Learning to Fly Away

The streets of Copenhagen were full of lights – tiny, sparkling, circular spots that led the way through the colorful town. They were meant to guide the bike riders through the night, but in my red wine haze, I excitedly told James, my dear (and cheeky) British bestie: People say that New York’s streets sparkle, but these really do!

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He rolled his eyes at me and took another puff of his cigarette as I rushed ahead to match his quick pace, hooking his arm to slow him down. We had just finished a three-course Valentine’s dinner, along with celebratory champagne and a bottle of wine, and we were making our way back to our hotel to drop off the rose I found along the way. Do you think someone lost it? I asked James with concern, to which he said: No, I put it there for you. Take it, silly!

I was twirling it around in my hand, slowly picking off the thorns so they wouldn’t prick me when we stumbled across a store window that caught our eye:

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You Haven’t Really Been Loved Yet

Feeling the warm water trickle over my feet, I closed my eyes and exhaled, trying to permanently capture this moment in my memory. I lost count of the blue stars above me, and for a second – I lost track of where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. The night burst into a million little white flames, circling and consuming everything I could see, all of what I could feel.

It’s so beautiful! I heard behind me in a few different languages and I whispered it to myself into the air – knowing no one could hear me, but hoping that someone, somewhere did. I can’t believe this is happening to me, I thought as I folded my arms against my chest, pushing sand further into my skin. A meteor shower just happens to happen the night I’m here. After a few failed attempts to take a photo, I gave in and decided it’d just have to be something I see for myself, without looking back at, without trying to show anyone else. This evening, this experience, it would be for me.

Are you okay? a sweet Spanish voice asked, as he reached for my hand. I smiled, tasting the salt on my lips, and told him in as many words as he and I both could understand, that yes, I was more than okay, I was amazing. He kindly wrapped his arms around me and we watched the magic unfold before us, and I thanked him for sharing it with me. After a few minutes, we noticed we were sinking into the ocean – standing still when you should be moving does that to you – and we walked with heavy feet and drunken grins back to the shore, as I wondered if I’d ruined my little black dress with all these tropical stains. I then realized I really don’t care.

So why did you come here alone? A beautiful girl, like you! Alone? I don’t believe it! he, the green-eyed, tall, Puerto Rican cardiologist that my new-found friends called after learning I was traveling solo. I explained for probably the hundredth time in the four days I was there, that I just needed to escape, that I wanted to try being by myself and that really, all I needed was more quiet and sun, less trains and delays. I then casually reminded him that right now, I wasn’t exactly alone. He leaned over and kissed me.

I let him.

Did you come here because you were sad? He asked while tracing imaginary lines up and down my slightly sunburned leg. I closed my eyes and wondered if honesty was the best policy, or if I could just continue kissing the heart doctor who lived to help others, but tonight, wanted to help me. I explained I was healing the organ he knew best, and that while I wasn’t exactly upset or depressed, I was releasing the girl I was to become the woman I wanted to be. Because only I would meet someone who cared about the feelings of a stranger he just met, he asked for the story, and I tried to sum up everything I could in a sentence or two.

You just haven’t really been loved yet.

He said matter-of-factually as he pulled me into him, and looked out into the vastness before us. Confused both by the statement and the tequila that was slightly starting to wear off, I considered what he said. How could this person, who I knew nothing about – not his age, not his last name, not his relationship status (though I hoped single for karma’s sake), not where he’s been or where he hopes to go, not anything – say something he, really, has no basis to claim? The only thing he knew of me was my name, that I write about love in New York, and I was getting over an impossible situation. Wrinkling my forehead, wanting him to stop running his sandy fingers through my hair, I felt anger brewing inside of me  – how could he say that I’ve never been loved?I’ve had how many relationships? I’ve said those delicately powerful three words to how many men? And all of those men have said it back. 

But all of those relationships have ended too, Linds, I considered. Sometimes because of me, other times because of them, and most of the time, because the combination was a little too much or a little too wrong. I’ve thought I’ve found it a few times, only to be proven that whatever it was, wasn’t really what I was looking for – or deserved. These men, the ones I write down in my personal history, the ones I gave myself to and shared portions of my life with, I’ve love endlessly. I’ve felt their love in return, or at least whatever fraction they could offer me at that time. Was this man right? This man who I was teetering between despising and wanting to invite to my two-room suite a few blocks away?

What do you mean? Why do you think that? I asked as I sat up. Look at those eyes, he said and touched my lips again. I pulled away and stared at him, really wanting to know the answer and refusing to let him use lust to distract me. In his best English, trying to make me comprehend, he said, When you’ve really been loved by someone, when that someone is good, they don’t let you get away. They make sure you know they love you, they do what’s best for you, even if it’s bad for them. They fight. When you’re really loved, it doesn’t end. 

Have you really been loved? I inquired, pensively. Not yet, but I hope to be one day, he replied with a crooked grin, begging me to stop talking to him with words, and find another way to communicate. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with him or if I thought he was full of crafty lines and reasons, but I spent the next few hours purposefully not trying to figure it out, and not saying much of anything.

When he left, we shared a kiss in the dark, and he said, Not everyone finds loveBut you will.

And you know, I think he’s right. Though I’ll never see him again – and I like that I won’t – I think he will too. I think we’ll both really be loved one day.

It’s Not So Bad

My last day in Puerto Rico, I woke up to find sand in my sheets and a little tequila hangover — both souvenirs from the night before. Along the beach closest to my resort, there were three tiny huts that passed as bars and after realizing they were where the locals go, I vowed to eat dinner at one for a true Puerto Rican experience.

As I was sitting alone with my Mofongo, reading Condenast Traveler, sipping a Mojito and listening to the ocean, the table across from me — two girls and a guy — waved me over to join them. (Here’s a snippet of the man, trying on my shoes!)

That gesture is what I loved most about PR and about traveling alone: everyone is so welcoming and accommodating, and they can’t stand to see you by yourself, so they don’t let you. I didn’t know if I’d get used to flying solo for four nights and five days, and luckily I didn’t have to- every place I went, the beach, the pool, the local shops, the resort grounds, the bus, I made friends. Everyone called me courageous and a little crazy because they couldn’t believe I would choose to vacation with only my company, so they kept me company to ease their (and my) mind.

I found a North Carolina themed bar on top of the Intercontential with two gals from D.C. I met by the tiki bar while chatting up Pedro, the bartender with a crooked, crazy smile. I heard about the woes of professional soccer – or really, the lack of financial opportunity – from my 20-year-old massage therapist who’s currently going through a “rough patch” with his girlfriend. I helped the guy who made the best iced coffee I’ve ever had plan his proposal to his lady of six years (it’s on May 20th!). And then there was the friendly older man who sat next to me on the bus and asked if I’d tell New York “Hola” for him, since I only live about 20 blocks from where he grew up. I met three sets of Honeymooners, from Texas to Brooklyn. An older, drunken man playing the guitar on the cobble-stoned streets of Old San Juan asked if I’d be his wife, and when I politely declined, he offered his equally intoxicated friend instead.

I sat on the beach at nighttime, covered in sand and feeling the warm water tickle my toes, talking to a Puerto Rican cardiologist with deep green eyes about literally healing a heart. I walked with three families and a couple through the tropical rain forest, and a little girl with blonde curls fell asleep on my shoulder on the way back. I listened to a woman with age spots and wild white hair read her favorite poem in Spanish, and then do her best to translate that it advised when you let go of something or someone, you should do it with love, not hate. Then there was the man who made pottery at the resort and let me spin the wheel, and another woman with piercing blue eyes who told me the locally-made bracelet I selected would bring me luck. And the couple I shared the breathtaking moment when walking by the colorful, historic buildings downtown, a rainbow appeared across the Puerto Rican sky.

I thought about these characters, trying to figure out the lessons I was supposed to learn from these chance encounters, while watching the clear sea splash to the shore that last morning. While I had met and experienced so many adventures in my short time on this island, I was worried I wouldn’t find the inspiration I came looking for. Traveling to this unfamiliar place, I hoped I would find something inside of me that made me believe again – maybe in myself, maybe in the universe as a whole, or maybe just in love. I didn’t come to Puerto Rico to find myself or to rediscover the person I once was, but to let myself be still, be on my own, and let whatever was to happen, happen. That, and get a tan – which quickly became a difficult task with my Irish roots and the fact that I can barely stand still, much less lay still for hours to bake in the sun. But at ten in the morning, sipping coffee to wake me up (and rid of that tequila) I was determined to at least come back with a sunburn, so people would believe I actually went on vacation.

However, as it often does, the tropical rain came without warning, and at full torrential force. I watched as the tourists threw towels and hats over their heads and ran to shelter under the palm trees or the security of their lofty hotel balconies. The Puerto Ricans, though, ran in the opposite direction – toward the ocean, letting the rain be a playful turn in the afternoon, not the end of it. I hunched under my umbrella with my soaked towel draped across me half-way looking out at the scattered scene, while partly trying to keep dry. Though I was trying – very hard – to find my Zen before leaving PR and to discover peace in this place, I couldn’t help my annoyance at the weather. The sun was now entirely hidden, and I worried that I’d be forced to spend my last day here, cooped up in the hotel, ordering room service and watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

Just as I was about to follow suit and race back to the room, a Puerto Rican man with a Corona-belly walked past me to join his family in the water, and said:

“It’s not so bad!”

I’m sure he was just encouraging the embarrassingly pale lady he noticed hiding, but those four little words were exactly what I needed to hear. Did I really care if the magazine and cover-up in my beach bag became saturated? Did I have makeup on? Did it really matter if the rain-and-wind mix made me a tad chilly for ten minutes?

Or really, did I have anything in New York to escape from? Is a tender heart that’s been a bit bruised or the stress of a full and robust life anything to really complain about? Or are those things, these unexpected — and sometimes difficult – parts of existing that really make life worth living? Aren’t the times when you’re aching or you’re afraid of the unknown that really, your soul is just awakening? That you’re discovering what you’re made of? What you can do without the help of anyone else, without speaking the same language of strangers, old lovers or friends who know you best?

Why was I hiding under that umbrella, convincing myself that the day I had planned was now ruined? Why did I let myself live under a similar shelter in New York – staying away from anything that could really hurt or put me out of my comfort zone, keeping anything that could make me vulnerable far out of reach? Isn’t it time to just…live? Time to let the weather take whatever course it’s meant to take?

So I dropped my bag, towel and sunglasses and ran to join the locals in the angry waves. The rain stung at first, but then the water felt even warmer than before, and the spirit of those in the sea was joyful because they know a little rain never stops anything for long. It always passes. You just have to be brave enough to let it fall. Brave enough to let it hit your skin and wash away all that you thought you wanted so you can find something you didn’t know you needed. Like a swim in the tropical rain on a tropical island, all by yourself.

And you know what? He was right. It wasn’t so bad after all. It was actually, beautiful.

Between the Me and the We

Right now, I’m sitting in a room that isn’t mine. I’m not paying the rent here. I didn’t buy the bedding I’m under or the lamp I’m using to keep a light. I’ve never worn the clothes hanging in the closet or read the books on the bookshelf across the room. I’m not in the photos and I didn’t visit the places that represent the artwork and treasures that decorate this space. My jacket isn’t hanging on the hook on the bedroom door and I didn’t pick out the window treatment.

This place doesn’t belong to me but it will be the place I come home to for the next three weeks. And once he comes back from his overseas excursion, Mr. Possibility will join me, here, at his apartment nearly 40 minutes away from my old brownstone. The inconvenience of a gap in between leases was lessened by his generous offer and though I usually prefer a bed all to myself, unless it is a California King, I can share his Queen with him for a short period, without much complaint. Or really any complaint at all.

I’ve never really lived with anyone before, though I’ve freelanced a few articles about the topic – something that’s interesting about the life of a writer, if you’re a good one, you can pen a piece on anything and sound intelligent with some research and interviewing. The most amount of consecutive time I’ve spent with a man under the same roof was a week-and-half with Mr. Idea, in a similar situation where I had to wait for the move-in date of my last apartment in college. This time period came at a more inconvenient time – within the first three weeks we knew each other – and truth be told,  it probably is the reason things got as serious and as comfortable as quickly as they did. I wouldn’t say it defined our relationship, but it definitely changed its course.

But Mr. Possibility and I have known each other longer. We’re better friends (and more than that). He won’t be here the whole time I will be and like adults, we’re respectful of one another’s need for personal space. Like him, I have a lot of things and probably far more than I actually need, but to keep him from tripping over my everything, I narrowed down what was necessary to a medium-sized suitcase, a bag of shoes, my laptop, and my purse. These things are neatly piled in the corner of his room, with a few dresses that tend to wrinkle hanging in his closet.

I was careful not to impose, as I already feel like I’m imposing by living rent-free for three weeks in a space that’s already small enough to begin with. I was invited and he was well-informed that I would officially transition from my old location to his today. I stopped by the grocery store, I unpacked what I felt I needed on top of my luggage, and left a few things in the bathroom – not too much, but enough to easily function day-to-day.

And yet, as I have many times before, I showered in his shower, used his toothpaste on a toothbrush he gave me, and tucked myself into his bed, something felt odd. While I know for a fact I’m no where close to wanting to be married, I thought about what a strange shift it will be when I stop labeling things as “his” and as “mine” and start thinking in terms of “ours” with whoever that “he” will be.

I’m a girly girl by nature and would never deny my admiration of all things soft, beautiful, and feminine, but unlike some of my friends, I haven’t picked out my dream engagement ring. I don’t know (or really care) about the colors I’ll use in my wedding. I haven’t Googled venues or flowers or anything of the sort. The closest I’ve come to thinking of my own wedding is flipping through engagement and wedding photos on Facebook when they pop up on my feed. But while I’ve never given much thought my wedding, I think I’ve given less thought to marriage – the reality of happily ever after.

After the glitz and the glam, comes the time when cohabitation stops becoming something you debate with your friends on if it’ll ruin your relationship, and it just becomes life. There is no more wondering if you’re imposing or having separate sleeping arrangements (unless you prefer, of course. Or if you can afford a two bedroom between two people in Manhattan). Suitcases are not used as a temporary dresser and shoes are no longer picked on how many outfits they go with, but the whole collection is displayed and stored. Apart from traveling or emergencies – you stop spending the night alone and while you may not opt for joint banking accounts, money is combined in some fashion to make ends meet.

I know all of these things should probably sound exciting and comforting to me – they don’t. Not now. Sure, I would always have someone to come home to, someone who would listen to me, someone to support and cherish me all of my days, all my lifelong. Finding The One is something all women talk about or at the very least think about, regardless if they care to admit it, instead of dreaming up this fantasy – they’d be better off to think of what life looks like with a partner. Sometimes it is cramped and complicated and finding a balance between developing your personal identity while creating a vibrant relationship is a beam you’ll teeter on continuously. Even my parents who have been married for 25 years, struggle with finding a happy medium.

One day, the reality of marriage will become what I crave and feel ready for – but today, I like the idea of visiting more than moving in. And if I’m going to be on vacation in the land of Mr. Possibility until my new humble abode is ready for me, I’ll allow myself to spread my things about just a bit. But not too much.

Not yet – I need to have some more books I’ve read, journeys and pictures I’ve taken, memories I’ve made, shoes I’ve bought, and stories I’ve written that only belong to me, before I can even think of belonging to someone else. Before I can transition from the me to the we.