Written for – Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember
“Are you English?” he asked in a lovely British accent, treading water in the deep end of the pool.
“No…” I answered, holding onto the side of the pool to prevent myself from drowning in surprise that the handsome stranger I had been spying on through half-closed lids had actually dared to swim right up to me and speak.
He looked a bit puzzled and I realised that I had been rather abrupt and aggressive in my answer. I had an allergy to small talk. I was also very shy. Some of that shyness was due to the effect that I seemed to have on people when I made attempts to interact with them. I seemed to scare people. When I didn’t talk and when I did. Talking always made things worse.
“But my mother is!” I said quickly, then wished I’d kept my mouth shut. What an awful thing to say! You don’t mention your mother to a man when you first meet him unless you are deliberately trying to scare him off. Which I wasn’t doing consciously, but I had sharks swimming in my subconscious.
This particular man did not seem the least bit scared of me, wary perhaps, but he exuded a quiet confidence which was what had attracted my attention to him in the first place. We talked for a while, our bodies slowly turning into prunes in the warm water of the pool. I can’t recall what was said, but the words are not really important, the feeling behind them was, and the connection they were creating between us.
He invited me to go for a walk with him, to explore the town and perhaps grab a bite to eat somewhere. I accepted. I remember feeling excited but also fatalistic. I had met many wonderful people in my travels, but I never stayed in contact with any of them for very long after the meeting. The encounters were like films and once over that was the end. That was the flow of my life. Adrift and alone. And there was another thing too…
“I’m very weird.” I announced, throwing the information at him like a glass ball, waiting to see if he would catch it or drop it and cause it to break.
We had been sauntering down the main street of town, browsing the windows of the shops. The statue of a butler in full livery with tray on hand extended had caught our respective eyes, and we had stopped to look at it more closely. For some reason I thought this was the perfect moment to tell this man I hardly knew the awful truth about myself. Perhaps I thought that if he knew it now it would speed up the inevitable moment when people discovered just how weird I truly was and ran for their lives.
“Really? Weird in what way?” he asked with a hint of amusement, catching the glass ball in his hand and holding it up to the light to observe it.
“I’ve had a strange life… not strange to me, I suppose it is normal to me, but compared to many other people’s lives…” I really didn’t know how to explain it, I didn’t usually have to explain it. People just agreed that I was weird, lived in an odd way, they ran away, and that was that. I tried anyway. “Slightly bohemian… very nomadic… and…” I paused briefly, questioning the wisdom, or lack of it, of my next words, “I’m into metaphysics, mysticism, and… magic… not conjuring tricks or witchcraft, natural magic, like coincidences, synchronicities…” I had no idea what I was saying, but that didn’t stop me from saying it, “I question everything and I’m not conventional in my approach to finding the answers to my questions.”
Our eyes met. He was sizing me up to see if I meant what I was saying, and I was sizing him up to see if I could detect the sound of feet about to run.
“Hmmm… makes sense,” he said, polishing the glass ball on his sleeve, making it glisten.
He did not seem the least bit phased by my words, or the tone of my voice which had been getting more and more flustered, or the fidgety movements of my body.
“What makes you think that I’m normal?” He asked, suddenly throwing the glass ball back at me with a wink and a smile in his voice.
My mouth opened to answer, but no sounds came out. The glass ball slipped through my confused fingers, hitting the ground and shattering into a million little pieces. He had me, he had completely turned the tables on me. I had never been so roundly trounced. I was very impressed. I had assumed him to be normal based solely on my experience of never having met anyone as weird as myself. Sure I had encountered many people who claimed to be eccentric, mavericks, misfits, and each time I was very excited to have finally found a kindred spirit, but on closer inspection they turned out to be normals masquerading as weirdos. Usually all I had to do to find this out was spend a little bit of time in their company, the more awkward I felt around them the more I knew they were faking it. Normals always made me feel painfully aware of my oddness. Then it struck me. I did not feel odd in his company.
We spent the week after our initial meeting on the beach, lying in the sun, floating in the ocean, and talking. We kept our distance physically. This was down to me, and he sensed it. I did not like to be touched. I was also not too keen on touching others either. Touch transmits energy from one being to another. One day he asked me if he could hold my hand. He said he felt my reluctance and would respect my wishes, but that he really wanted to touch me. I agreed, it seemed silly not to, and besides, I wanted to know how he felt. Our fingertips met, then our fingers slid together. His energy was warm, gentle, and wonderfully relaxing. I had never felt anything like it, and I wanted more.
Shortly after this an incident occurred which reminded me of that which lurked in my subconscious. We were in the ocean, he with his back to the vast horizon, me with my back to the shore. There were people all around us laughing and frolicking in the gentle surf. I felt a push of water against my legs and glanced down. A long dark shadow was moving gradually under the surface between us. A surge of panic gripped me. Like many of those of my generation, my enjoyment of the ocean had been seriously scarred by watching Jaws. Florida was notorious for bathers being nibbled by sharks. I didn’t know what to do. Did I yell ‘Shark’? Wouldn’t that make things worse if everyone started splashing around agitating the shark. And what if it wasn’t a shark? The shadow was not moving in a threatening manner, perhaps it would just swim away without incident.
As I was having these thoughts, my body had been backing away from the danger and my companion towards the safety of the shore. I had not noticed my own movement, but he had.
“Where are you going?” He asked, looking confused. “We have been in here a while, shall we get out?”
He moved towards me, towards the shadow. I was still paralysed by panic, still unable to find the right course of action to take. I held out my hand in a stop gesture, and then pointed to the dark shape. He followed my finger, but could not see what was so plainly there between us. I had my back to the sun, he had his face turned towards it, perhaps the glare of the rays hitting the ocean was blinding him. I felt helpless, stupid, and a hideous coward. I forced myself forwards and, as I shifted position, the light hit the shadow and I saw it clearly for a split second. It was not a shark, but a ray with white speckles on its wings.
“What is it?” He asked squinting at the now retreating shape, “I can’t make it out.”
“It’s a ray!” I blurted out with obvious relief.
He looked at me, held my gaze for a second, then burst out laughing.
“You thought it was a shark!” He exclaimed, “And you were saving yourself, leaving me to get eaten!”
I cringed at his words. I had no reply, nothing that could justify my cowardly behaviour. He was right, my survival instincts had kicked in and removed me from danger. It was the truth, as ugly as it was.
“One minute you were right beside me, and the next you were standing on the beach!” He declared with apparent delight. “Drying yourself off and heading back to the hotel for dinner, leaving me to be gobbled up by a hungry shark!”
“I didn’t move that far away…”
“You were halfway up the beach…”
In that moment I wanted the ray to turn back into the shark I had thought it was and swallow me whole. How could I ever live this down. Any good impression which I had made on this man was wiped out by one moment, a moment that showed me in the worst light not just to him, but to myself.
“I am so sorry…I….”
“That’s priceless,” he interrupted, shaking with laughter, “I’ll never forget this! This is going down in history as one of the funniest events that has ever happened to me!”
He grabbed me in his arms and hugged me.
“I absolutely love you for it!” He said warmly, looking at me with a beaming smile. “And don’t apologise… I would have done the same to you!”
“Really?” I asked, doubting it very much, but hoping it was true.
“No, not really,” he grinned mischievously, “I would have thrown myself on the shark and wrestled it to save you!”
I burst out laughing. There was nothing I could do to erase the moment as much as I wanted to. He did not seem to be bothered by my behaviour, in fact he saw it as comedic brilliance. How odd. How lovely.
There was another thing too. When people see you at your worst, it may tell them a lot about you, but how they behave towards you tells you a lot about them. This man was remarkable. I knew many people who would have used this huge faux pas to torture me, he had used it to make me feel loved. I didn’t realise it then, but this was a bonding moment. A story we shared which drew us closer together intertwining our lives. And more of these were to come over the following week.
“I’ve decided…. I’m going to Disney World tomorrow.” He announced one morning over breakfast at a local eatery. “I had always planned to go… in fact I had quite a few other places I wanted to see, but meeting you has thrown most of those out the window.”
He bit into a muffin and watched me as he munched. His expressive eyes seemed to be reading my face for a reaction. I felt numb. I didn’t want to spend a moment without him, yet I also did not want to stop him from doing what he wanted to do.
“That sounds like a great idea,” I said, mustering up some reluctant enthusiasm. “You can’t come to Florida without visiting Disney World! I loved it when I went there!”
“When was that?” He asked with interest. “Do you have any rides to recommend?”
“Oh.. no… I was about three years old, so I don’t remember that much,” I replied, rolling my eyes at the memory, “I spent a lot of time with my babysitter waiting for my parents to get back from the rides they went on.”
“That’s really sad!” He exclaimed with slight annoyance. “Why would they take you to Disney World and then not allow you to go on any rides?”
“I was too young to go on most of the rides,” I replied matter-of-factly, picking up my glass of fresh orange juice and taking a sip, “I did go on the merry-go-round… several times, and the tea-cups…”
He stared at me with mild bemusement, then a big grin splashed across his face.
“Why don’t you come with me, I’ll have more fun if I have a playmate!”
My glass of orange juice slipped through my fingers and spilled all over the table. I felt mortified and ecstatic all at once. Then confused and troubled. I had never taken off on a spur of the moment trip with anyone, let alone a stranger. It was true that I felt like I’d known him all my life, and perhaps even before that, from many previous lives, but the reality was that I barely knew him. I was a cautious soul.
“Think about it,” he urged, mopping up my spillage with his napkin, “I’m leaving in the morning, I’m driving up, I already have my room booked at the resort, you can share with me or have a separate room…not that we’d spend any time in the room, there are far too many things to cram into two days.”
I nodded, smiled uncertainly, and stared at this unusual man. He genuinely seemed to understand me without my having to say anything, or explain myself to him, and, more importantly, he appeared to accept me as I was. A messy bundle of contradictions, confident and insecure, reckless and cautious, aloof and intense, very intelligent and completely stupid. And unable to make decisions.
After much inner debate I eventually decided to go to Disney World. The experience we had together could fill an entire novel. So much happened in the space of a couple of days that it felt more like a month passed. There were many memorable moments, but the one which stands out the most from all of them, the defining piece…
“We have to go on this ride, it is brilliant!” He urged enthusiastically, dragging me by the arm towards a queue in front of It’s A Small World.
“Are you sure?” I gave him a quizzical look. “It looks a bit… like it is really just for young children.”
“Yes! It is great! That’s the fun of it! I went on the same ride in Disneyland when I was a teenager and I loved it!” He assured me. “Trust me, it’s great!”
The queue was quick and we were soon seated in a small boat, heading into a small world of large puppet children, dressed in cultural costumes, singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… and singing… you know how you are hoping that I will stop writing ‘and singing’ and get on with the story… that is exactly how we felt only seconds into the ride. It was interminable. We both wanted to jump ship and swim our way out. Every time the boat passed through a doorway, we hoped it would be the last, that there was an exit to this hellish place, but there seemed no end to the ride. The horror, the horror.
Of course there was an end… eventually. We staggered out, drained, bedraggled, and broken. And we had found our song.
It is one of life’s little jokes. Bring a couple together, create a magnificent love story for them, then give them the most horrendously annoying song in the world as the theme tune to their romance.
Our last evening together there was a tropical storm on the horizon, threatening the coast with high winds and lightening. We walked to the very end of a pier and watched the storm put on a magnificent display. The air was alive with electricity. He held me in his arms and I melted, the world around us blurred and vanished. It was sublime. I had never felt anything as exquisite. Pure bliss.
The following morning he left for the airport. The tropical storm hit land and unleashed rain, lightning and thunder down upon the hotel. I barely noticed it.
The day of his departure, was also the day that it dawned on me that I was in love with him. I had never been in love. I didn’t know if I ever would be. Figured that I probably wouldn’t. And then…
I wrote him a long letter, telling him all my thoughts, my feelings, my yearnings, and explaining to him things about myself I felt he ought to know before we took this relationship further than a holiday romance. I did not intend to send it to him. I knew this letter was for me, it was a way for me to collect all the wonderful chaos within me in one place so that I could understand it. And I did understand it. It was clear to me that I was in love with this man, what wasn’t clear was what I should do with this love. What was the next step.
After I had finished writing, I went out for a walk in the pouring rain. I strolled down to the beach where we had spent so many beautiful moments and one agonisingly awkward one which now made me smile with warmth. The beach had vanished under the rough surf, and the rocks which lay beneath the sand had been exposed. I scanned the horizon, and for a split second I had the overwhelming urge to jump into the turbulent sea and swim, and keep swimming until I reached the other side of the Atlantic where he had gone. There was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. In fact it was a very appealing idea, and seemed the most practical way of solving my dilemma of what to do next.
I had a week left in Florida, and each day which passed I felt even more certain of my love and even more confused about what to do.
Then I returned to New York, and wondered if perhaps the change of location would help to put everything into proper perspective. Florida had always been a magical place for me, even the unpleasant experiences I had had there were surreal, New York on the other hand had always brought me down to earth with a bump, even if I was already lying flat on the ground. But this time…
One day I was sitting on the sill of my window, contemplating my problem, when I noticed that a movie crew had blocked off the road. I watched with interest to see what they would be filming. The scene involved a large truck. The truck moved a few inches and some cars veered around it. They filmed the same bit over and over. Nothing happened. And it struck me that it was a metaphor for my thinking. I was reviewing the same information again and again and nothing was happening. This was just a small scene. A part of a bigger picture. I needed to know how the story would progress. The utter boredom and futility I felt watching the crew repeat the same actions, snapped me out of my stasis. I wanted to move, and do it now, in a big way.
Once I’d made my decision, the floodgates of action burst open. I booked the first flight I could find to take me from New York to London. I packed up the few belongings I had in a couple of bags, and took off for uncharted territory with passion as my compass. I had no idea where I would stay, what I would do, or even if the man I was chasing would want to see me again. For all I knew he was married with children, and I had been a strange and illusory flirtation. I doubted this, but I did not know. I knew nothing. That was a fact. The time was right for me to take a risk, gamble my status quo, safety, and comfort zone for something more. I was throwing the dice, how they fell was up to the Universe.
Once in London, I found a place to stay, settled in quickly, and then sat facing the telephone, staring at it fixedly. My heart was beating wildly, my hands were shaking uncontrollably, and I had lost the power to speak. I had no idea what I was going to say. It occurred to me that my act of mad pursuit might just scare the hell out of a man who had never seemed scared of me… yet… It was very romantic when this sort of thing happened in films, but in reality it was stalking and slightly disturbing. I couldn’t turn back now. I didn’t want to either. I had to find out what happened next in this story. I just needed to find a way of doing it that seemed less crazy than it felt. Did such a thing exist.
I picked up the receiver and dialed his number. I felt incredibly stupid, but also very excited. My body was vibrating from head to toe with intense nervous exhilaration. I wanted to scream, laugh, shout, and even cry, but I managed to hold it all in.
“Hi, it’s me…” I said timidly, my voice a shaky, husky whisper. “The woman you met…”
“I know who you are,” his welcoming voice embraced me, “I was just thinking about you, about getting on a plane and scouring New York to find you, you never gave me your address or number…”
“I’m here… ” I said not really knowing where here was.