And All I Really Want Is Girls
Back in 2017, I was given the opportunity to attend a restorative yoga retreat, free of charge. What would usually cost hundreds of dollars was offered to me as a gift by my yoga instructor at the time. I jumped at the opportunity, as I do with most free events, packed up, and drove out with no idea of what to expect.
I packed light, accustomed to backpacking trips, and quickly discovered our campsite was only a short walk from the parking area. I nervously set up my hammock, taking note of all of the large tents surrounding me. My heart did not start to race however until I was hit with the sudden realization, that for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by women. Tall women, strong women, girls with the kind of hair I had dreamed of, carrying the kind of confidence I thought I had until this moment when I caught sight of the real deal.
When I introduce myself to someone, I often feel the need to state I was raised with five boys. This disclaimer feels as much part of my identity as my own name. I recognize my tendencies to make self deprecating jokes upon meeting women for the first time and feeling the overwhelming need to disarm them by putting myself down. My mind has carried so much self doubt I assumed women did not like me upon sight. So seeing all of these ladies made my hands sweat.
These feelings derive from my complicated history with women. Beginning with an incredibly difficult relationship with my mother throughout my life up until the day I moved out, to memories of waking to find the popular girl in school I thought I had finally befriended, in my brothers room, to high school ending with the discovery of my best friend in a steamy texting relationship with my first serious boyfriend. To put it simply- ya girls got trust issues.
For a while I rode the wave of, “I just don’t get along with girls. I like guys as friends way better.” But there was an insecure desire beneath that ruse, a desire to connect with other women. My past with women darkened my perspective, assuming they wanted something from me or were a threat or would only be competitive towards me. For a long time, I was in my own way of establishing relationships with females because of these views. It took the silent admission to myself stating, I want to have female friends, for me to begin putting myself in positions to make it a reality.
That is why you are here, I reminded myself as I strode up to the small gathering of girls. My heart was in my throat and my saving grace was in the form of a farm dog named Big Mac. I busied myself petting him as if it was what I had come to do, not to realign my chakra or bond with others. Another girl came over to do the same and the tension I felt eased a little. We openly laughed at our introverted tendencies and I even kept my hands from shaking as we clasped hands, making introductions.
The trip went along like this, with me figuring everything out in my own way. I realized I don’t care much for organized group activities and abandoned craft time shortly after concluding a hoop with a loose fitting string slung across would catch no dreams for anyone. I did this often, wandering off alone to enjoy the scenery, thinking about making friendships instead of forging them myself. We were out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, miles downhill from someone’s farm, immersed in the heat of a Kentucky summer.
A couple miles from the field we camped in, there was a small pebble beach. We had an outline of an itinerary throughout the day but more often than not, I would find myself wandering out to this beach. I dutifully attended the yoga practices, enjoying the baking sun on my back as the other ladies dragged their mats into the shade. Then once yoga was over, I would walk slowly to the stream, discard my clothing, and wade in.
The coldness made me feel as if my eyes had been closed all day and suddenly they were open. I watched tadpoles swim around my toes and I would hold still, feeling them graze my ankles. Then I would dive under, cold wetness seeping into every pore on my body and find myself laughing as I came up for air.
One afternoon in the water, I heard a voice and turned to see another one of the girls approaching. I recognized her because she was very quiet and I had noticed her taking things in with the similar, watchful manner I did. Feeling somehow bolder in my cold, naked state, I called out,
There was a moments hesitation in her glance and before it could take root, she began removing her shoes. Her pants and shirt followed and with it, her self conscious demeanor dropped onto the stones beneath her feet. She waded in with me and began to laugh too. Maybe it was at the shock of the cold water, at the ridiculousness of our act, or just at the wonderfulness of what we were experiencing.
I decided after that moment, seeing her shed her timidness with the act of a sandal hitting the ground beside her, I would be brave too. I would stray towards the sound of voices, not away. With the memory of this moment fresh in my mind, I was given the perfect opportunity that night. All of the ladies had gathered around a giant, blazing fire and the light of it illuminated a circle of women’s faces, bright with the union of so many other women. My face joined theirs and as I listened, I heard stories, heartbreaks, laughter, and the sound of a dozen strangers connecting.
The noise died down as our lovely yoga instructor offered to share a poem and the silence was replaced with the up and down lilt of her voice, reciting stanzas. My heart raced as I gripped my book tightly between my hands. There was a poem by Pablo Neruda I loved dearly in his collection of Love Sonnets and it was in between the pages I held. She invited others to share and I looked around to see who would go next when I saw everyone staring at me. I looked down at my feet and realized I had stood up and stepped forward. Feeling the burn of the fire against my shins and the intent looks of these strong, silent women waiting, I opened my mouth-
I have no never-again, I have no always. In the sand
victory abandoned its footprints.
I am a poor man willing to love his fellow men.
I don’t know who you are. I love you. I don’t give away thorns,
and I don’t sell them.
Maybe someone will know that I didn’t weave crowns
to draw blood; that I fought against mockery;
that I did fill the high tide of my soul with the truth.
I repaid vileness with doves.
I have no never, because I was different —
was, am, will be. And in the name
of my ever-changing love I proclaim a purity.
Death is only the stone of oblivion.
I love you, on your lips I kiss happiness itself.
Let’s gather firewood. We’ll light a fire on the mountain.
The rhythm of the words fell out as they do when you have recited a poem to yourself many times before. I sat down, soundlessly, grateful the orange glow of the fire covered my burning cheeks, and another girl went on to share. A few girls gave appreciative glances and others looked pensively into the fire, letting my words sink in. Later, as everyone else wandered to bed, I stayed by the fading embers, enjoying the company of the remaining heat.
Another girl sat transfixed on the dying fire as well and without knowing how it started, we began to talk. We talked for hours, about life, relationships, this yoga retreat we couldn’t seem to make click into place, and our unified fear of talking to women. With the smoke of the fire to watch dissipate and the presence of Big Mac at our feet, conversation came easy and I felt a strong love for this shared moment.
I may not have been able to create a passable dream catcher or gather the nerve to join in on the natural hot tub but I took away a few, special moments. I kept these moments tucked away, to think about later, to help settle my rapid heart beat when I attempted to make new friends in the future. These moments gave a voice to that unspoken desire that had remained within me for so long. I wanted to be around women and I needed to build relationships with strong women. The belief that strong women uplifting one another is a crucial part of our existence became ingrained in my mind.
The same yoga instructor, Aubrey, who knocked the first domino down in my process of communing with women, recommended the book Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Aubrey looked me in the eyes, suggesting I read it, as my hair dripped from my 7 AM dip in the pebble beach. She referred to me as Wild Reese after that trip and the words fell easily as if it had always been my name. I took her words to heart, read the book, and discovered this gem-
“Relationships between women, whether the women share the same bloodlines or are psychic soulmates, whether the relationship is between analyst and analysand, between teacher and apprentice, or between kindred spirits, are kinship relationships of the most important kind.”
I can’t say I left that retreat a changed woman or with a whole new perspective on life but I did leave with a folded piece of paper in my pocket containing a few girls contact information. As I drove back home, my hand would drift down to my pocket and almost subconsciously, I would feel the edge of the ripped page between my finger tips. I had made friends. I had made friends with ladies. I had made friends with ladies who didn’t know the full extent of how handsome my brothers were. With the thin paper between my fingers, I exhaled, letting it sink in.
This change in me to pursue these relationships and take action to form them in person has changed my identity. I have always felt an easiness when meeting men and I love my brothers and dad more than anyone in this world. But the challenge of being in completely unfamiliar territory with women and feeling their support is incredible. They vocalize feelings I have felt for years and give reassurance that in the situations I thought I was experiencing alone, they were alongside me the whole time. As a woman, yes, but also as a human being I feel I needed this my entire life and still do.
In the ever changing lifestyle I live in, I am meeting strong women regularly. Women who are physically powerful and laugh with open, disarming smiles as they debunk any stereotypes about women being weak. These women are strong yes, but instead of feeling meek in comparison, I feel stronger surrounding myself with them. The feeling of being uplifted and giving that love right back is something I will always seek out in the future.
I think back to that first moment during that yoga retreat. The moment where my hands shook and my heart raced, feeling like maybe I had made a mistake in driving out. My first instinct in meeting all of those women was to feel awed, a little intimidated and self doubt slowly began to creep in. These same feelings still arise at times but I work to swallow these feelings. Instead I recall the sensation of cold water lapping invitingly at the feet of a brave woman and the smoke of a burning campfire swirling around the thoughtful conversation of another. I think of these things, remembering how they all started with a nervous first impression. Then I take a breath, wipe off my sweaty palms, and introduce myself.