Aurora May, this is an important story to share with you, because it shows that even from feeling like you have nothing, something always is growing. And also it’s a story about thinking you’re you’re going somewhere for one reason, but something else entirely different happens to change your life. So let’s go back to May of 2011, when I set off for my second trip to Thailand by myself.
I was nervous but confident about this trip because I had almost 3 weeks to spend in Thailand alone, and I had the first week completely planned and the rest I was leaving up to fate. For the first week, I’d be in Chiang Mai attending a 7-day Thai Massage course, a reward I’d gotten for myself because I’d had a very tough winter of involuntary self reflection. On December 26th I had a serious ski accident where I knocked my 4 front teeth out, which would take about a year to repair and rebuild, so that meant for over 6 months my 4 front teeth were prosthetic and existed on a removable retainer. I was single, so my plan of having a winter full of online dating quickly ended, as I didn’t want to have my retainer come out during a kiss, so I began a self imposed sabbatical from men. It was the perfect time for a trip to Thailand to regroup.
After my massage course ended I had several options; I could tour more of Thailand or I could go to Bali, which was just a short plane ride away. The previous year I’d rendezvoused in Thailand with my old math teacher from high school and it had been 16 years since we’d last seen each other. We’d stayed in touch and he and some friends were headed to Bali and had invited me, so why not? That sounded like a great adventure and a compliment to my massage education but I still had a few more days to decide my itinerary.
This was my first time truly going solo on an adventure like this, as last trip to Thailand, I’d accidentally invited someone on my trip (see day 59). So it felt invigorating to be alone and I truly felt alive and like anything was possible. The Bangkok airport is very big and I had a long layover before my flight to Chiang Mai, so I walked the airport corridors to people watch and see what life was like here. I gazed into the airport store windows and took in everything. One store had gorgeous expensive beach dresses on tall skinny mannequins and I laughed to myself and thought, does anyone actually ever buy these overpriced clothes in the window? And I rolled my eyes and kept on walking. Due to my excitement for my trip, I felt like I was floating and I made eye contact and smiled at as many people as possible because it felt good to be human that day. I also felt like I had an almost palpable camaraderie between myself and other backpackers, particularly Americans, which was odd. To me, it was like we were in an unspoken club where we shared the idea that anything and anywhere was possible because we were traveling with a backpack.
Since this was my second time to Thailand I was a little less nervous about traveling solo and I had a mindset that everything was an adventure and opportunity for my growth and learning. And since I didn’t have a clear agenda or reason I was there other than the time I was in school, I was open to all possibilities and conscious of that.
During my airport walk I saw the familiar Starbucks logo and its familiarity pulled me in. The barista spoke English so I ordered my favorite Grande, Soy, no water chai, and I settled onto a high stool at a counter that faced out into the busy airport concourse, where passengers scurried past. It was a perfect stage for people watching and I enjoyed making up stories about where everyone was going, what they were thinking and what their relationship was with their traveling companions. Some of the stories I created got so outrageous and imaginative I actually laughed out loud. And that’s when I heard him speaking to me. “What are you giggling at over there?”
His voice startled me, not only because I was in my own world at that Starbucks in Bangkok, but also because his voice was very southern American, maybe Louisiana or Georgia. When I turned my head to trace the voice to the man, I found a very handsome and friendly face smiling at me. I straightened myself up a little and smiled, “excuse me?” The man had shaggy, sandy brown hair that hung over, but did not obscure, his piercingly bright blue eyes. About two days of scruff covered his tanned skin and his chiseled jaw. It crossed my mind that HE should be standing next to one of those airport dress models.
He grinned and repeated himself. “What are you giggling at?”And then he turned his full body toward me, revealing his tan, chiseled chest under his white V-neck. His T-shirt hung over his soft faded blue jeans. Was this really happening? This guy, who looked straight out of a Calvin Klein ad, was looking at and speaking to me.
“Oh, I’m just watching people…” I said. And I met his gaze, and grinned. He went on and asked what I was up to in Thailand, and I told him I was headed to Chiang Mai for massage school, then off to explore somewhere by myself for 10 days.
He began to get up, and I wondered if it was something I said.
“Well, my name is R** and I’m headed home to Ko Phagnan, an island just south of here. If you want to come down there and explore you’re welcome to come and practice your new massage skills on me next week, in case you need something to do. I need to go catch my flight, but what’s your name?”
I nearly fell off my stool.
Was he kidding? Was this an actual invitation? Do I pretend like I didn’t hear him? Do I laugh this pseudo offer off or respond to it? And oh.my.god. his accent is AMAZING. After several moments of nervous internal deliberation, I looked at him in the eye and responded, “Well, that could be fun; and my name is Harriet.”
Did I really just tell a guy at an airport Starbucks that I’d fly down to his place on an island and practice massage on him? Yes I did. What was I doing?! I wasn’t exactly sure. “That was SO unprofessional of you” said the Left side of my brain. “But I’m on vacation and that sounds fun, I'm in!” said the right side of my brain. The internal struggle was real. The energy between us felt electric, and I could feel us both grinning at what delight other than coffee had just been put on the table. What am I supposed to say? We both waited to see what the other would do next.
His rich southern voice broke the silence as he continued the conversation. “Are you on Facebook?” he asked.
“Yup, I am.” I said..feeling incredibly grateful for this easy platform of communication that I often dismissed as a waste of time.
“Great, then let’s connect. I really have to go now to catch my flight, but write your name on this napkin and I’ll add you later when I get home.” And with that, Mr. Starbucks man slid a napkin and pen to me, and I wrote my name on it and folded the napkin up and returned it to him, hoping he wouldn’t later mistake it as trash and throw it away. But I watched Mr. Starbucks tuck the napkin into his back pocket, and he pushed his chair neatly back into the table, slid his leather messenger bag diagonally over his shoulder and then came toward me with his arms outstretched.
Was this stranger coming in for a hug? Yes. This was happening.
I leaned in to really take in the embrace and as we hugged, I felt him kiss my cheek, picking up a millimeter of my lips in his kiss. I felt my entire body shutter with this contact and my nipples hardened. It had been months since I’d allowed any male energy close to my mouth, since my mouth injury 6 months earlier, so I was grateful for this sensation.
“Great. Maybe I’ll see you soon. I look forward to it. Travel safe, enjoy school and look for my friend request. I’m R** from Tennessee.” I knew it! He was a southern gentleman and I loved Southerners. It was no wonder he and his accent felt familiar.
“Okay, R** from Tennessee, I will accept your friend request when it comes to me,” I said, and we parted ways.
I spent the next week unable to completely concentrate on the new massage skills I was learning because I was too excited about my mysterious possible rendezvous with Mr. Southern Starbucks man. I could hardly see straight.
But by day 3 of school in Chiang Mai, I hadn’t heard from him, and I began to let go of my attachment to my southern gentleman and his intriguing invitation, and I chalked it up to a fun travel memory.
Perhaps it was in that letting go that allowed the universe to orchestrate some magic, because that’s when I saw his friend request come in, accompanied by a sweet message. “Hey pretty girl, sorry it took so long to reach out, my internet wasn’t working when I got home. How’s school?”
Wow, this was really happening.
I let him know school was going great and Chiangmai mai was beautiful; and then he went right to it, “So, are you coming down to see me?” I love a man who gets straight to the point.
“Well I hadn’t heard from you in a few days so I wasn’t sure you were serious about it.”
“Sorry babe, I told you my power was out because there was a storm, so it took a few days to get my internet going again. But I was thinking of you, so I messaged you right when I was online again. I can see how that was confusing, I’m sorry.”
It was like he had gotten into my head and knew exactly how to speak with me. I wanted to know I was important, that he wanted me there and that he was sensitive to my experience.
He nailed it one response.
By the following morning, I’d purchased my 1 way ticket for the next leg of my journey to Ko Phagnan. Unsure of how long I’d stay, or what was next, and that made the excitement a little more exhilarating. I was living for the moment, writing my own story and creating my own life. This was the most free I’d felt in years.
The remaining days in school were busy, leaving me little time to explore Chiang Mai to get any necessities for this next stage of my adventure. I’d intentionally packed super light because I knew I could buy a whole new loungey wardrobe for under $100 off the streets in Bangkok. Except I wasn’t in Bangkok yet, and I wasn’t near any shopping in Chiang Mai, and all I had were yoga clothes. So, what’s a girl to do? Well, apparently I needed to buy myself an overpriced but perfect dress at the airport. I smiled at the irony of my thoughts just a week earlier. Who would ever buy these expensive clothes? A girl who just rearranged her plans to follow her gut on an adventure, that’s who. And so I bought the dress and changed into it in the airport bathroom. I was probably the nicest dressed person on the flight and I wondered if any women had seen this dress in the window and smiled.
I made it safely to Ko Phangan, where Mr Starbucks met me at the airport wearing a white button down, khaki shorts and Ray Ban sunglasses. He was so handsome. From there, I got on the back of his motorcycle, held onto him tightly to counter the weight of my backpack that was strapped to me. My airport dress stretched easily when I reached my leg over his motor cycle seat to climb aboard, and away we went to a gorgeous restaurant where the sunset and view were breathtaking. I felt like I was glowing, especially knowing my expensive airport dress was absolutely perfect for this occasion.
The island wasn’t very big and R** had sent me some options for places to stay, so I’d already rented a cozy beach cabana 5 min away from his place for $18/night. And just hours before I left for Ko Phangan I’d decided to go ahead to Bali next, as I didn't want to arrive to see R** and tell him I didn't know when I was leaving. Too much pressure. So I spent three dreamy days exploring Ko Phangan with this man, and it was perfect.
On our last night tougher, Starbucks man and I drank wine, danced and stayed up talking and laughing through the night. I let him kiss me and didn’t mention that I had a retainer with 4 teeth in my mouth. I just prayed it would stay in place with the kissing, because it coming out would certainly be a surprise for us both. R**’s kisses were soft and gentle, and I was amazed at the smoothness of this daring adventure I’d just taken myself on.
In the morning, R** from Tennessee opened the door to the taxi for me, loaded my backpack in next to me and gave me the sweetest kiss. “It’s been a pleasure spending time with you my dear, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.” I closed the taxi door and rolled down the window and leaned towards him. When he came close enough so that I could touch him, I held his jaw in my hand, and leaned my forehead into his for 1 last moment of pure bliss.
“Thank you” I said, “for the experience and for being a perfect gentleman” and I rolled up the window and the taxi began to move. I turned around and gave R** from Tennessee one last wave and watched him smiling and waving goodbye.
I had a permanent smile as I gazed off into the rising sun coming over the ocean, and I felt light as air as I got dropped at the cute little local airport. I was heading to Bangkok first and then catching my connection o Denpasar, Bali, where I was told by my old algebra teacher to meet him and his friends on the beach near the McDonald’s. What kind of directions were those? I hoped they’d make more sense once I arrived and I made my way through the airport security line.
The flight to Bangkok was short but I had a longer layover before my flight to Bali. I hadn’t really slept yet, because Mr. Starbucks and I had been up so late, so the moment I laid eyes on the plush cozy couch at my departing gate, I relaxed and quickly sunk into the cushion to rest before we boarded the flight.
Apparently I needed the sleep, because I fell asleep for what felt like 1 minute, but when I jerked awake I suddenly realized it had been more like 50 minutes. I looked around and the once busy scene around me was quiet and the electronic sign at my gate said, “Denpasar: Gate Closed”.
Wait what?! Gate Closed? But I’m not on the flight yet!!!! I got up and ran to the window.
I saw the flight was still there, so my heart raced and I grabbed my bag, ducked the rope at the gate and sprinted down the jetway to the plane door and began to cry, yell and bang on the airplane doors. I looked and sounded insane.
“Please let me in! Please please please!!!” All my stuff is in my backpack!
I knew it was against all aviation rules to open the doors after they were sealed, but I felt a glimmer of hope when I made eye contact with a pretty stewardess through a small window. For an instant, we met each other soul to soul and she saw me crying, so a moment later, the plane door opened and I stumbled into the cabin. When I rounded the corner to find my seat, I was met with a round of applause and smiles from the passengers in the front of the plane, congratulating me for getting on. What a great beginning to my Bali adventure, I thought.
And what an adventure it was; I saw old friends, I met a new friend for life, I met Wayan, the healer from Eat Pray Love, and had a healing with her in which I heard a recipe for healing myself that I didn’t like. Plus, I got to wear my new airport dress again.
And not to worry, the story of my Bali adventure, the story of who the handsome man in the picture is (it’s not R** from Tennessee) and the story of my healing with Wayan from Eat Pray Love will come soon.
Until then, dream big, travel light and remember that anything is possible.
Even at an airport.