The music is loud. The bar is hardly crowded. The cowboys went home. An all day event of dancing, showing horses and bull riding has tired out the masses. The ones left are all at the bull ring, running in circles from the enraged bull after he tosses his rider.
“NO!” I take his hand off the back of my head and pull away.
“Porque?” His breath telling me exactly how much beer he drank. The mix of his awful cologne, the stagnant smell of Imperial beer and perspiration and horse shit stings the inside of my nose.
“Because I say no. I don’t want to.” I’m pissed. Beyond pissed. Enraged.
“That’s not a good reason.” He grabs my arm and pulls me in with all the finesse of drunk ape.
“Yes it is. I say no. And I have a boyfriend.” I pry his enormous hand off my bicep.
He knows I’m lying. I’ve spent a few hours hanging out with him and his friends. My fluency in Spanish has resurfaced. I explain everything twice, in both languages. Just because you are my ride home, does not mean I am going home with you. He grabs the back of my head again and pulls me in forcefully. I catch the stare of a woman across the bar, I widen my eyes, she looks away. Great, there goes someone helping me. I push him away again, thanking every minute of surfing and yoga for giving me the strength to push a man from me.
I keep my cool. This guy is my ride. Every other friend has left already. He lives around the corner and my local friends know he’s bringing me on the half hour ride home. I explain curtly that if I say no, I am not joking. I am not being coy. I am dead serious. He accepts, shrugs it off, spits out a lame excuse. If I hadn’t just spent my last colones on our two beers, I would have gotten out of there and hopped in a cab. But this is the Rodeo, taxis and gypsy cabs will cost a fortune… I’ve got to just stick this one out.
“Let’s grab something to eat?”
I agree, only because I’m ready to get the hell out of that bar, away from those people who are staring. I say I need to go home soon, he concurs. We line up at the vendor and I explain I’m going to the bathroom.
“I will meet you at this table in five minutes, okay?” I deliberately smack my hand on the table, ensuring he knows exactly what I mean.
I return from the bathroom, a mere twenty meters away, and he is nowhere in sight. I go to the table and look around anxiously. The woman behind the bar comes over to me and asks if I’m looking for the man I was with. I nod. She then tells me he jogged to his motorbike the moment I turned the corner. I ask her to repeat it, she speaks quickly and with a thick accent. No, I had heard her correctly. Not only was he disgusting, but he’s an asshole as well. Awesome Emma, look what you’ve gotten yourself into.
I run up to the road, searching wildly for a sign that I will be able to get home safely. It’s way darker than it is inside the Rodeo. The lights of the vendors and bullring are so blinding, you seem to forget how long you’ve been there. I swear loudly and turn on my heel. Walking down the street, I hear the boys behind me hissing and muttering Spanish phrases I’ve become familiar with. I call my friend back at home, explain what happened and weigh the options with her. Nobody can drive, everyone’s been drinking. Take a cab? No money. Okay, time to seek out a new plan.
I get off the road and walk back into the Rodeo. I contemplate selling something off my back to get money for a cab. No, no, this will be fine. I can get myself out of this situation. Chill out. There are far worse things in the world than being stranded at the biggest party on the Nicoya Peninsula. I am not alone, there are hundreds of people here. Surely I will recognize someone I’ve met in these past four weeks. The town is small enough, I’ve made some friends, there IS a solution.
I push through the crowds, past the popcorn, street meat, and cotton candy. I return to the bar, to the tree we all sat under, to the entrance to the bull ring. YES! I see a girl I had met yesterday, platinum blonde was hard to forget in a country of brunettes. I walk briskly up to her, “Hey! How’s it going!”.
“Emma! Who are you here with?”
“Long story. Who are YOU here with? I’m solo for now.”
She grabs my hand, introduces me to a few new faces, and pays for my entrance into the bull ring. Instantly I recognize five or six people I’ve met in the past weeks. No names of course, just faces. My tense shoulders ease back to their normal position, my jaw unclenched, I felt myself relax. The minute I changed my attitude towards my situation, a resolution arrived.
I bring this approach with me to everything I do now. An upsetting issue arises, I take a step back and remove myself from the anger or anxiety. Putting distance between my emotions and my tangible thoughts. Sure, I didn’t enjoy what happened. But what I didn’t know was that I was meant to stay there. Meant to stay and deal with a difficult situation. Looking back, it was a blessing. A good friend had offered me a ride home minutes before I was retrieving my head from the man’s hand. Turns out, this friend ended up in an awful accident. He lost his teeth and was badly beaten up. It is awfully cliché to say “everything happens for a reason”, but when your life tells you so, you listen.
This was the beginning of my journey, an event I look back on often. I feel no negativity, no anger, no hardness. I am lucky. If I hadn’t stayed at the bar, I would’ve been in the accident. Sure, no woman ever likes being harassed… but I’ll take it over a nasty motorbike accident any day. Accepting the past, changing my attitude, and looking forward are all foundations of the path to happiness. Harboring negativity does nothing. Of course, emotions are real. I was very angry. I was anxious. I deal with them when they arise, let them float on, but do not perseverate. Just because you were hungry last week does not mean you attend an all-you-can-eat tomorrow. Hanging on to explosive emotions does nothing for your future.
This post is not about harassment. It is not about safety in foreign countries. It is about realizing that even the “bad” has the ability to be “good”. A change of tune or the tweak of an attitude will help in finding a solution. Sitting next to my friend at breakfast the next morning, thanking the higher powers that he was still alive and with us, I let go of every negative emotion in my body. Just thankful to be alive. A thumb-shaped bruise on my arm was my subtle reminder to let it go. What will it take for you to let go?