It was a hard choice to make but I knew that some of my precious literary babies wouldn’t make the final cut and that they would be left out of my upcoming book, THE GIRLFRIEND MOM: KIDS? NO, THANK YOU, I’M NOT HUNGRY. It wasn’t personal, they simply didn’t serve the bigger picture. Don’t be sad for these unfortunate outcasts, as they will live on here in this blog.
The Captain and Tennille, the famous singing duo from the ’70s that were known for their love songs, lied. Their hit “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a sham. Love will not always keep people together; those two are now divorced.
For a while I fantasized that my boyfriend and I would find our way back to each other. I even romanticized the breakup. I thought that once he saw the ass-ness of his ways, he’d make a YouTube-worthy gesture, and we’d live happily ever after. I wouldn’t stop believing that love conquered all and that our relationship could survive the quirky way he disobeyed traffic laws (stop signs were so pesky), or the fact that we didn’t have much in common, or that I had sacrificed a part of who I was to be with him, would all prove inconsequential in the face of the love and passion that we shared.
Experts say that staying busy helps get over a breakup or maybe it was Oprah—hallowed be thy name—who said it. For me, travel had always been a salve. However, if you’re traveling after a breakup, you probably shouldn’t go to a place that you have been with your ex in the past or that he’s been to with his new girlfriend or to a place where the native language is that of your ex (if it’s other than English).
My ex knew that there were few things in life that made me happier then getting a new passport stamp, so it was therefore deplorable, and an act of utter betrayal, when I learned that he had taken his new paramour overseas and stood by her side in customs while she got stamped. It was an act of treason that cut me to the quick. To punish him I would travel without him, and collect so many stamps that I’d run out of pages, and have to request new ones.
Revenge travel was born.
I wanted to be classy in the days and months following the breakup, but I fell short, like way short, like Martin Short, short.
Sorrow cost me a lot of frequent flyer miles. Seven months after we broke up, my ex went to Brazil, and I went to a yoga retreat in Mexico. A retreat had been on my to-do list for a while, and now I had the extra motivation that I needed to book my ticket.
Haramara Retreat in Sayulita, Mexico, had no electricity or Internet, and guests were gently, but firmly, asked not to flush their used toilet paper. Instead, you were encouraged to throw it in the wastepaper basket next to the porcelain bowl. I found this curiously fun. It did take me a couple instances of “Oh, crap, I forgot” before I got on a roll. I was afraid that the retreat police were going to knock on my hand-built, environmentally “friendly” cabana door and make me fish it out with my bare hands.
I don’t know why I was surprised that there were three yoga classes a day during the weeklong yoga retreat. It was a goddamn yoga retreat! The sessions were wonderful, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t just a wee sick of downward-facing dog and child’s pose. I was a Pilates girl. I went on a yoga retreat to help me get my head out of my ass, and funnily enough, by the end of the week, I was able to put my ass over my head.
All three of the daily meals included fresh, local, organic food and fruit that I had never heard of before nor could pronounce. The wellness center was built into the forest and was surrounded by unpaved trails, a private beach with climbing rocks, and an infinity pool that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It was not low rent.
Sharing the property with the human inhabitants were scores of gulf crabs that seemed to be suffering from dyslexia. These crustaceans would trek up, or rather side-shimmy up through the lush hillside, and stop when they hit the dirt trail. Unfortunately, they’d shimmied in the wrong direction. They should have headed toward the ocean, but instead they had landed on the footpath, where they would take their final crustacean breaths and expire.
Interesting fact: crabs’ teeth are inside of their stomachs. I would have thought that my stomach had teeth from the gnawing and crushing that I was feeling.
Each night we walked back to our rustic (constructed without machinery) cabanas by flashlight and literally hopscotched over what looked like the remains of a massive crabby suicide pact. It made me think of my ex’s kids and how they would binge watch and quote from SpongeBob SquarePants.
The ocean was rough and loud, which, gratefully, lulled me to sleep each night. I luxuriated in the open-air shower with its unobstructed views of the whitecaps. I was not at all concerned with my hair shedding and clogging the drain, because there was no drain. My strands slid freely off the shower floor into the jungle.
The resort informed us that we were among a mélange of wildlife. I knew that they didn’t mean freewheeling lemurs like in Madagascar, but what specifically was considered the wildlife wasn’t exactly clear. Every bed had a net that hung from the ceiling, and I closed mine every night to protect me from the animals, even though it was hot and humid, and it made it difficult to breathe. There were no actual cabana walls but I convinced myself that the netting would protect me in case of an attack.
I shared a room with my yogi friend, Carla, and one evening I got up to go to the bathroom. It was pitch-black, and I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. I stumbled into the bathroom half-asleep, and I sat down. It wasn’t until I felt warm liquid dripping down my legs that I realized that I was sitting on top of the toilet seat cover and not on the actual toilet seat. I was peeing myself. “Shit!”
Carla yelled from her bed, “What happened? Are you okay?”
How does one respond with dignity? “Nothing. I’m fine. I just peed myself. Go back to sleep.” I cleaned myself up and laughed because it was funny…and gross. I hopped back into bed, returning to my cocoon, but I couldn’t sleep. “Carla, are you awake?”
“Yeah, are you okay?”
I was trying hard not to let my ache completely envelope my body. “Yeah,” I lied. “I can’t believe I peed myself. Although I can’t say that it was the first time.”
Carla laughed. There is no greater satisfaction for me than making someone laugh. “I can’t stop thinking about the kids. The whole fucking thing is so unfair.”
I could see Carla’s silhouette turn toward me in her bed. “It’s going to take time. For what it’s worth, I think it’s so cool you still want to be in the kids’ lives. They’re lucky to have you.”
“Most people think it’s weird. I don’t understand why. I didn’t break up with the kids.”
“That’s probably because most women wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
I could feel hot and sticky water pool in my eyes. “I’m not sure I can either.”
“But you are. I’d get up and give you a hug, but it’ll take me ten minutes to get out of the netting. Try to get some sleep.”
I thought again about peeing myself and I fell asleep with a grin on my face.
By day three, I was as relaxed as I was ever going to be or wanted to be. I tried to keep my mind still, being on a yoga retreat and all, but my thoughts continued to drift. I’d swing back and forth from despair to anger. Was I being a fool to think that I could maintain my relationships with the kids without cracking up in the process?
I strolled down to the ocean (unlike the crabs) and sat on a large, jagged, and uneven rock (ow). As I teetered off-balance, which was an obvious metaphor for my current state, I watched the waves; beautifully balletic, as they washed onto the shoreline and then flowed back out. I tried to breathe in time with the sea.
I was in a pristine and tranquil environment: healthy, fortunate, and surrounded by like-minded people. I had to change the tape that played on a loop in my head. I refused to piss away my time with negativity and the past. I didn’t want “breakup stink” to penetrate the remaining days of my retreat. Obsessing over my relationships with the kids, while perched on a craggy rock, that was dangerously close to sticking me where the Mexican sun didn’t shine, was not productive.
Before I left New York, I dreamed that Mexico would provide me with answers, signs, or something to tell me why the caged bird sang. Praised be that sweet, sweet Jesus when the owners of Haramara said that they were offering their guests the opportunity to take part in a temazcal ritual, or sweat lodge. I was the first to sign up. The sweat lodge is also known as a house of heat and is used in Mexico and Central America for spiritual and health reasons.
I would surely be released from my emotional shackles and purified, thus emerging anew. Perhaps I’d stop using phrases like emotional shackles as well. Carla and I joined forces with a few women from San Diego who were on their own retreat, and we got our spiritual on.
There were thirty of us gathered in front of an igloo-like structure, which symbolized Mother Earth’s womb. The female shaman told us the history of the temazcal. I was only partially listening because I was imagining how claustrophobic it might be in the womb, and then I started to panic thinking about the heat. Was it going to be like Bikram yoga hot? How hot exactly?
When the shaman finished her introduction, she assured us of our safety (which had the opposite effect) and said that if at any time during the ceremony anyone needed to leave for any reason, they could simply get up and do so. She instructed us to drop down to our knees and kiss the ground before entering Momma Earth’s womb—out of respect, like knocking before entering a room…or womb.
Actual volcanic stones were heated outside of the igloo in a fire pit by a fire man (I forget what his actual title was) who then carried them into the womb one by one, which made me sweat just watching him.
The stones were placed in a shallow pit in the center of the igloo. When the last stone was lowered down, the shaman had us yell in unison, “La puerta.” Fire man stayed outside, closed the makeshift door, and then covered it and the hole in the ceiling with thick Mexican blankets.
We were now in the darkened, moist, and steamy womb. Huh, just like I remembered it. The shaman talked about respecting the earth as she poured water onto the hot stones, which instantly became steam and turned up the heat. It was like Bikram yoga on steroids. Okay, that’s enough water, shaman lady. I get it. It’s hot.
Every crease, orifice, and nail cuticle was sweating. I wanted to release as much shit as I possibly could, but I couldn’t catch my breath, and I could have sworn that my eyebrows had been singed off.
I took deep and deliberate breaths while telling myself that I could leave at any time. We sang, we introduced ourselves, and we shared our reasons for coming back into the womb. I told the group that I wanted to move forward. Some confessed that they were stuck either in their personal lives or in their careers, while others talked about family struggles. Again, I stopped listening. I was too hot to focus on their babbling.
After what felt like an hour, but was probably more like fifteen minutes, the shaman instructed us once again to yell “La puerta!” and the door magically opened.
We crawled out of the womb one at a time and drank in the fresh air as fast as we could. There were three more rounds of this, and I didn’t think that I could head back in. I heard others declaring the same.
Carla and I smiled at each other because we knew that, although it was extreme, that we would go back in. After a second drink of water and a little time, we slithered back into the womb. This time, I put my head down on Mother Earth’s lap, which was a lot cooler and less disorienting.
By round four, I was certain that my brain had lost mass, and I didn’t have any to spare. The shaman asked us to go around the womb and, with one word, express our wishes for humanity or some such esoteric sentiment. We began, and the words started to fly.
“Love.” “Peace.” “Kindness.” “Animals.”
After six or seven people had gone, one word turned into paragraphs, prayer recitations, and postgraduate theses. Did they not hear the shaman’s directive? I wanted to scream, “One word, people! The sooner we do this, the sooner we get out. Step off the soapbox, and let’s wrap this shit up.”
If this sweaty lot of people were truly spiritual and solicitous, they would have been less preoccupied with the shrinking polar ice caps and the extinction of the Iberian lynx, and more preoccupied with the fainting bodies beside them.
Unfortunately I didn’t leave the retreat any more centered, grounded or forgiving, as when I had first arrived. I did, however, work on my tan. Even in such a peaceful and meditative environment I couldn’t shake my rage and disappointment. I knew that I had to stop clinging to the past as if it was my lifeline, but the thought of letting go, and moving into the unknown, was downright frightening. I wasn’t entirely convinced that I had the energy, fortitude, or cojonas.
I had no regrets going on the retreat and shedding five pounds of water weight in that igloo, but I came home less enthusiastic about traveling. That was, until my birthday rolled around four months later. It was my first birthday post breakup, and I didn’t want to be in New York alone, knowing that my ex was in Spain with his girlfriend—as if packing my bags and leaving my apartment would somehow make me forget.
Revenge travel continues next week.