Another one bites the dust, I said to myself. I was going through another breakup. The sad part is, this time, I thought he was the one. I never had good luck with men. I was always ready for something bad to happen or be found out. It was the January before my 27th birthday. We were breaking up because he was not going to be able to spend my birthday with me, for the second year. To add insult to injury, my birthday is on Valentine’s Day. I was done. I felt unimportant and stupid. I was in a long-distance relationship with a man who could not spend Valentine’s Day with me. Obviously, I thought he had a local girlfriend, and I must be his Florida side chick. As much as I told myself this was not true, I could no longer ignore it. This must be my reality. His reason? His cousin’s birthday is the day after mine, and he needed to be there for her. Any reason he gave would not have mattered to me at this point. I would no longer be made a fool of, even though I knew he was my soulmate.
Let me give you a little history about the man I thought was the love of my life. We met when I was twenty-five, at a lounge, in Brooklyn, NY. I was visiting college friends and had been single for years. There were about six of us having a ladies’ night. It was my turn to buy everyone drinks, even though we had pre-gamed. I was flirting with the bartender, while my friends were waiting in the overly crowded bathroom line. The lounge was dimly lit. I remember DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” being played constantly by the DJ that night. The lounge was jammed packed with too many people. To be honest, the cute bartender was not paying me any mind, but I kept shooting my shot because I had one of my girls next to me. I was trying to show her how-to pick-up men in a bar because she was shy, and she was going through a breakup. As I was waiting for the bartender to bring us our drinks, the guy on my left kept bumping me with his right elbow. It was obvious that it was an accident because he had his back turned towards me. He seemed to be a little taller than me and of average build. My friend said, “Girl, you have to push back. Don’t let these New Yorkers push you around.” She was right. I was teaching her to be brave, but I am secretly scared of confrontation. I turned to my left and shoved both of my hands into his back which pushed him forward. As he turned around, I realized he only seemed a little taller than me because he had been leaning on the bar. When he stood up straight, he towered over me. He was huge like one of the monsters from Space Jam. Oh, and that average build I thought he had, was the body of a gym rat. Apparently, I only saw his triceps. His arms were completely tattooed, and the rest of his body was huge. I mean he was shaped like Dwight Howard. To put this in perspective, I am 5’4. He is 6’6. I remember thinking to myself, this man is gorgeous. What is in the water in New York, for him to be this beautiful?
“Sorry baby girl. I didn’t see you there,” he said. I was speechless. I am quite sure I could only stare at him. “You don’t look like you’re from here. Where are you from?”
“Miami,” I managed to get out.
“Oh, I am there a lot for business. It is beautiful there. What’s your name?” he asked.
“D’Wayne. My friends and I are leaving, but maybe I can call you the next time I’m in your city?” He was a calm, smooth talker. I was instantly smitten. I held out my hand so he could hand me his phone. He slapped me high-five. His moment of stupidity made me laugh as I said, “No. Your phone.” He handed me his phone, as he looked a little embarrassed. I put my number in his phone and could only hope I would hear from him soon. The bartender gave us our drinks, and my friend and I walked back to our group. She looked at me, when we got back to our group as if I was “that girl” for picking up such a cute guy, but I knew I had done nothing. I was like a deer in the headlights. I partied on stage next to the DJ, with my friends, for the rest of the night. The next afternoon, I woke up to a text from him asking me if he could come pick me up to take me to lunch. Unfortunately, I had to decline because I had to catch a flight to come home. I did not think I would ever see him again, but I saw him many times after that, as we fell in love.
I fell in love with him for many reasons, but love aside, I have so much respect for him as an individual. He takes his mental health very seriously and encourages me to do the same. He is generous; yet no one can take advantage of him. He understands his value as a human being and refuses to allow anyone to diminish it. I admire that about him and aspired to be like that. I did not just fall in love with him. He became my best friend.
Almost two years later, I found myself wondering if all the smiles I had with this man had been worth the confusion, distrust of my intuition, and heartache I was now feeling. I was second guessing my entire relationship. As I stated before, I began to feel like “the other woman,” and I was not even sure who the main woman was. One month prior to my birthday, I had an honest conversation with myself. I realized I had been guy crazy since I was a teenager. I had not had any time to get to know myself. I had bounced from relationship to relationship as if I were playing hopscotch. I was a college educated woman yet was completely ignorant of who I had become. I decided I was going to get to know myself by checking off something on my bucket list. To be honest, this idea was not original. I was inspired by Julia Robert’s movie Eat, Pray, Love. With that in mind, I decided to go to Bali for my birthday by myself. I needed to reconnect with myself and life. I wanted to be enough for myself and fall in love with myself. I wanted to go by myself because I needed to prove to myself that I did not need anyone else. I could take care of myself, in every way. I found a beautiful hotel in Ubud and a reasonably priced flight, but it was leaving from JFK. If I could have, I would have just gotten on the plane and slipped away without telling anyone I was leaving. I have an emotional support animal named Prince, and I needed someone to look after him while I was gone. Therefore, I had to tell my family. Everyone was against me going to the other side of the world by myself and to a country where I did not speak the language. My entire family tried to talk me out of going. I would not concede. I knew I had something to prove to myself. Even though we had broken up already, in preparation for my departure, I decided to let D’Wayne know I would be in New York for a day, as I waited for my flight to Bali to leave. I would be lying if I said I did not want to see him before I left, but the excuse I used was I did not want to wait in the airport until my flight left. See, my flight to Bali was leaving at 1 am on February 15th. I told him I did not want to spend my birthday in the airport, even though I was excited to leave the country. I wanted to see the city. Since his cousin’s birthday was on February 15th, he agreed to be my personal driver on February 14th.
I was so excited when I flew to New York on the early morning of my 27th birthday. As soon as I got off the plane, D’Wayne texted me to let me know that he woke up late and would not be able to pick me up from the airport, as it was too far. I was disappointed, but my mind was made up that this would be the last time I would see him. He had become my best friend over the past two years, but it was time to become my own best friend. Once I walked through the airport, D’Wayne called to let me know JFK was under construction and wanted to give me instructions through the airport to make sure I got to the taxi area, without getting lost. His voice led me outside where he was standing outside his black Camaro holding roses. We went shopping and walked around Brooklyn. He took me to the B.I.G. murals in Bed-Stuy. He took me to the Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, where our first date was supposed to be. We had an awfully long talk. I was honest with him and explained my reasons for breaking up with him. He explained the reason why his cousin’s birthday is so important is because he raised her, and the next day was her 16th birthday. I felt stupid. I should have just asked him more questions. I met his cousins who assured me D’Wayne was truly in love with only me. We agreed we would give our relationship another try. However, this time, he would not leave out essential information, and I would ask questions instead of assuming the worst. It was literally the perfect birthday, and I got to spend it with my best friend. I was on cloud nine.
Before he dropped me off at the airport, he asked if I wanted him to come with me. I told him the offer was sweet, but this trip was about me. I needed to rediscover myself. I explained I did not think I could love him in a healthy way without genuinely loving myself first, and in order to do that, I needed to know myself. I knew it was going to be an ongoing journey, but I was determined to begin with this trip. Of course, he was understanding.
When I walked into the airport, I had a panic attack because I was so nervous and scared. As soon as I sat in my seat on the airplane, I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing? This is crazy. Our plane took off on time. Since the alcohol was free, I managed to stay intoxicated for the thirteen-hour flight, in order to calm my nerves. I kept thinking about how I would get home and who I would call if I got kidnapped. I kept praying I would make it back to my family and the man I loved. I had a connecting flight in Manila. I quickly learned there was no service for phone carrier in the Philippines. I ended up sitting close to an airline’s lounge and using their WIFI. I sent emails to D’Wayne and my family to let them know I was fine. Everyone was nervous for me. They kept asking me what Manila was like, and I refused to admit it, but I was too scared to leave the airport. I just wanted to get to Bali. I spent my six-hour layover in uncomfortable chairs and journaling. I had to talk myself through my anxiety. I convinced myself that this was the time to become comfortable with the serenity prayer.
My connecting flight finally left, and I arrived in Denpasar, Bali at 2 am the next morning. My flight was late, and I frantically emailed D’Wayne to call the hotel to advise them, since they were sending me a taxi to take me to the hotel. The hotel was an hour away from the airport. The male cab driver picked me up, and as a survivor of sexual assault, I was skeptical. My “Spidey senses” were on overdrive. I was freaking out inside. The whole drive I was praying the hotel reviews were accurate, as I had nowhere else to stay for the night, and Ubud seemed to be a ghost town in the mountains. The cab driver made a right turn down a dirt road. I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I just knew I was going to die that night. Turns out, the hotel lobby was outside. The front desk attendant and bellhop had waited all night for me. They were supposed to leave at midnight. I checked in, and they handed me a flashlight. This hotel was not one building. It was individual huts that could only be reached by walking. It was pitch black. All I could hear was the flowing water of the river, as I walked across the bridge between the two mountains. I just knew I was going to fall through the wooden bridge or slip on one of the steep stairs. I was following the bellhop with my flashlight, but he was walking too fast. I almost lost him a couple times. I found out the next day, he was just trying to get me to my room so he could go home.
I did not sleep my first night. I just prayed. It began to pour at about 5 am. The storm was so bad, the WIFI went out. This meant I could not let any of my loved ones know about my whereabouts, until it came back on twenty-four hours later. My trip was set for ten days, and initially I did not think I was going to last. There were a couple times D’Wayne begged me to come back early because he was too worried about me. I stayed strong.
For the next ten days, I attended group meditations, journaled, and did all the activities I could fearlessly. I embraced a completely different culture and submerged myself in their way of life. I climbed a volcano (with a group of other people, of course) in the middle of the night for hours, in order to watch the sunrise at the top. I went white water rafting and stood under a waterfall. I tried all the foods of which I had never heard. I got on a swing that was only attached to two palm trees and swung off the edge of a cliff and over the jungle. I went to temple and prayed. I proved to myself I could stand on my own two feet. I could keep myself safe. I was the strong woman I had always envisioned myself being. I had done all of this without anyone by my side. I lasted the whole ten days and was kind of sad that I had to go back. I vowed to continue my personal growth and fearlessness when I got back to the United States.
I am proud to say I have grown so much since then. I still meditate daily. Like everyone else, I was not ready for the world shutdown due to the pandemic, but I was fortunate to have tools and resources around me to continue my growth. I was not scared to ask for help when my mental health began to decline. I have lived life fearlessly, had the hard conversations with myself, and faced all my tough decisions head on. D’Wayne and I have been together for four years now and still madly in love. We were able to work out our communication and trust issues. If you ask him today, he will tell you that I came back from Bali a different woman. I was able to love him on a different level because I fell in love with myself in Bali.