From the moment my nine-year old daughter opened the gift, I'll admit I coveted it: a canvas makeup bag, imprinted with a sexy leopard skin pattern.
Preparing for my three-night trip to Rio Caliente, a spa near Guadalajara, I realize I have a surplus of assorted toiletries and multiple medications that simply will not fit into my tediously plain, drab black travel bag.
While I truly believe I have instilled my daughter with a profound respect for difference, I am nonetheless hesitant to pop the question.
"Tia, honey," I say, affecting that voice she uses when she wants something badly. "Remember that cool bag that Aunt Cece gave you for your birthday?"
"It was Christmas," she points out.
"Uh, I was wondering if Daddy could, uh, maybe…?"
"Borrow it?" she asks, finishing my sentence as she often does. Then, without a trace of surprise or discomfort, she says, "Sure."
I fill up both the bags, pack them in my carry-on suitcase and don't give it another thought. As my compadre Jim and I approach Customs, he jokes, "Hope you didn't bring your lethal eyelash curler, honey."
The rather severe looking fellow behind the counter scans my bag.
"Do you have scissors in here?" he asks.
"Small ones I use to trim my moustache," I answer, providing way too much information.
"You've got to remove them," he says, clearly unimpressed with my grooming habits.
Only when I begin to unzip the carry-on do I remember that the small scissors are in the fucking leopard bag.
Even Jim (who knows me as well as anyone) does a Lucy doubletake as I unapologetically dig into the bag and procure the petite weapon.
"Girl," Jim says, "you are Too Much."
Continuing to feed Mr. Customs (who is having a hard time repressing a smile) more autobiographical data, I say, "I borrowed this bag from my daughter."
After he takes the scissors, we are asked to remove our shoes (thank God I'm not wearing Barbie socks or fishnet hose). After we pass that inspection, we are poised to head for our gate but not before Mr. Customs delivers the last word: "Glad it's your daughter's," he says, with a goofy but not unfriendly laugh.
During our four days at Rio Caliente, Jim and I encountered a number of fabulous (and I don't use that word disingenuously) individuals, most of whom had arrived on common ground—in this case, sacred common ground—in search of rejuvenation. Whether our quest was spiritual or physical, soul-centered or self-centered, didn't matter. We were there, consciously or not, to nurture our spirits, minds and/or bodies as a conduit to reconnect with who we are, rediscover our true selves, recapture and, yes, maximize our authenticity.
From our first outing to our final good-byes, I never felt I had to reconfigure myself or make subtle adjustments to gain acceptance. Neither did Jim. In fact, maximizing authenticity with him as a partner was as constant and life affirming as my heartbeat.
We shared our stories—unrehearsed and uncensored—with anyone who cared.
Jim talked about the hard-won bond he secured with his dad, after years of struggle, before he died. I told an endearing story about my recently deceased mother instead of my usual repertoire of anecdotes that demonize here.
We called each other "honey." A lot.
When one of the ladies was modeling a new purchase at poolside, Jim shouted, "Sashay, doll!" Non-plussed, the woman stopped dead in her tracks. "What's 'sashay?'" she asked.
"Don't worry," I said, "he'll show you." And he did.
There were heated post-dinner discussions about the Bible and the meaning of God and what to do about George Bush.
We sang show tunes, dished about Hollywood, and traded beauty secrets.
On my last night there (Jim was scheduled to spread his spirit for several more nights but I had my daughter to attend to), a Pink Marshmallow Roast was scheduled at the bonfire, situated in the center of a patio area, under a slivered moon and stars as bright as follow spots.
One of the local young men (Jim had appropriately nicknamed him Ricky Martin) asked if he could lead us in a dance. "Feel it in your hands," he said, indicating the vibrations he was experiencing as the techno beat began pulsing through his body, via the open palms of his outstretched hands.
Within seconds, several of us joined him in an attempt to take cues from our bodies, not our heads. I felt the healing heat of the fire coupled with the stars' luminosity and—in spite of all the dead brothers I'd like to have dancing with me in this circle, on this planet, in this time and space—I was happy (another word I don't use with much frequency).
The following morning as we at bowls full of juicy fruit and watched birds showing off their Technicolor plumage, we recapped the previous night's escapades.
"It was like those seventies disco days when we were all sharing the same heart beat," I tell Luann, a woman whose breathtaking interior beauty and exterior beauty are perfectly in sync.
With less than an hour to go before my departure, I engineer the signing of an e-mail list. With a certain inimitable flair, I dramatically print "Name" at the top left and indicate "e-mail" at the far right.
Luann glances at it and says, "You are gay."
"Gay?" Jim shrieks. "He's Julie from The Love Boat."
After getting the e-mail list duplicated in the office, Jim and I are stopped by one of the women we'd befriended.
"I just want to tell you two that I know ten thousand people in Minneapolis but I don't know any of them as well as I know both of you," she said.
"Just by being yourselves, by being so unafraid and authentic, I've been able to see so much reflected back at me, and learn so much about who I am.
Hugs and tears—until we meet again.