Among Giants

 We made our way through the smoky crowd with large bottles of beer in hand. I was actually looking forward to this; I had been inside all day writing – so I was definitely in need of break, but it had been a productive day, so I was feeling good. To be honest, I am feeling good in general these days. The emotional rollercoaster ride that I have been on for the better part of a decade, seems to have changed pace to a more consistent speed and trajectory. Or perhaps just the ups and downs while still unpredictable, affect me less. Where before I was sitting at the front of the rollercoaster, experiencing every single turn, jolt and surprise intensely, firsthand; now I appear to have moved to the middle of the carriage. I am on the same journey, but enjoying the ride a whole lot more.

Anyway, there we were in the middle of a smoke-filled bar to watch Mirko’s old band play. I looked around at a room filled with mostly women, all dressed up, full face of makeup and high heels, and I have to say I was feeling very content in my red jeans, converse, and white jumper and of course my favourite accessory – my husband by my side. The music started up and it was a great vibe. I looked to my right and saw two women dancing far more dramatically than the music gave invitation to do. If you blocked out the band and just watched these ladies dancing you would have sworn you were in a club and ‘Apple Bottom Jeans’ was playing – “shorty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low…” Props to them but I had to laugh, and cringe (at myself), a while ago this would have been me. So much has changed in a few short years.

As the band continued, every possible space in the room filled with more bodies, until one point there were 3 women basically standing on top of me. As the bodies pressed in, I looked around and felt among giants.

Note: Croatian women are tall in general, I am always the smallest/shortest person wherever I go. It's not like I have ever considered myself tall, I guess I have just always ran with a similar sized posse in the past, so I really notice the height difference here!

The band had an amazing repertoire of songs; moving from traditional Dalmatian songs to Roxette, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, mainstream pop, rock… then back again to Traditional songs. I really couldn’t complain, the music was great and at least there were songs I knew. Of course when it returned to the traditional music, I felt out of place - looking around at a bar full of people singing and dancing, not knowing the words myself and not knowing anyone else, has a way of bringing back to light the fact that – yes – I am on the other side of the world away from my own friends and family… But this was short-lived; as Billie Jean blared out of the speakers, I let my old friend music bounce around inside my soul.

Nearing the end of the first set, I was starting to get a little more frustrated. The woman directly in front of me had stepped back to dance right on top of me for the 3rd time in a row now, before turning around and realizing, that yes, there was in fact a miniature woman underneath her foot. The smoke was also starting to get to me (god I sound like a 70yr old women here don’t I? “It’s too noisy and smoky, there’s too many people and would someone please turn the volume down?!”) I don’t smoke, which isn’t the issue, but I haven’t been in a smoke-filled bar for a very long time. I looked around and 99% of the people crammed into this small space all had a cigarette to their lips, including the band members! Of course this is completely acceptable here in Croatia, ventilation? Ha. I could feel it seeping into my clothes, my hair, my lungs… and I had to squint and rub my eyes more than a few times to try and get rid of the sting.

The notes of the last song played in perfect timing, as we had both finished our beer and I was in desperate need of some fresh air. But as it turns out, so was everybody else. We managed to push our way into the slipstream of people trying to file outside and to the bar. Mirko took my hand and led me out before we parted at the door, he went to the bar to buy us another beer and I went to wait outside. The fresh air was a welcome relief, if not a shock. Bura was blowing (a strong, cold wind that blows from the NE), so I rushed to put my jacket and scarf back on. Standing on the outside of the crowd, alone, I felt a familiar feeling coming back. Feelings I hadn’t felt for a very long time…

I looked up and once again found myself among giants. But this time rather than standing shoulder height to the tall, beautiful Croatian women… I was being dwarfed by my own fears and feelings of isolation. They rushed at me like the Bura wind that was trying to rush through me. As I stood there alone, I became awkwardly aware of my own body, how to stand, where to look, what to do… Looking around, recognizing no faces, my longing for own friends seeped into my soul like the smoke into my clothes, it stung; except this time, I couldn’t just squint and rub it away. I thought I was beyond this. I am so much more confident in myself, where I am, who I am, my relationship… but it turns out, these things never disappear completely. My ego sensed a perfect moment to strike and started prattling away to me about how I don’t belong, I don’t fit in, I will never fit in, what am I even doing there... and being alone and vulnerable, I foolishly listened.

Just then I was so happy to see my husband step out of the bar. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. I started trying to make eye-contact, to urge him to find me through the throng of people, but he didn’t. Instead he found someone else. He stopped beside a woman to chat. I waited. He stayed there. I was hoping he would tell her something like: ‘hey, cool to see you, but I’ll be back in a second, I just need to find my wife first because she is out here by herself’, but as I stood waiting, I could see that wasn’t the case. It was probably not even 2minutes, but it felt a lot longer. My fears and isolation pushed harder against me. I squeezed past them to make my way to my husband; but they didn’t stay where I left them, they decided to tag along. By the time I got to Mirko, I was more than agitated. He introduced me to his old school friend. But I didn’t care. I was no longer there, I was in my head and listening to my ego who said: why didn’t he come to find you straight away, didn’t he care you were out here by yourself, he knows you don’t know anyone, why would he do that?...

The two continued to talk in Croatian and I felt like I had been flung back in time 2 years, a time when I understood no Croatian and constantly felt on the outside. Of course I understand and can speak a lot more Croatian now, but not this time – I was already giving my full audience to my ego, who was shouting in my ear to be heard over the cacophony of people and music reverberating around in the small, stone courtyard. I became acutely aware of my body again, how do you stand and where do you look when you are forced to stand uncomfortably close to a stranger who is just speaking to your husband in Croatian – a conversation of which you are not included? (note: of course I was not included, they are old friends who haven’t seen each other in 10 years, they are catching up, why would they include me straight away?) After a short while, my husband clearly sensed that I was distressed – though I think at this point, a drunk, blind-man in a smoky club would have felt the agitated pulse I was emitting.

He said goodbye to his friend and we made our way back to the edge of the crowd with our beers in hand. He started explaining that she was a friend he hadn’t seen in 10 years and he had only just got out of the bar when I came up to them… I didn’t want to hear it. I am pretty sure I had my bitch face on and not much gets through that. I heard myself say: actually you were talking to her for 2 mins before I came over (it felt like longer), why didn’t you come to find me first? Oh god. Why did I say that, it sounds so pathetic, bitchy and jealous?! It spilled out of my mind and out through my lips before I had a chance to filter it, to put it into context. The thing about self-awareness is, just because you may be aware of your actions and words in the greater scheme of things, it doesn’t always mean you will be able to stop it in time (this is next level ZEN-shit). So I KNEW in my being that I was being ridiculous, but the rollercoaster had already started to dip into its descent and I was powerless to stop it… He called me out – “you’re jealous”, he said.

Honestly; I knew it absolutely looked like that. How could I convey to him all of the feelings and emotions I had felt while I was alone for less than 10 minutes, when just moments ago I had been fine?? It really made no apparent sense – welcome to the beautiful inner-workings of the female mind. Years ago one of my good friends once told me, “men think in straight lines, women think in circles”. To this day, it is still probably the most accurate description I have ever come across.

HIM: comes out of the bar, stops for a second to talk to an old friend. Wife comes up and seems pissed off. Conclusion: she is jealous à  straight line. Reasonable conclusion.

He was probably also thinking: what is her problem, I bring her out, I am here with just her, I have been showing her affection, what more can I do?? à another reasonable conclusion.

ME: husband leaves me to get a drink. I stand alone. I don’t know anyone. Oh god, I don’t fit in here, I have no friends, I just don’t belong… Oh look – there he is, wait a second, he stopped to talk to someone (yes it’s a girl, which probably doesn’t help, but still...) why isn’t he coming to find me? He knows I am out here alone, why has he left me, he doesn’t care. OK, just go over to him. A quick introduction, they talk in Croatian, I am not included in the conversation (*refer to note above, I DO rationally understand why I am not included in the conversation, but that does not come into play here), I stand uncomfortably not knowing where to look, we leave and make our way to the outskirts of the crowd.
Conclusion: I am upset from a combination of all of my thoughts and feelings and he SHOULD know this. à Circle. Unreasonable conclusion, BUT, it is still my conclusion at that moment.

And believe it or not, this is not just hindsight talking. I was completely aware how ridiculous my mood and reaction was, but unfortunately in the moment, I was too engulfed in my own mind to do anything about it - I can be a very stubborn individual at times (family trait). My husband knows this and knows me all too well. He made the instant decision to leave. I felt bad. I really did. I half-halfheartedly said, “no we can stay, really, I just felt uncomfortable is all… which is fine, but then I had to add – BUT, let’s not stay for too much longer, the smoke is really getting to me…” WHY, did I have to say this last part?! I sound like a real fucken laugh to be around don’t I, would you re-enter a bar with me?... His response remained the same: ‘let’s go home, you’re not happy here, so fuck it, let’s go home’. He wasn’t angry, wasn’t rude, he could have completely ignored me, or made me feel worse than I already did… but to his credit, he didn’t. He just gets it, or he gets me, or both (he is so unassumingly Zen sometimes).

So we put our full beers down and went home. I felt so guilty, I had ruined our night and we hadn’t been out in a bar, or to listen to a band in over a year! Now my fears of not fitting in here may just become reality, because why on earth would he want to take me out again (I sure as hell don’t want to be around this person)? The worst part is, he hadn’t been to watch his old band play in forever, or maybe ever since he left. He got a message the next day from one of the members saying they were looking for him in their break so he could get up and play with them (he is a drummer) and while he is not one for the limelight, I am sure deep-down he would have loved this. AND I would have loved this, because I have never seen him play live on a stage before. But alas, this was not how the story went, as I let my ego take the steering wheel and ruin what could have been a brilliant night.

 The funny or ironic thing is, just before we entered the bar, Mirko asked, ‘how are you, you good?’ I (naïvely) replied, ‘yea, I’m really good these days, I am happier than I have ever been…’ I think the Universe heard this and had a good deep belly laugh; ‘Well Tash, let’s see about that!’

I have definitely come a long way in regards to my self-esteem and confidence living here, but this just goes to show that I am not quite there yet. I AM happier than I have ever been, but it doesn’t mean I am completely rid of my fears and insecurities, they have a funny way of resurfacing at the most inopportune moments. SO the Universe puts us in these situations for a reason – can we prove in a practical setting what we (think) we have learnt in theory?... I guess I didn’t pass this time. But that’s ok, these moments don’t knock me down like they used to. One thing I HAVE learnt is that the beauty of life lies in the fact that there will always be more situations, more moments, more chances to succeed - because believe it or not, life IS rooting for our success. It’s all just part of the process.

But maybe next time I go out, I should wear high heels, just in I can stomp on my fears and dance with the giants!

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