?”
“I had openings for new companionship early in life.” He cracked his boyish, hopeful grin.
“I don’t understand how you did it.”
“Didn’t give up.”
“I realized early on that you can’t let your life be defined by what other people might see or think. There’s no comparison to the other person – they’re not in your shoes.”
I was quiet for a long time. “I feel like you’re talking straight to me.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound preachy.”
“It’s not your fault that years ago you evidently summited the mountain I’m now climbing.”
He smiled. “Maybe that means I know the path. I’d be happy to try to teach you.”
“I think I know where this is going. It’s a great life lesson. We can sit here, having a deep and fulfilling conversation about life’s directions and goals, or we can catch the afternoon snorkeling boat. We can talk and plot and plan, or we can just do what we want and see how it comes out.”
“You’re still preaching and I’ve never snorkeled.”
“So, you’re scared. Is that swimsuit just for show, or are you going to put it to work?”
“I am scared.”
“That’s why I’m here,” he said as he extended his hand to me. “Take my hand, and I’ll get you through this. Trust me.”
He wasn’t giving anything away. We just sat on the beach, oblivious to everything except the panorama of the sunset.
“It’s been a great trip.”
“Unquestionably,” he agreed.
I looked down and studied skin and sand and bikini. “You know, this is the opposite of everything I thought I needed.”
“It wouldn’t be any fun if you got it right on the first try.”
“Looking back, it’s easier to say it wasn’t any fun trying.” I felt dreamy and yawned. Not because I was tired, but because I was relaxed in what felt like the first time. “I don’t want it to end.”
“Don’t let it.”
“It wouldn’t be as much fun alone,” I said as I took his hand.
He squeezed mine warmly. “So don’t do it alone.”
I smiled. “Is that an offer?”
He pulled my hand closer and kissed a knuckle. “Offer. . .request. . .desire. . .”
“So, you’d just give it all up to spend the rest of your life in the sun and warm with me?”
He nodded. “I would.”
I lie back on the sand and stared at the nearly cloudless sky. “If only we could.”
He followed me and let his hand wander to my bare stomach. It felt like a connection between us. It felt good.
“Why couldn’t we?” He asked.
“Be careful,” he said dreamily.
His smile was as warm as the sun. “You don’t know me very well. No offense, but you’re still learning about yourself, too. Don’t dismiss what might be possible out of hand.”
“And living in paradise with you is possible?”
“Anything is possible.”