A Time Before

Where does one begin a tale? Especially one that is in the process of being written? I suppose one must start at the beginning, in a time when there was no Bear and I was not yet the Maiden Fair.

When I moved to Miami, I was as naive as you would expect from a 21-year-old girl who grew up surrounded by fields of cotton and pine. It was a time in my life where my mindset was malleable and I was terribly unsure of who I was and more importantly who I hoped to one day become. I didn’t believe that I had a passion to be followed, and the lack thereof made me somehow inferior. So I did what society told me I should do. I rented an apartment at an obscene rate, worked myself to the bone, partied instead of slept, and generally walked the line between mediocrity and oblivion. I was stuck in the riptide of city life and was blindly letting it carry me to sea. It took a major life changing event to bring me back to ground. I was shaken to the core by my own ineptitude in this life I had created for myself and it was only then that I realized what I had allowed myself to become. I had listened and learned from others how to think and behave. I put myself to the back of the room believing that my thoughts and needs were of less import than those around me. 

Could there be any more mind shattering thought than that? The realization that you hold your own mind and it’s machinations in less esteem than the stranger next to you. I had grown up believing that selfishness was the worst sin a person could commit. Never compliment yourself. Never laud your achievements. Be quiet. Be humble. Stay out of the way.  It’s easy to blame others for this psychological strangulation. Teachers. Mentors. Peer groups. Society had it’s say, to be sure, but the truth is I am entirely responsible for how I view myself. The self-image I had created was the ghostly negative of a person I hardly acknowledged. This strange detachment I felt from myself and my needs was perhaps one of the few moments that have come close to breaking me.  I knew I had to take my life back from the chains. Unwrap my arms and free my heart to the world. Not because anyone told me to, but because I knew — have always known — that one day I would have to find that release.

I made a promise to myself to find a way to do the things I had always felt were out of my reach. At the time I was burdened by student loans, credit card debt, amid all other monetary requirements of daily life. The first chain I had to break was the Fiscal one. I worked at a restaurant in the morning and at night I worked at World of Beer (WoB) — a bar that would be the catalyst for my love of Craft Beer among other things. Until I grew accustomed to the 70+ hour work week I spent every spare moment napping, trying to conserve energy that I would later expel. I lived on colada (a particularly addictive form of coffee) and the gallon of water I toted back and forth on my bicycle, Billy Jean. As I took bigger and bigger chunks out of my great wall of debt I was able to relax a little and turn my attention to something very important. I was busting my butt day and night, and felt I had earned the right to fulfill a promise and a dream. The Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across Spain. It had been in the back of my mind for more than a decade. It was something that my mother and I spoke about for years. We put it off and off until it began to fade into the background as something that would never actually happen, a broken dream. Like hell would I allow it to remain so. When my debt fell to half I started saving. Half of my weekly income went entirely into savings for the Camino. I said not a word to anyone about this. It was my seed to nurture until I could say, with no trepidation, that it had bloomed into a reality. 

On the morning of my third anniversary in Miami, I began my day like any other. I woke up a little late, slept through my alarm, threw my work clothes into a bag, hopped on Billy Jean, and raced for work. I lived on a main road a mere 25-minute bike ride from the metro line. My morning ride was usually pretty smooth, by this time I had been biking in the city for several months and had, perhaps, grown a little cocky about my rights as a cyclist. My route included one interstate on-ramp that always gave me pause, but not this morning. As I approached it I made eye contact with the driver who would be my opponent at the crossing. After a gentle nod and the tapping of brakes, I knew I was in the clear and could crossover in one quick swoop rather than stopping and waiting for another conscientious driver to acknowledge my right of way. The car slowed to a stop and I zoomed toward the crosswalk, ecstatic that for once I wouldn’t have to slow. I took the small corner at a slight clip, as I was running late. Time seemed to slow, giving me one brief view of what was to come. The second car in the line was in a hurry and didn’t see the cyclist. He didn’t understand why the car ahead of him had come to a stop, and he didn’t have time to care. I remember the glare of a red hood and a moment of panic as I tried to protect my body. I lost consciousness for a few moments.

I woke to find my Billy Jean contorted at odd angles on the road, the metal of her front wheel twisted grotesquely. I felt heavy and bruised, the adrenaline coursing through my system luckily blocking most of the pain. An unfamiliar face loomed above me asking if I was alright, a stranger who had viewed the accident from across the street and come to aid however he could. My eyes lit upon the poor shaken soul who had hit me, he was begging me not to call the police. He couldn’t have been more than 24, as much a child as myself. He meant no harm, he was just behaving normally. He was in a hurry. So was I. He wasn’t paying attention. After the first safety check, I hadn’t looked again.  He didn’t realize that he could hurt someone. Ten seconds of inattention nearly cost me my life. In the end, I was fortunate, “Luck of the Irish,” my father always says. I was bruised and shaken but not broken. The experience gave me a renewed focus on my future. I am notorious for pushing myself too far too fast so I opted for neon green as well as purple wrappings to keep my injuries present in my mind and in that of others. 

I was healing nicely and feeling, once again, content with my life when something strange happened.

In the service industry, one learns to ignore the lecherous comments of men. An onslaught ranging from innocent flirtations to more aggressive misogyny. Having grown up in the South I am bred to more politeness than is due and had grown accustomed to having my friendliness misinterpreted. After a few years, I was numb both to potential suitors and to those “tipping with compliments.” On one particular evening at WoB, I was bustling around, as usual, my left wrist fluorescently wrapped to remind me that it was not as yet fully capable. Toward the end of the evening when the foot traffic slowed I began scanning the bar for things to do that would accelerate the closing process.

My eyes passed on featureless faces until they stopped cold on a fire. His eyes had swept once across me, almost without seeing. Unforgettable, the moment still haunts my dreams. Orbs of molten amber in a quietly handsome face. He had the gaze of a wolf prowling amid lesser beasts. He was not to be ignored. I hadn’t been disquieted by beauty in quite some time. I drew closer to take the measure of the man. I pulled empty glassware off the table as I scanned him with my peripheral vision. I had but one thought, this one was dangerous. As I moved away from the table I noted that he too had a bandaged wrist, same side. Two damaged things we were. His table stayed until just after closing, there were others with him, but I will never remember who, they weren’t important to me. Before walking out the door he approached me, and to my surprise addressed me quite softly. “I’m too shy and inebriated to do this now, but I am going to come back and ask for your number.” I controlled the scoff that was my instinctive response and with a wry smile informed him that I would probably be scheduled the following Thursday. A man such as this is almost assuredly never shy, but I’ll leave a drunk to his delusions.

I wouldn’t see him again for two months, by which time I had almost convinced myself that I wasn’t waiting for his return. Unbeknownst to me, he came to the bar several times with his number neatly tucked into his shirt pocket, a strategic precaution in case that most unlikely bashfulness returned. It was a night with no true distinction that he did return. I was washing glassware when he approached me. Glancing up, I was caught yet again in the snare of his gaze. I hardly noticed the piece of paper in his hand until he handed it to me. “Use it if you'd like.” The paper was crisp and clean, folded with meticulous precision. Written above the number was his name, the first time I would know it, Jorge. I carried the number around with me for a few weeks before finally texting him, short and sweet, just a quick hello. True to his nature, he presented me with a challenge by replying with a picture indicating a plethora of beer options at a local shop. I was given sovereignty over his choices and I chose wisely.

Thusly, I was named his Maiden of the Golden Ale.