#52Essays2017 Week 18: Cascadas y Mariposas (or Being Alone is a Superpower)

“And sometimes the best cure to loneliness is, in fact, to be alone.” – Samuel Leighton-Dore, from “The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone”

*

The trip was supposed to be a cutesy coupley kind of thing with the dude I was briefly dating this winter. I won’t even get into details about why it ended only to say that we were not compatible. He had purchased the Niagara Falls weekend couples package off of GroupOn and at first, we were both super excited. As time passed, I could tell that his enthusiasm had disappeared. When I confronted him about it, he denied his behavior, telling me everything was okay. I pushed a little because my intuition was telling me that he just wasn’t 100 percent into dating me any longer.

And I was right.

He finally ‘fessed up to the fact that he didn’t feel we were compatible, but not before he tried to paint the picture that it was because of something I had “done” to make him feel that way.

“Look, J… if you need to blame me for things ending, then go for it. I am okay with that. Just know that I am aware that it’s only because you’re not totally into the situation.”

Cue La Lupe’s “La Gran Tirana” here.

Now….what to do with that GroupOn? Homeboy tells me it’s mine, to go for it, makes a corny joke about wanting half back if I take a dude with me. The next day he hits me up and asks me about the refund policy because he “highly doubts” I will go alone.

I bought the bus ticket the day he texted me those words.

He must not know about me.

*

I planned every detail of this trip. I made a checklist of things that I needed to take with me so I wouldn’t forget, paid for excursions beforehand, wrote down every detail of my itinerary. I crossed every T and dotted every I.

This was the first time I would be taking a solo trip in my life so I wanted to be prepared. I had traveled alone before, sure, but there was always something waiting for me at the other side: a friend, a lover, family, a community. I had never taken a trip where it would be just me for the entire trip.

It occurred to me, at age 32, that the “couples” trip I was supposed to have would be the very first “couples trip” I would have ever taken. I can’t lie, the anxiety of the entire thing had me asking around.

“Do you have the time to accompany me? It should be fun.” No one had the time.

The Universe though, had other plans for me.

*

My bus to Canada left Port Authority at 5:15am. After taking a Lyft ride to Port Authority, I waited in the dingy waiting area for my bus to arrive. Something about Port Authority before NYC wakes up is creepy and sad all at the same time. Part of me kept my eyes open for my own safety as a woman travelling alone but prayed for every soul wandering around and wanting a warm place to sleep in the middle of the cold concrete of the city.

The bus ride was long. Nah, not just long but extremely long. Eleven hours to be exact with transfers in between. I slept in between transfers thanking the Universe I hadn’t forgotten my airport neck pillow. When we arrived in Rochester, border patrol came onto the bus and asked each of us for our passports. There was a beautiful couple sitting in the back, like one of those couples that should be in a perfume ad or something. They had been sitting together since NYC, cuddling and nuzzling each other in between their own naps.

Apparently,  the handsome male of that couple didn’t have proper paperwork. He was asked to get off the bus. They both tried to explain they were on a romantic weekend trip together but the border patrol officers insisted they exit the bus, one of them resting his hand on his holster in that way cops do when they want you to know that you should do as they say or else.

They both had accents, they were both brown. The young woman with him, eyes wide with fear, was told she could stay on the bus, but of course, she grabbed all of their items and waited outside for him. I applauded her in my mind for that. I watched as the border patrol walked the young man off the bus, towards their patrol car, frisked him, digging their hands into his pockets, patting him down.

I watched this happen, just like every other passenger watched. I asked myself if he could feel everyone staring. I was ashamed for watching and made myself look away.

A redhead in back of me with a short haircut sucked her teeth. She had already been irritating for a lot of the ride, talking so loudly on her cell phone that I could hear her over the music in my headphones. I wasn’t the first to be annoyed. An elderly woman asked her to lower her voice and she snapped that she was almost done and for her to “hold her horses.”

She was a pain in the ass and she was sitting directly behind me.

“Good riddance.” She spat between her sucking teeth.

“I think his passport was just expired or close to expiring. They are getting very strict about those things.” I said this out loud to the air, knowing she would hear.

The redhead leaned forward in her seat so I could see her face clearly as she spoke. She had thick glasses that made her beady eyes beadier and a row of sparkling braces over still-crooked teeth. I could see the spit forming in the corners of her mouth as she spoke.

“Nah. I’m glad he got kicked off. I don’t want no terrorist on my bus.”

I turned away from her. I asked myself later why I didn’t acknowledge her or why I didn’t tell her that her comment was problematic. I can admit to myself now that I did not want to engage a long drawn out conversation with a bigot. I was exhausted from the trip and the anxiety I was feeling from travelling alone and to engage her would zap me of the energy I had left. I can admit to myself now that I was also scared of the conversation escalating and my being kicked off the bus for being the browner of the two. I was apprehensive about being kicked off a bus I had already paid for, losing my money, and losing time on a very short trip. I was apprehensive about this happening without someone to get off the bus for me like the young woman had done for her beau.

I was apprehensive about this happening while I was alone.

But, on the other hand, I was ashamed for not saying something. I was ashamed for not standing up for that beautiful brown couple. I was angry at the redhead for her words, for sparking shame in me for my own inaction. I put my music up and held back hot stinging tears.

Sometimes that kind of shit can make you feel a hell of a lot more lonely.

*

When I finally arrived in Canada, it was not the brilliant springtime weather I assumed it would be. High temperatures did not take away from the chill in the air. I arrived in the hotel completely drained and wanting to hide. Upon my arrival, I found out that I was unable to use some of the vouchers for the GroupOn because they were only valid for couples. I cried in the lobby waiting for my room to become available while I contemplated how much additional money I would have to spend, unloading all of the energy I had absorbed on the trip over there, unloading the redhead, the shame, the anxiety of being alone.

I called my mother and she comforted me by saying I deserved the trip, that a man would take away from the experience, that I needed to calm down, get to the room, and relax. She told me that I did the right thing by protecting my own energy from the ginger on the bus. I thanked my lucky stars I had thought to pack a bottle of red zinfandel in my bag to keep me company this weekend.

I spent the first night using the hot tub that came in my couples suite, sipping wine, and munching on rice crackers and trail mix, watching whatever came on the television. I took selfies and slept and kept the blinds and drapes shut tight. I hibernated that night and gave myself quiet time to replenish my drained energy. I didn’t want to deal with anymore people or talk or look at anyone. I was protecting myself from bad vibes by cocooning in my hotel room.

*

I woke up early the next day swimming in anxiety. I stared at the empty side of the bed, a side I had left empty because I don’t know how to sleep in the middle of a big bed. I always make room for someone else, even if they aren’t there. I wished I had someone to curl into when waking, someone who would hold me and encourage excitement for the day.

But there was no one. I frowned.

I stayed in bed for a half hour, urging myself to get up, even if it was just to brush my teeth. This was a familiar conversation with myself. It’s why I put my alarm clock for half an hour before I am supposed to get up every day. I have to convince myself that I need to get up and handle the day, give myself a pep talk.

I stared at the ceiling. “So, you’re going to pre-pay for all of these excursions and just stay in bed? You really want to waste money and do what you could’ve done in the Bronx, minus the eleven hour bus ride? Get the fuck up!”

I sucked my teeth at myself. I was mad. I was grumpy. I was anxious.

“Let’s go. At least get dressed and go eat downstairs at the IHOP. At least do that. You’ll feel better after coffee.”

So, I did. I started small. I put music on and sang along with it as I moved. First, I brushed my teeth and pulled out my outfit for the day. I unfolded one of the hotel towels and hung it on the hook right outside of the shower. Then I pulled out the papers and junk I needed for the excursions I had paid for. Showered and washed my hair, lotioned with my favorite vanilla lotion, stared at myself in the huge hotel mirrors in my black bra and panties.

I stared at the bed behind me, imagining the man I loved lying there, smiling at me, staring at me with eyes that desired me, adored me. I blinked, imagined a man sitting at the edge of the bed, tapping his foot, looking at his watch, his face contorted with annoyance.

Except there was no man there. Not a sexy, kind-eyed one nor an asshole perched at the edge of the bed rushing me.

A part of me was sad by this and a part of me was relieved.

*

After breakfast, I walked towards the falls, using screenshots of Google Maps because once I left the safety net of  the hotel WiFi, I had no use for my phone other than its camera.  The day was neither cold or hot. It was a bright sunny day with warmth and breeze. After stopping at an information desk and getting all of my questions answered, I walked to my first excursion. It was the boat ride that went to the front of the falls called the Hornblower Cruise.

Excited, I stayed on the top deck, clinging to slippery silvered barricades, sliding across the slippery gray floors of the boat that reminded me of the cheap New York City party cruises I would go to in my 20s. People crowded together on that deck and as the boat moved, everyone readied themselves for I don’t know what…war? Magic?

The closer we got to the falls, the mistier it became. It became clear why those plastic raspberry-colored ponchos were necessary. The water looked like it had been painted and it was a teal blue that looked like I could’ve swam in it like a fish, like the kind of teal blue Crayola would never be able to recreate. The front of the boat where I was standing began to feel as if it were being pulled into the falls. As we hit the Horseshoe Falls, the water falls on the Canadian side of Niagara, the power of the water around us was astounding. While everyone around laughed and took selfies, I watched the water pouring over the sides and listened to the roar of it crashing down.

The power of the falls scared the shit out of me. So much in fact, that I turned away from them a few times. I felt as if at any moment we would all be swallowed into its power and be lost to the swirls of misty teal blue waves, into the crashing white thundering down around us. I had never felt more out of control, more powerless, or more miniscule outside of that night in December all those years ago. Except, this time, I was exhilarated, replenished almost.

I was reminded, standing on that slippery gray deck in my flimsy plastic poncho, that we are all guests on this Earth. I was reminded as I felt so small there surrounded by these skyscrapers of blue-green and frothy white water, that humans spend so much time trying to control things that were never ours to control, that we never had a right to control. I was reminded that power is beautiful.

I was reminded that something that can stand alone can be powerful and gorgeous and provide the world with energy.

I was content in that moment. I knew that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I were focused on a man or a friend with me.

I looked around me, saw couples, old and young, gripping each other, kissing in the mist and I felt a pang. That would’ve been a classic, right out of the movies moment for sure.

I looked up at the falls again as the boat began to go back to the dock.

And she roared that I was not alone.

*

Every man that wasn’t related to me that I told about this weekend solo trip to the falls thought I was just being pathetic and lonely. Can I say their words didn’t sting? Nope. Can’t say that at all. It sat with me so long I wrote them down, chastising myself for being what one had referred to as “mad desperate for attention.”

One even told me I was stupid to try to “prove a point to a dude who doesn’t give a fuck.”

“Now, you’ll be at one of the most romantic places in the world alone. You’re going to look like a dumb ass, watch. How you gonna go without a man? Why didn’t you ask me?”

Because every man’s assumption, outside of my older brothers, thought that for a romantic weekend getaway, I should call them.

Because of course, I wanted them.

Por favor.

*

I visited the Butterfly Conservatory next. It was a bus ride away and the transportation in Niagara Parks was fairly easy to navigate. I arrived and walked in, sat for the informational video before the walk through the conservatory.

“Butterflies can’t hear but feel vibrations.”

Oh shit, they’re empaths like me.

“These sound wavelengths they feel, we are oblivious to, but it is how they move about the world and how they sense their enemies.”

Kinda like women’s intuition. 

“The colors on their wings are created by millions of scales that are layered and reflect brilliant and sometimes vivid colors.”

I’m made up of a million layers, too. 

“Please make sure not to touch their wings because as beautiful as they are, their wings are extremely delicate.”

Sounds about right. 

As I wandered around the conservatory, beautifully colored butterflies floating around me in iridescent blues, yellows, greens and reds, I couldn’t believe I was seeing these gorgeous insects face to face, some that I had really only seen in pictures before. A beautiful black and lime green winged butterfly landed on my pointer finger, greeting me almost.

I thought of that silly movie where Ashton Kutcher fucks up history by touching a butterfly in the past when he time travels and wondered what would change since that little black and green lady landed on me. I thought back to the Hornblower Cruise and the power of that kind of beauty compared to the delicacy of the butterflies. Could beauty and power be both hard and soft? Could there be a balance?

“Most species of adult butterflies are solitary creatures.”

So, there’s beauty in being delicate and alone. Okay, I can dig the shit outta that.

*

I can honestly say I enjoyed the rest of that day. I was overjoyed and super proud of myself that even with anxiety trying to nudge its way into the day, that I was able to get through it and motivate. I was proud that I was able to really enjoy the day and best of all, with no one else. That was such a huge accomplishment for me.

And then came the steak dinner at Keg’s Steakhouse.

I dressed up for myself meticulously, wearing special earrings and a beautiful dreamcatcher necklace I had purchased in a gift shop there. I used extra vanilla lotion and fluffed my curls. I walked to the restaurant from the hotel and regretted not packing boots as I shielded myself from the chilly wind rushing past me.

I was seated after a short wait and ordered a glass of a dark red zinfandel. I munched on the amazing complimentary bread. I ordered bacon-wrapped scallops, a filet mignon with asparagus. I relished that food, sipped at my wine. I even ordered a mini creme brulee for dessert. The meal was expensive because the couple voucher for the restaurant was invalid for a single person but I had decided upon arrival that I wouldn’t nix the steak dinner.

As I was paying my bill, a woman sitting at table next to mine with her homegirls approached my table.

“You really ate that meal alone? So did you get stood up? Me and my friends were all wondering.”

“No, I’m alone. I am visiting the falls alone.” I tried not to be offended that I was a topic of conversation at their table.

“Wow. You’re brave. I dunno if I could do that without someone here wit’ me, ya know? You don’t see all these couples, girl?”

“I see them. But I was hungry.” I shrugged, signing my bill, and placing the pen down.

“That’s it though? Just hungry? Or you’re trying to prove something to a man?”

I sat back in the chair, handed the billfold to the server as he walked by the  table and smiled.

“I guess I was at first. Not anymore. I guess I’m trying to prove something to myself now.”

I smiled again, stood, and wished her well.

I never asked her name. I didn’t need to. I knew why she had approached me and I thanked the Universe as I walked back to the hotel.

I proved to myself that I was capable. That I could enjoy myself. That I could love myself enough to do exactly as I planned without anyone there. That I could shield myself from negativity like that stupid ginger on the bus by being certain and sure of me. I proved to myself that I could give myself the care I needed to recharge and that I didn’t have to rely on external things to ground me. Love and the desire for it stopped being a salve, a fix-all, a hoped-for safety net. I proved to myself that the anxiety about being alone wasn’t enough to hold me back.

I proved to myself that what made me vulnerable, what made me delicate like those butterflies is what also made me powerful like the water. I was both.

I realized that I could be both cascada y mariposa.

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