Cruise of the Bruised – Part IV

Nassau

Over a sub-par breakfast of fatty bacon and runny eggs (fancy as it can be, cruise ship food is definitely made for the masses), the girls and I discussed our plans for the day. Our ship would dock at Nassau within the hour, and the sun had finally broken out from behind the clouds, promising a beautiful day to spend on the beaches of the Bahamas.

Since I’d been with the muscled massage therapist during most of our time in Freeport, I was looking forward to celebrating Marina’s upcoming birthday with her during our sunny afternoon in Nassau. Verna and Marina chattered on about drinking piña coladas on the white sand, and Marina agreed to take acroyoga photos with me in front of the breathtaking turquoise water —

Jordan appeared mid-conversation, walking by our table on the upper dock in his workout clothes, body glistening with perspiration. I watched him do a double-take as he noticed me sitting there, and – as I’d expected – he walked over to say hi. He wanted to spend the day with me, but I told him I was on the cruise with the girls and was there to celebrate Marina’s birthday.

“Well… could I meet you later this evening? Maybe at that hot tub,” he gestured with his towel-free hand, “Around 5 o’clock tonight?”

I smiled. “I think I can make that happen,” I said coyly.

“Great!” His grin lit up his face. “I’ll see you then.”

I turned back around to find the girls snickering, amusement lighting up their eyes. “Oh, hush,” I told them with mock disapproval. They just laughed harder.

An hour later, the three of us were decked out in our colorful bikinis and sunglasses, disembarking for our second day ashore in the Bahamas. We passed by hordes of taxis and horse-drawn carriages, opting instead to take in some Vitamin D during the 20 minute walk to the beach.

Verna and Marina decided to pay $10 for beach chairs, but I laid out my towel in the sand, readjusted my sunglasses on my nose, and sighed happily as I (finally!) opened my book to start reading. This was exactly what I’d envisioned when I agreed to go on this cruise with the girls.

Verna and Marina chattered away in Spanish, and after a while, Marina and I roped Verna into playing photographer while we posed in various acroyoga positions on the beach. We laughed uproariously every time we fell over, and I chuckled to myself when I noticed other patrons discreetly snapping photos of us on their phones. Both our posing and our falling was entertaining for all.

After the photos, we splashed around in the water, watched a limbo competition, and bought matching necklaces with flowers made out of conch shells. Then we all ordered drinks – piña coladas in coconuts – to celebrate a wonderful vacation and the perfect day.

Hours later, as we were packing up to walk back to the ship, I suddenly spotted Jordan across the beach, making his way toward a volleyball court where I saw the younger boys playing. I started to call out to say hi, but as I kept watching his veering path along the beach, I realized that he was incapable of walking in a straight line. He was drunk.

Verna and Marina had gone to the bathroom, so from where I stood guarding their stuff, I watched Jordan approach the group of bachelorettes who’d won the limbo competition. He laughed with the bride-to-be, taking her in his arms and twirling her around, dancing in the sand. “Don’t torture yourself,” came a quiet voice from behind me. I turned around to see that Verna had joined me, a knowing look on her face.

Then Marina appeared, we gathered our stuff and walked back to the ship. When we got back to the cabin, the girls decided they wanted to nap after the long day in the sun. So while they slept, I looked through the photos we’d taken and tried to decide what to do about my 5pm meeting with Jordan. Ultimately, I decided to be a woman of my word, so at 4:55, I left the girls sleeping in the cabin and made my way to the hot tub on the top deck.

When I arrived, I saw lots of people milling about, but no Jordan. I wasn’t surprised. Between the alcohol and the bachelorettes, I figured he’d completely forgotten about me. I’d brought a book with me for just such an instance, so I sat and read, letting the sounds of people talking and laughing fade into the background.

At 5:15, I felt a presence hovering over me, so I looked up to see Jonah and two of the other high school boys gathered around me. I didn’t remember their names, but I recognized them both – one tall and gangly; the other tall and beefy.

“Hey, Aurora!” Jonah greeted me, a genuinely happy smile on his face. I was glad he was glad to see me. “Can we join you?” he asked.

“Please do!” I told them cheerfully. So the three high school boys sat around me on the long bench beside the pool, the chunky one on my right; Jonah and the beanpole to my left. “How was your day?” I asked them.

They told me all about drinking at Señor Frog’s, playing volleyball on the beach and trying to pick up girls. I internally rolled my eyes. They were definitely high school boys.

“Speaking of picking up girls,” Jonah said, putting his arm around me with a dramatic pause, “How you doin’?” The other boys laughed while I shrugged his arm off me and asked with a smirk, “Jonah, how old do you think I am?”

“Dunno… 23?” The other two nodded in agreement.

“I’m almost 30,” I told him, raising my left eyebrow for emphasis.

“Sh** — no way!” Then they were asking about Marina (32) and even Verna, who is in her 40s. I told them they were ridiculous, and they started asking for tips on picking up girls.

The chunky one was quiet and sweet. After telling me about how he works with his dad in the construction business, he asked me in a soft voice the best way to get a girl’s attention. The other guys called outbursts about telling her she’s sexy or a hot momma, but I ignored them and told him that I like it when a guy wants to get to know me. “Ask her where she’s from; where she goes to school. Ask about her hobbies. Genuinely try to get to know her. That will go a lot farther than objectifying her,” I told him with a wink. He smiled shyly. What was this sweetheart doing with these other boys?

I turned to Beanpole and asked him, “So what about you? What do you like to do for fun?”

He looked dumbfounded. “Uh… I dunno.”

“Are you in any clubs at school? Do you play any sports? What are your hobbies?”

The 17-year-old gave me a devilish look and answered, “Recreational substance abuse.”

I knew he was trying to get a rise out of me, so I just shrugged and said, “I appreciate the honesty. What do you want to do for a living? Any idea what you want to major in?”

He looked dumbfounded again, so I started asking him questions that would help me determine his MBTI – how he likes to recharge when he’s stressed, if he tends to go with his gut on making decisions. He seemed curious enough to stick with me through the impromptu session, and the other two boys were enraptured as well. I got the sense that no one ever bothered to talk to them like adults with hopes and dreams and passions.

Ultimately, I identified Beanpole as an ISTP – “Friendly but very private, calm but suddenly spontaneous, extremely curious but unable to stay focused on formal studies, ISTP personalities can be a challenge to predict, even by their friends and loved ones. ISTPs can seem very loyal and steady for a while, but they tend to build up a store of impulsive energy that explodes without warning, taking their interests in bold new directions.”

I could tell that Beanpole still had some alcohol (or something stronger) in his system, so I told him to take a note in his phone to look into his ISTP personality. After watching him type the note into his phone, Jonah asked, “So what are you doing up here anyway?”

“I was supposed to meet Jordan here at 5:00.”

There was an instant of silence; then all three boys started guffawing, slapping their legs and rocking back and forth. “Nah, there’s no way Jordan’s coming. He’s passed out in the room!”

“I suspected as much,” I said, lips drawn into a tight line as their laughter continued.

“Oooh!” Jonah’s eyes were wide with excitement. “Let’s go wake him up!” The other boys agreed, jumped up, and pulled me along behind them. I begrudgingly followed them down to room 242, where they unlocked the door, surprising D.J. as they stormed in and started jumping on Jordan’s bed.

In all the commotion, D.J. assured me that Jordan is normally responsible; this is the first time he’s seen Jordan like that, and it was because Jordan forgot to eat lunch, so he had a few drinks on an empty stomach. Jordan peered at me, bleary eyed and apologized profusely. “I’m so sorry I missed our date.”

I waved him off. “That’s okay. It wasn’t a date. I’m not dating this year, remember? Let’s get you some food.” I hauled him up, and we walked – just the two of us – up to the cafeteria for some dinner. After some mashed potatoes and fried chicken, Jordan assured me that he felt better; then he checked his phone for the time and asked if I’d mind if he called his daughter Grace. “This is the fifteen minute time slot her mother and I agreed I could talk to her every day.”

I nodded and excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back, Jordan was just finishing up his call with Grace. He seemed tired. Sad. I put my hand on his arm and asked how he was doing. He started telling me all about the lawyers’ fees and the custody battle and how concerned he is for his daughter, growing up in that household with her emotionally unstable mother and sexual predator of an uncle.

Jordan was really shaken up and clearly had no one to confide in about these things, so I asked him about his church. He knows deep down that he needs the fellowship and community that the church can provide, but he’s been wounded by the church. So many “Christians” have judged him for his divorce, refused to stand up with him in court and generally deepened his hurts that he wants nothing to do with them.

So I asked if I could pray for him. Jordan agreed. So we held hands, bowed our heads, and boldly approached the Throne of Grace. I prayed for Jordan, for peace and for healing. I prayed for his ex-wife, created in the image of God and desperately in need of healing herself. I prayed for protection for sweet little Grace. I prayed about the custody battle and the lawyers and the church and Jordan’s job and all manner of things he’d shared with me over the past few days. And by the end, I had silent tears streaming down my face. God, why have you given me such a soft heart for the hurting and brokenhearted?

At the end, we hugged silently; then we agreed to walk around the ship for a while, lightening the mood. We had only walked the length of one level of the cruise ship when we ran into the sweet, chunky kid from the hot tub. Jordan wrapped him in a bear hug, and wiggled my fingers at him in a wave from over Jordan’s shoulder.

“Whatcha doin’?” Jordan asked the Teddy Bear. We followed his eyes to where a pretty blonde teenager sat alone at a table, scrolling on her phone. Ah.

“I’m really nervous, but I want to talk to her,” the Teddy Bear admitted, looking at me. “What should I say?”

I was surprised and honored that he wanted my advice, especially since Jordan is the one who has known him since he was in diapers. “Ask her if she watched the SuperBowl this weekend. If she did, ask who she rooted for. If not, ask what she did instead. Just keep the questions rolling, but keep it casual and laid-back. Express an interest in getting to know her.”

“Okay,” Teddy repeated back to me, practicing. “Hey, did you watch the SuperBowl this weekend?” He paused; then tried again. “Hey! How about that SuperBowl, huh?”

I smiled, gave him a hug, and nudged him forward. “You’ve got this.”

“Will you stay here for me?” he asked, nervousness written all over his face. His vulnerability and honesty were charming. “Of course,” I told him reassuringly. He was adorable.

Jordan and I stood arm-in-arm watching Teddy approach the girl. He sat down at the table next to hers, just as I’d coached him. “You want to seem friendly but not come on too strong.” We watched the conversation begin, the girl looking wary at first; then merely uncomfortable before Teddy said something to make her laugh, and, “He’s in,” I said to Jordan with a smile. We waltzed away, Jordan’s arm around me, as Teddy continued getting to know the solitary blonde, confidence building.

I’ve spoken to Jordan a few times since the cruise, and he tells me that the guys talk about me all the time. “Apparently your conversations with them had quite an impact.” He says they seem inspired and driven, like they have hope again. Yes, Lord. Thank you for there being purpose in my being on that cruise – the Cruise of the Bruised… a phrase that could describe all of our journeys at one time or another.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice… I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” -Isaiah 42

Authentically Aurora

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Heading to the City of Love

paris-eiffel-tower-coupleBryan left for Paris on Friday. He’ll be in Europe for the next two weeks, and he called me on Thursday night to talk one more time before he left.

Although I broke up with Bryan three weeks ago, he has called me three times since then. The first two times, we just caught up on each other’s lives. “How was your weekend?” & “How are things at the office?”

Each time, I let him lead the conversation, thinking he had finished “processing” and might need to talk things out for closure. But Bryan initiated no closure conversations or even a re-evaluation of our status. Those first two phone calls, he seemingly just called to catch up on my life like we were old friends, which I guess is what we are now. But it felt strange that he acted as if our break up conversation never happened.

Then again, all we do now is talk on the phone once a week instead of casually hanging out once a week, so not much has changed except my expectations for our pseudo-non-relationship. And, as Bryan used to tell me, “Uncommunicated expectations are premeditated disappointment.” He disappoints me less now that I don’t expect him to behave like a boyfriend.

I’ve been perplexed by our casual phone calls, but Thursday night’s conversation finally dug a bit deeper and addressed the reality of our situation. I was glad. I don’t do well with ambiguity or inauthenticity.

Bryan had sent me a text during the day asking if I’d be interested in going for drinks after work. I knew it was his last day in the States for a while, so I agreed, but I let him know I had bible study at 7pm, so it would need to be an early Happy Hour (yes, on occasion I drink alcohol before bible study). I hung around downtown after work, waiting on his call, and Bryan called me around 5:15.

“Hey, I just left work,” he told me. “I thought we could meet near your place and grab a drink out west of town.”

“Um, I’m still downtown… near your place. Both work and my bible study are downtown, and I thought we’d be meeting over here since you always head straight home after work.”

“No, I actually have a retirement reception for a colleague at 7 out near where you live, so I thought we’d meet over there.” Classic Bryan. Typical failure to plan and epic lack of communication.

With rush hour traffic, there was no way we could make the logistics work, but had I known the time and location in advance, I could have driven to him. Or, you know, he could have for once made a sacrifice and driven to me. I ended up getting frustrated and telling him to just forget it – I’d go to my bible study, and he should just go to his retirement party.

I felt guilty for snapping at him and didn’t want him to leave for Europe with a rift between us, so I called him later that night after bible study. No answer. I was near his place, so I drove the five minutes to his house and rang the doorbell. His truck was in the driveway, but he didn’t come to the door. I called again and left a voice message saying that I was trying to apologize and it would be nice if he would stop avoiding my calls.

Twenty minutes later, as I was pulling into my apartment complex, Bryan’s name lit up the screen of my cell phone. I answered, and he sounded amused. “So… I got your message. I was in the shower… not avoiding your calls. If I’d known you were planning to stop by, I would have timed my shower differently.”

“Oh. Well, you know, I was trying out this whole ‘spontaneity’ thing you like so much.” I felt foolish, but I tried to match the playful tone in his voice. I could tell he was pleased I’d stopped by but sorry to have missed me.

“Why would you think I was avoiding your calls? Why is that the first place your mind went, woman?!” The teasing tone in his voice was more obvious now.

I laughed and said, “If I have to tell you, there’s no reason to try explaining.”

We moved on to catching up on each other’s day. I’d had a hard day at work, so we talked about that for a while. Bryan was actually a really good listener and uncharacteristically encouraging.

I’d been told I am very self-oriented at work and need to engage others more if I am going to learn to be effective. Since I care deeply about people and am also a self-critical perfectionist, this feedback was intensely hurtful to me.

Bryan asked if I believe it to be true that I am overly self-oriented. “Maybe at work… but not in my personal life.”

“I haven’t seen you at work,” Bryan said gently, “So maybe you are self-oriented there, but in your personal life, I can affirm for you that you are definitely others-oriented, giving and selfless. You love helping people and meeting their needs. You know that about yourself, so believe it about yourself.”

His kind words shocked me. When did he decide to start being so sweet and encouraging? After a few more thoughtful comments from him, I asked tentatively, “Why are you investing in me?”

He answered immediately. “Because I don’t like you to be down on yourself. I care for you.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do. You’re a smart girl. I would have thought you’d have figured that out by now.” He paused. “There are other ways to let a girl know you care for her than sending her flowers and picking her up at her apartment. I communicate my affection in other ways.”

My heart fluttered, but I raised one eyebrow incredulously as I mentally ticked through the five love languages and didn’t find a single one that registered with how Bryan had treated me the past few months. “How do you think you communicate affection?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe by returning people’s calls even after they’ve accused me of avoiding their calls.” He was teasing again.

“You do have a pattern of being patient and long-suffering when you care for someone,” I thought out loud, alluding to his multi-year relationship with a girl he’d seen potential in and invested in for years, holding out hope and waiting for change in her.

“I’m not sure if that’s a rabbit trail I want to go down.”

“We don’t have to. I’m just glad to hear that you actually do care for me.”

“Of course I care for you. You broke my heart.”

His words stunned me. “…I did?” I’d never heard anything so vulnerable from him. Ever.

“Yes. You broke my heart. I care for you, even though you apparently couldn’t ever see it. I know we never put a label on our relationship, but I wasn’t seeing anyone else, and you hurt my heart when you ended things.”

I was speechless. Where had this outpouring of vulnerability come from? “Well, if it makes you feel better, it hurt my heart, too. I wanted us to work, but I just never believed you were invested.”

“It has been 9 months since I was in Europe,” Bryan told me. “That’s the longest stretch in 13 years.”

“Hm, you must have been dating a pretty awesome girl who was the reason you stuck around.”

“Yes, that’s exactly the reason.” His voice was serious; intense; adamant.

More shock on my end at his openness about his feelings. “…are you serious?”

“Yes. That’s exactly the reason. You’re the reason.”

“I didn’t know…”

“Well you were.” He shifted the conversation. “You should come to Paris. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, but Paris in the rain is still more beautiful than most other places year-round. I would be equally happy doing touristy or local stuff. I could show you local cafes off the beaten path, and the parks are beautiful…”

“Who is this man?” I thought to myself. “During this call, Bryan has encouraged me, been open about his feelings, and now he is being positively romantic. He took my feedback to heart. He is showing that he is teachable.”

But I knew I couldn’t go. I had no way of getting off work so last-minute, plus I’m nearly out of vacation for the year. I wanted to be free-spirited and just go, but (on top of my responsibilities back home) this was the first time Bryan had shown this gentler side, and one instance wasn’t enough to convince me it would stick.

Nevertheless, I missed him already. “When you come back, it will have been a month since we’ve seen each other,” I mused out loud.

“Maybe by then, you’ll be less frustrated with me.” I could just imagine his rueful sideways smile.

He couldn’t see my returning smile over the phone. “…Maybe.”

Authentically Aurora