This week I have been on a cruise in the eastern Caribbean with my mom and sisters to commemorate my mom’s 75th birthday. Earlier in the week, the four of us did a rum and salsa dancing tour in Puerto Rico together. The next day my sister Kathy and I snorkeled in St Thomas. For the last excursion, I did something out of my comfort zone. I chose a catamaran trip to St Kitts and Nevis alone. When I booked the excursion, it never occurred to me that I would have to interact with people. Other people whom I don’t already know. As I pondered this the night before we arrived in St Kitts, I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake.
When I got to the meeting space, I noticed everyone was part of a pair, accompanied either by a significant other, family member, or friend. I was the only solo traveler, the one who made our number an awkward odd rather than a neat even. It was all good, I told myself. As a reticent introvert, I have many coping strategies for being alone while part of a crowd. I occupied myself with photo taking, listening to headphones, and staring out at sea to avoid eye contact lest someone should view my gaze as an invitation to chit-chat. I spent most of the tour, including the snorkeling time, successfully isolated. I had no direct contact with anyone save for one of the catamaran crew members who kept checking to make sure I was all right. I rode out to the snorkel spot without conversation, swam by myself, finished lunch alone, and quietly sat on one of a pair of beach chairs under an umbrella while my bag occupied the companion seat. I focused on solitude and relished it.
On the way back, I determined I wanted to ride on the net of the catamaran. I had never done that before, and it seemed like something I should experience. So when the boat came back to pick us up at the beach, I made sure to be one of the first to board so I could secure a coveted spot. I had visions of stretching out up there with the water rushing by beneath me, eyes closed, sun on my face, relaxed and at peace. I live in a rainbow world.
I had been in place maybe one minute before a group of people whom I had earlier pegged as the party crowd descended like locusts on a harvest. Suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by peers who were 1) loud, 2) not concerned about observing my requisite two-arms-length personal space boundary, and 3) more than a few rum punches ahead of me. I was trapped at the front of the net, and the only way out would require gathering up all my belongings, stepping over people, and beating a hasty retreat to the covered part of the boat to sit with the retirees. I sat for a minute doing a cost analysis. My options — run like a coward or make the best of it. I decided these people might make for an interesting blog post, so I stayed to see what might transpire.
My rowdy compatriots shouted for more rum punch while I tried to figure out how they could get any more drunk. Once we all had a plastic cup, one of them raised his punch aloft and called for a group toast. There was no turning back. I was one of them now. A hearty salud later and we were off to the races. A tantric yoga instructor from Mexico City started a get-acquainted drinking game. When it was your turn, you had to look at the group, chose someone, and from their appearance suggest something that might be true for them in real life. If you guessed correctly, they had to drink. If not, the drink went to you. I started to deeply regret my decision to stay up front. I watched quietly at first, hoping they would overlook me all together and the game would die out without my participation. No such luck. The ex-military guy next to me guessed I was a teacher. Nope. I looked around and saw a woman wearing a baseball cap with hibiscus flowers on it and guessed she had been to Hawaii. She took a drink. The game went on for a while, rum punch sloshing its way into our rapidly emptying cups over and over. One person guessed I was 42 and said I was too fit to be almost 50. I knew then I was among good people. Somewhere along the way, we stopped honoring the game play and talked amongst ourselves in small groups that ebbed and flowed as we each overheard and then pursued new topics with different people. And rum punch, being what it is, transformed us into quick friends.
By the time we got off the catamaran, we were all intoxicated. A few folks showed the early signs of what would become painful sunburns. We swayed our way onto the pier, arm in arm, holding each other up, before getting our bearings and stumbling our separate ways. I walked off as alone as I had arrived, imagining I looked lucid but knowing I probably did not. I doubted many of my fellow tour buddies would remember much about the trip because, while rum punch makes friends, it also blurs memories and they were drunk when the game began. For my own experience, though, I was sober enough that I will never forget that excursion. It was the day I learned sometimes it’s good to let loose and see what happens. Yes. The people I met were what I said. They were loud and borderline obnoxious. But they were also full of interesting stories and a shit ton of fun. I watched as other members of the tour alternately gave our net full of crazies a disapproving once over. I thought about how I could have chosen to sit with them and judge rather than join. Indeed, I have lived most of my life that way. On that trip back from Nevis, though, I realized that sometimes judges really miss out and I am finished missing out.