Thursday, March 15, 2018

A spark on the ocean

I've just returned from an 11-day Caribbean cruise and had the time of my life. I knew I would, because how could I not have an incredible time? (Assuming there are no outbreaks of the dreaded Norovirus or something). After a prolonged and intense high, boy am I crashing hard. Real life is dull and boring, and I'm fighting the urge to pick up and change my entire life in favour of something exciting like cruise ship work. But no, I can't. I gave up my life for the tropics once before in my lifetime and I just can't do it again. Which makes this post-cruise depression even harder to manage.

We stopped at five ports, all of which were new countries added to my life's travel list. I was with my mom and other family friends, all folks I get along great with. I wasn't even meant to go on this cruise, having had to sub in for my father at the last minute who couldn't go for medical reasons.

And now I have to write this experience down while it's still fresh, because I don't want to forget even the tiniest detail. Everything was fantastic for all eleven days, but it's the last 3-4 that I feel compelled to document. I'll get to transcribing the other cool stories eventually, but this one needs to be written down stat. I want to preserve the exact dialogue as it happened because it's burned into my brain now, but it will fade. So in the interest of remembering everything, fair warning - this post will be loooong.

This is one of the most amazing, romantic, passionate things that has ever happened to me and I need it preserved in tact so that when life feels boring or sad I can re-read it to myself and remember the unbelievable time I had on the ocean, and remember that when you least expect it, life can throw you a curveball that will blow your mind.

It's likely the kind of story that is once in a lifetime and I will probably never beat it. Nothing will ever come close to this, which is why I'm experiencing such a depression now that it's over. Right now it feels like a highlight of my life's narrative that will never come again. But who knows...

I should note that I have lost 85 pounds since my last blog post (another post on that coming eventually, because it was quite a journey), and so my life is very different than it was. I look like a new person, my confidence is high, and men are noticing me like never before. All of these changes definitely contributed to my enjoyment of this cruise.

So, this was a quasi-family vacation, but I still set out on the cruise kinda hoping to meet someone. Just an innocent flirtation because why not? I'm young(ish) and single, and the world is my oyster. But I knew there was a slim to none chance. Sharing a cabin (and most of my time) with my mom diminished the possibilities. Also an 11-day cruise attracts much older folks, and the odd honeymooning couple, not an abundance of single 20 and 30 somethings. Nonetheless, I had my eyes wide open in case of any potential flirting opportunities.

The ship was full of entertainment, all the time, everywhere you went. We saw the early show in the theatre (always song and dance or comedy), had late dinners, then roamed in search of anything else that might be going on. So many times in the first few days we walked through the piano bar and saw a young guy playing beautifully and singing songs at the request of the crowd. It was a lowkey scene to observe and we passed it up several days in a row. The back of my mind went "Oh, he's good, and he can really sing," but it didn't really register and we moved on.

One night, with nothing else to do, we decided to sit and watch. It was an intimate setting and I was maybe three feet from him that first night, sitting slightly behind him. He turned, we made our first eye contact, and he handed me his songbook so that I might browse and make a request. At this distance, I first registered that he had a beautiful smile, and amazing brown eyes. Okay, so this could be interesting.

I submitted my song request on a slip of paper, wrote my name and included a smiley face for good measure. I was hard to miss, being the only person under 50 in the room, other than himself, but I wanted him to really notice me. And he did. I saw my song request bypass the pile he already had in front of him. He played my song and I loved every second of it. This dude's talent was just, like whoa. The crush had officially begun to develop.

No matter what he played, he was amazing. When they say music is an aphrodesiac, they aren't kidding. Musicians get women for a reason. Hooo boy.

I was back again the next night, still with my family in tow. Dang it. He greeted me by name when we sat down and gave me a big warm smile. I tried not to get too silly about it because he was clearly a seasoned, professional musician working for tips who knew how to work the crowd. He had no doubt spotted his budding fangirl and could have just been playing it up for me.

He asked me directly what I wanted to hear, and I requested a ballad from Phantom of the Opera, a personal fave with a special place in my heart. I was ecstatic to see it in his repertoire. Until then, I knew he was good, but it was with this particular song that I melted. This time, I was seated right up front, with a direct line of sight between us. That was no accident on my part. I'd rather not imagine the doe-eyed grin that was probably on my face, but I can say I literally gasped and grunted with desire as his voice did incredible things. He looked over at me at one point, smiled, and winked. And that was it. I was hooked. I smiled and winked in return. This was day seven.

From that point on, I wasn't interested in the nightly show in the theatre. I wanted to be at the piano lounge as soon as dinner was over. The next night my mom came with me, but without the others. I was greeted by name again, and the eye-contact was starting to feel intense. He asked me what I wanted to hear and played my requests beautifully. "This one's for Adelaide," he would say when he started. "That one was just for you, Adelaide," when he finished with a wink. Dying inside and trying to play it cool.

When he took a break, I politely asked my mom to get lost, and she did. I was alone for the first time on this cruise. I wanted him to see that I was unaccompanied. After his break, he came right to me and we had our first off-mic conversation. Short but sweet. He asked where I was from, what I did for a living, how I was enjoying my vacation, all that good surface stuff. I know it sounds ridiculous, but although his words said casual chit chat, his eyes said "I wish I could say more." I learned he was American but had been to my hometown before and loved it. I learned that I don't have the typical accent for my city. We both smiled ear to ear as we talked, but it was time for him to resume his show.

I tried to keep my crush in check but found myself thinking about him all through the day, hoping to see him by the pool, at the gym, at the buffet. I found myself looking for him. Where was he?! I downloaded his album and had begun memorizing the words, constructing elaborate fantasies in my mind of what I would say and do to him given the chance. I tried to rein it in because up until this point in my life, I didn't have the capacity to just pick out a man I wanted and have him. There's no way he would be interested, I told myself. He could be married! He could be gay! Stop obsessing! So I obsessed more.

In the evening I found myself getting dressed, doing hair and makeup, with only him in mind. Will he like this? Will he notice me? I was living for those looks across the piano, the wink here and there with the subtext "I'm interested in you." I was praying that I wasn't imagining the attraction. I was resigned to the fact that I probably was, and that this here would be all there ever was between us.

Back again the next night, by myself. He asked where the gang was, and I told him they were off seeing another show, directly implying "but I'M HERE."

As he played, we smiled at each other, giggled, and oh god, more winks that penetrated my fucking soul. But I still had that fear that I was imagining it. It was now night number nine. Time was running out and I was psyching myself up to have the courage to at least try to make something happen. YOLO! (I never say YOLO, sorry, but it applies to my frame of mind here). He chatted with me again when he took a break, and this time I admitted to him that I had downloaded his album of original music from iTunes and loved it. He was beyond flattered and grateful.

As I had been browsing his songbook the last few days, I noticed a song that didn't belong. Baby Got Back, by Sir Mix a Lot. So naturally I asked him if he would really play that, to this crowd, if I asked for it. He said yes, if that's what I wanted to hear. Well, he proceeded to give me the best rendition of Baby Got Back I've ever heard. He was totally into it, full of energy, and I sat there in a fit of laughter with tears streaming down my face, singing along as best I could. Seems silly, but something like that made me like him even more. I could now see that he had a sense of humour, he wasn't afraid to embarrass himself in front of a room of 65+ year-olds who just wanted to hear Billy Joel tunes. He did that for me. There was no doubt about it. I saw the confused looks on the crowd's faces as this guy who had just slayed a lovely, classic Frank Sinatra tune went "that butt you got makes M M ME SO HORNY!" Sigh. A man after my own heart.

As his set wound to a close, I planned what I was going to say after. My heart was racing, but I had to make my move. This was the second to last night. He finished the set and was swamped by people wanting to talk to him and buy his album. I waited quietly for a few minutes, played on my phone, but I eventually started to chicken out. I didn't want to seem desperate, because if I waited too long in a bar that was shutting down, it was obvious what I was waiting for. I got up and casually strolled out of the bar, and in my mind he was watching in disappointment as I left. Yes, I have a very active fantasy life inside my head.

I spent the next day listening to one of his beautiful original songs on repeat as I soaked in the last rays of sun that I could. This was the last day. I was determined to make something happen tonight, even if it was just a conversation to tell him how much I had appreciated his music throughout the cruise.

I made my fashionably late entrance into the piano lounge, mid-song, grabbed the songbook and gave him a wink. I'm taking charge now. He smiled wide. We stared at each other long and hard as he sang, and I grew more confident that this wasn't just in my head. The intense eye contact would erupt in smiles and giggles, and I savored every note of his incredible voice. He came to see me after his break and I thanked him (and apologized) for Baby Got Back. He was a good sport.

He launched into his final set and ended up playing his original song that I had memorized and fallen in love with that day. I had to stifle some surprising emotions that were bubbling up. I prepared myself to make my move.

He thanked everyone for spending their time with him throughout the cruise and announced that it was time for his final song. "Adelaide, what'll it be?" He threw it to me for the last song. My heart exploded. After wrapping it up, he was approached by a couple who wanted to talk for what seemed like forever (in reality five minutes) but this time I waited. Damn straight I waited.

The couple left and I stood up and approached. Big smile on his face. We exchanged pleasantries, he thanked me for coming out, I thanked him for playing and told him he was great, blah blah.

And then I hit him with it.

"So what's the policy on fraternizing with guests? Because I'd like to buy you a drink."

His face lit up. "Oh man, if I was allowed, I'd be buying you one."

Oh sweet lord, maybe I hadn't imagined all of this!

So, $15 mudslides in hand, we sat in the corner of the bar and had a date. He asked me all about my life, my work, my family. "Do you have a boyfriend or husband at home?" he asked. Nope. "Is there a Mrs. Pianoman?" I replied. God, I'm clever. I was happy to hear there was no spouse to speak of. Nothing in that department for years, I learned, as the cruise ship lifestyle isn't exactly conducive to lasting relationships.

"If you lived near me I would totally date you," he said. "We have great chemistry," he went on. "There's something here. It's too bad we live such different lives."

My heart was jumping for joy and breaking at the same time. Shit. I wanted a fun, light flirtation, but there was a spark here, now that we were actually conversing, that I hadn't expected. It was actually maddening. Why couldn't he have been a dunce with no sense of humour? That would have made this so much easier. But instead, we laughed, we had tons in common, we were mutually attracted, we fucking clicked.

"You're the type of person I would date and hope it would become serious," he said. Ouch, my heart.

It was 1:00 am and we strolled around the ship, completely deserted as everyone was meant to be leaving at 7:30 in the morning. Lights were dimmed, common areas were abandoned. It felt like a movie. I was basking in the sense of accomplishment that I had made into a reality something I had been fantasizing about.

"I wanted to invite you to take my break with me tonight," he said. "But it would have been rushed."

"I wanted to stay last night and talk to you then, but people had your attention so I left."

"I wish you'd stayed," he said. "I was looking for you." FUCK!

"I wish I could take you to my room," he said finally. "But it's very much not allowed. And cameras."

I already knew this, but still I felt a pang in my chest. "I'd take you to mine, but my mom's in there." We laughed. C'est la vie.

We moved to the very top deck to see the stars. We were blasted with intense wind and quickly hurried back inside, laughing about how it wasn't as romantic as we'd hoped. He asked me to wait a minute while he dropped his songbooks off in his cabin. He came back and we sat at a café table and talked about relationships and dating. We talked openly about the chemistry between us, and the disappointment about that very same fact.

"Listen," he said. "When I went to my room, I scoped out the situation. And there are no cameras, IF you follow this particular path." I was instantly on board. He explained there was no risk to me if I were caught behind the scenes, so to speak, in the crew area. But that he couldn't go with me. I had to find his cabin by myself. Together we drew a map in the notes of my phone, step by step directions for me to reach him. "I'll leave the door ajar." It was complicated and I was terrified, but NO WAY was I not going to try.

"Go put on pajamas," he said. "Take off your makeup. You'll look like a crew member. Don't make eye contact with anyone."

"I'll do my best," I said as we prepared to part ways. "But if I don't make it, please know that I really did try. And if I don't see you, check your tip jar. I threw my business card in there, so you have my info." Always thinking ahead, that's me. It was actually quite a sad little moment, because it was just so uncertain.

I was more nervous than I've been in years for anything. And I have no sense of direction so I calculated the chances of finding him again at about slim to none. So I snuck back into my room, changed my clothes, pulled off my false eyelashes, tied up my hair, had the awkward task of telling my mother, at 2 am, that I was going back out, and then snuck down into the ship in my bare feet.

I opened that crew only door and was faced with a maze of industrial hallways with concrete floors. I tried to stick to the instructions in my phone. I fucked it up almost immediately. I started to panic. I looked up and saw an ominous sign posted on the wall "Any staff member caught bringing a passenger into this area is subject to immediate dismissal by the Master." Fucking hell. The Master? I don't wanna fuck this guy's whole career! Not that I ever would have named him if I were caught. The plan was to play drunk and be escorted back to the passenger area. Luckily that didn't happen.

After getting lost, retracing my steps, twice, and finally taking the right staircase, I rounded a corner and saw the door ajar. I couldn't believe it. I slipped in quietly and we had a whispered celebration that I'd made it. My heart was hammering in my chest. I stood quiet for a moment and tried to catch my breath. I was scared and sweating and needed a sec.

He stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders gently, telling me how glad he was that I'd come. It was our first physical contact. Out in the public passenger areas, we couldn't be seen touching. I'd been thinking about touching him for days.

I turned slowly and wrapped my arms around him and we kissed. And let me tell you, fucking fireworks. It was the release of a days long build-up and anticipation. The culmination of longing looks and eye contact, trying to communicate without words, and now we were finally behind a locked door and able to express it.

"I was worried I had imagined it," I said as he kissed my neck.

"You did NOT imagine it," he reassured me.

"I've been wanting to kiss you for like three days," I couldn't stop talking.

"I've wanted it longer," he said. "There was just only so much I could convey by looking at you while the whole room looked at me." I rejoiced inwardly. It was a blissful sense of validation. I couldn't believe, even while it was happening, that it was in fact happening. Exactly what I had fantasized about. Does this really ever happen to people?

"I wish I could go back in time," I said. "I walked by you playing so many times and didn't stop."

Needless to say, we had an incredible two hours together, and I won't go into too much detail. Except to say that the chemistry was undeniable in that department as well.

"I wish this was day one and not day eleven," he said. "I want to see you again."

"Me too," I said.

"I have great benefits and can bring a spouse on board for next to nothing," he told me. We were getting carried away. It felt right to do so. "I don't want this to end," he said. And I agreed.

But I had to go. It was 4:30 in the morning and I was scheduled to be off this boat at 7:30. Plus I knew my mom was probably watching the clock and I had a walk of shame ahead of me. Not just sneaking back into our room, but finding my way through the intimidating labyrinth that is the crew passages.

It was a sad but quick goodbye. If I didn't pull the band-aid fast, I knew I'd find myself hiding in his closet and sending my mom a "not coming home" text.

After getting lost on the way back and passing two baggage handlers who commented that "someone had gotten lucky" I finally found my way into the main areas and back to my cabin. Mom didn't say a word. I laid awake for the next hour and a half until the alarm went off. In a daze, I packed my stuff, pretended to be wide awake (although running on a lot of adrenaline) and went for breakfast. I wasn't really there. I was far away, thinking a million different thoughts.

I cried quietly as my plane took off. I couldn't let mom see. As I landed back in Canada and my cellular data kicked in, my phone chimed with a text notification. It was him. He'd obviously found my business card.

"Now you have my number too," he said

And now life is a dull, hazy mess that I want no part in. Everything is boring. Things feel hopeless on the relationship front. I know I'm basing it all on a hunch, a very small blip of time, but the hurt of walking away from what felt like real potential is very real. It all feels like a waste. Two people who might actually be right for each other having to just walk away because of differences in lifestyles.

How will anything else compare to that? What was nice about it was that it was organic. No swiping, no apps, no screens, no games. Just "I see you, you see me, we like what we see, we connect." I can't bear to open a dating app. I have no interest in that whole thing now.

We're keeping in touch which is both giving me life and hurting like hell. He wants to come visit me this summer. I want that more than anything. And at the same time, that'll hurt like a bitch when it's over and I'm even more attached, as he'll be jumping on another ship for an eight month contract halfway around the world.

I've done the long distance thing before and it's soul-suckingly hard. It can be done, but there has to be an end in sight. It can't be indefinite.

All to say, I don't know where this can go from here, but I'm hesitant to let it slip away completely, because it was a unique connection, and a spark that doesn't happen to me often. I'm old enough, wise enough, and have accumulated enough dating experience to know when something might be worth it. This might be. Further investigation would be needed though.

This might be where it ends, there might be developments, I really don't know yet. All I know is that I wish my life, his life, both of our circumstances were different so that we could have the chance to explore further on land this thing that we started on the ocean.

No comments:

Post a Comment