Here With Me

May 16, 2012

This is a pretty long post.

Believe it or not – it’s the short (and PG) version of this story. I’ve been trying to put it “on paper” for a really long time. I always thought it would be my first book. But a lot of time has gone by. A lot has changed. And I’ve made some even bigger mistakes (which is sort of frightening). I don’t know if this life lesson deserves more than a chapter (or two). Regardless, I still wanted to purge all of this. I still wanted it “on paper.” Some of you already know this story. Some of you only know bits and pieces (sorry mom). I hope my love affair with reckless abandon will entertain those of you who have never heard me utter a word about this before. I think I managed to pull out the most interesting parts. I don’t blame you if you don’t make it all the way through to the end. I (literally) almost didn’t.

The story of how we met is just as good as the story you’re about to read. Maybe better. But I couldn’t bring myself to rehash them both. So, I skipped the appetizer and brought you straight to the entrée and dessert.

I followed a boy once – to his island of enchantment…

a cliff at a resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

We only spent one day together…before I was adamant I had to go back. One day was all it took. He was that great of an actor. I was sort of an actress myself. I pretended I wasn’t in over my head.

He barely spoke English.

I didn’t care.

He was beautiful.

So was the fantasy WE created (I have to take part ownership of the mirage).

I knew better. But I got on the plane anyway. And I went back…for him.

When he picked me up at the airport, I tried to ignore my stomach ache. I was pushing my own limits this time.

He took me out to lunch.

Lunch consisted of skewers of meat we bought from a street vendor. It was some of the best meat I have (still) ever tasted. I never asked what kind of meat we were eating. I didn’t really want to know.

The women outside their houses, near the meat cart, stared at us. They knew him. I could tell. And they thought I was a foolish little white girl.

I was.

After we ate, he told me he had to go back to work. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t take the time off. I had come so far…for him.

But I kept my mouth shut. He didn’t like being questioned. I learned this very quickly about him, and the men on his island. So…I carefully picked my battles, which was strange, because I had never really walked on eggshells for anyone.

He dropped me off at my “apartment.”

My “apartment” was a small room with a bed, a chair, a tiny television set (that only made white noise) and a shower that I almost refused to use. It was home to the first and largest cockroaches I have (still) ever seen.

my room in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

The “apartment” was part of a small complex owned by a local family. It was one of the nicer places to stay in this neighborhood…a neighborhood that was not visited by many tourists…let alone…foolish little white girls.

The couple that owned the property waited until he left…

They brought me their business card.

They knew him. I could tell.

The sound of the cockroaches click-clacking on the floor drove me to tears. The sound of their wings whizzing in the air was even worse. I finally fled my “apartment” for some fresh air.

I found a pay phone down the road. I called my mom and a couple of my friends. I told them all I was safe and I was having a great time. I was too proud to admit I already knew something wasn’t quite right.

HOURS later, he came back for me. He brought his best friend. And he brought his girlfriend, who had traveled from Texas to be with him. They seemed genuinely excited to meet me, as if he had been talking about me, a lot. I didn’t have to try as hard to make sense of what she was saying. That eased my mind. A little.

We drove straight to a liquor store.

The guys bought a huge jug of water, a large bottle of vodka and Crystal Light.

They poured out half the jug of water and emptied the vodka into the jug. They added the Crystal Light and shook it all up. I can’t remember what they called it, but they poured everybody a cup and we all got back into the car.

We ran every red light on our way to the club.

He told me it was legal to do so after dark. Because of carjackings.

After that response, I hoped we’d never slow down.

We never did.

We danced all night. I told myself I was not going home. Not without him.

The music stopped when the sun rose. Exhausted, intoxicated and exhilarated…we headed back to my place.

He didn’t stay long.

The fire in his eyes told me he had never been turned down before. No woman had ever refused to have sex with him.

But I did.

I have never forgotten the look on his face. Or how tightly he gripped my wrists.

I didn’t want to be alone, but I’m glad he left. The night could have taken a much different turn.

I knew, almost immediately, how naïve that was of me – to fly so far – for a fairy tale. BUT, I was taught, by my first love – that some things – were worth the wait. And I was still idealistic enough to believe that applied to every relationship.

Foolish little white girl.

His friends forced him to come back for me the next evening (I know he did not come back on his own accord). They brought me a sandwich. It had been almost a full day since my last meal. At least his friends refused to let me starve.

They took me to a baseball game. Sadly, I still wanted to be close to him. I still don’t understand why.

He sat several rows behind me at the game. I tried to enjoy myself anyway. But I spent most of the night worrying about how I was going to get home. I wasn’t supposed to leave for a few more days and the airport was at least an hour from my “apartment.” I had not actually eaten in a restaurant since I arrived and the thought of catching a cab was almost as laughable as me traveling all this way…for him…and for love.

They dropped me off after the game.

I’m not sure how – or why – but I knew he’d come back the next day.

We walked to the beach in the morning. He pretended like he was madly in love with me while we played in the sand (which is sort of how I wound up there in the first place). I’m not sure why I even agreed to spent time with him. And, I (admittedly) felt infatuated all over again. I still don’t understand why.

Then he told me he had to go to work.

I took a picture of him walking away.

This was the last time I ever saw him.

the last time I saw him, at the beach in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

I stopped at a small store on my way back to my “apartment.”

I bought Cheez-Its, a soda and a pack of cigarettes (I convinced myself these three things would totally calm my nerves).

I sat in bed and listened to Dido on repeat. I didn’t have the energy to change out my CDs (iPods had not been invented yet). I had to listen to something – anything – to try and muffle the humiliation and the cockroaches.

I finally grew restless in my room and decided it was dinnertime (dinner = cigarette). I went outside to smoke.

Except for the stars and moon, it was pitch black outside.

I was numb.

I honestly couldn’t feel a thing…until I found myself staring into the whites of a strange man’s eyes.

When our eyes locked, he picked up his pace.

His skin was as dark as the night. I had no idea how his size compared to mine. I had no idea, if it came down to it, if I actually stood a chance. I could only see his eyes and his teeth – every time he opened his mouth and his raspy voice told me to “come here.”

He wasn’t speaking English, but I knew what he was saying.

I wanted to vomit.

I didn’t know what to do. But I knew I couldn’t just stand still.

Somehow, my legs outran his.

I locked myself in my room.

Looking back, that was probably THE stupidest thing I could have done.

He sat outside my door.

I turned on the television. The white noise was the only thing louder than his heavy breathing.

I emptied all of my bags until I found the business card the property owners gave me. I found my cell phone. I dialed the number on the card. I was positive this plan wouldn’t work. It seemed like an awfully simple solution. But I was desperate. And I had just trapped myself inside a windowless, cockroach-infested room.

They picked up their phone.

I could barely speak. I was hysterical. I didn’t even have a chance to say my name before my phone died. I @#$%ing lost it.

A few seconds later, I heard a knock – and perfect English – at my door.

It took them a few minutes to convince me to let them in.

The wife held me while her husband packed my bags.

They didn’t know the man outside my door. They never saw his face. He took off as soon as he heard their footsteps. But they promised me no one could hurt me now.

They told me they had their eyes on me this whole time. And they were glad I called. They said they knew I was calling as soon as their phone rang. They were glad they were there. And they were glad they could help.

They had been waiting for something like this to happen since they first saw me…with him.

They knew he would break my heart.

They moved me into their home that night.

They were English teachers. And their daughter, who was coming home in the morning, was a flight attendant for American Airlines.

They fed me Corn Pops and Diet Coke. The cereal tasted so good. It tasted like home.

Their daughter came home the next afternoon.

She was full of fire. And she refused to let me feel sorry for myself for very long.

She told me to get dressed. We were going out.

We picked up dinner and A LOT of wine. We spent the night with a group of her friends. They were all gorgeous and fiery (just like her). Most of them had small children. But the babies’ fathers were nowhere to be found. Needless to say, these young women weren’t just fiery, they were angry. They all LOVED and HATED men.

I could not have kept better company that night.

My story didn’t surprise them. They mostly laughed – sometimes WITH me and sometimes AT me. I didn’t mind. I felt safe with them. It was the first time I truly felt safe since I my plane landed. They could laugh all they wanted.

My new family cared for me until it was time for me to head home.

My new sister saw me all the way to my gate.

For a long time, I wanted to forget this ever happened. But it did. And if I had to do it all over again, I probably would. I don’t think I would have ever forgiven myself if I didn’t go back. I would have always wondered what could have been. The thought of never knowing gave me more anxiety than the cockroaches did. At least I know for sure. Nothing could have been. Nothing should have been.

The types of risks I take have evolved over time, but I still take them. I will always take them. I don’t feel like I really have a choice. Every once in a while I wish I did. Every once in a while, I wonder what it would be like to be a little more even-keeled. Like Bob. He’s so naturally good-natured. And so sincerely easy to please. Bob says I like to push things (he might have said people) to their limits. Perhaps that’s why the universe brought us together. Equilibrium (is that even a real thing?). I wonder if the universe considered that my limits (or lack thereof) might also put Bob in an early grave. Poor Bob (you were all thinking it).

On a serious (and final) note…I know how lucky I am to have returned home from this trip with only a few emotional scars. I am (still) grateful every day. While I’m not religious, I know I owe my homecoming to a higher power. Worse things, unspeakable things, have certainly happened to young women (and men) who didn’t even make such poor choices.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori May 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I am very proud of you for putting this out there. Sure, you may leave yourself open to judgment… But you may just save a girl from something similar. Or worse.
Purged. Release. Free. Move forward.
I’m proud of you.
Lori

Reply

Natalie May 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

Yo soy Boricua de sangre completa, lee el tatuaje en su brazo…

Reply

Ashley May 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

i have to say that i loved this post. scary yes. but you’re fearless and it shows in your actions and your writing!

Reply

Natalie May 18, 2012 at 10:18 am

Oh Ashley – ironic that I would do something like this with such fearlessness but can’t even finish our damn Scarlett & Grace website. Thank you for reading all my ramblings pretty lady.

Reply

PL May 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Congratulations and gratitude to you for putting this out there – a huge benefit both for you and for anyone and everyone who reads it. Wonderfully written, as always, and very, very powerful. And I’m so glad you made it back relatively unscathed.

Reply

Natalie May 18, 2012 at 10:14 am

You are, by far, the best publicist a girl never hired. Thank you so much for reading everything I write and thank you so much for all of your kind words and continued encouragement. I’m beyond grateful for your friendship (but you already knew that).

Reply

Leave a Comment