Shortly after I graduated from college, I convinced a few girlfriends to take me to Vegas to celebrate. I was standing outside of Circus Circus, smoking Camel Reds while waiting for my friends to find a bathroom, when Robert caught my eye. Or more accurately, I caught his. He stood, frozen in place, staring at me hard, while his gang walked on without him. If it'd been a movie, time would have slowed down, Wes Anderson-style, as he ambled toward me and queried in his incredibly effective British accent:
"D'ya know where the Luxor is?"
I exhaled a smoke plume and shrugged. "Look for a pyramid," I suggested. Then he asked if I wanted to get a drink; his friends hooted and hollered from the outdoor escalator.
We went through two bartender shift changes while chatting at the casino bar about friends and family (“I can’t tell my twin stepbrothers apart”), middle names and music (“You saw the Libertines first US tour?!”), our friends coming to check on us every other hour with winks and shrugs.
He asked if I'd like to go for a walk, offered his arm as I teetered on my heels, and we wound our way around the casino, eventually wandering outside where, blinking dumbly at the insistent sunlight, he kissed me.
It was a damn good kiss. He offered to get us a room, which I demurely declined, and eventually he walked me back to my room. Robby and I exchanged email addresses and one last panty-dropping kiss. I climbed into bed and swooned.
Three weeks, several hundred emails, and a thousand dollar cell phone bill later, I was stuck at el reclamo de equipaje in an impossibly hot airport in southern Spain to meet Robby at what he referred to as his villa. I had made the four-leg, 20-hour flight safely; my luggage had not. It would be a month before I would see that bag again.
When I finally extricated myself from baggage services, I could see Robby’s head above the others in the crowd at the bottom of the airport exit. We fell into each other with a much-anticipated well-hello-again kiss.
He drove me to the villa, a standard Spanish vacation condo, and I showered and slept for two days straight, waking only for jetlagged sex and phone calls to baggage claim services who always promised my luggage would be delivered mañana.
It was impossibly hot, August in Spain, and richly humid. Merely standing in place resulted in waterfalls of sweat. We wandered around the small downtown area during the day, watched reruns of the British Office and Mighty Boosh in the evening. We kept saying we would go to the beach when my luggage arrived, but by the third day it still hadn’t, so I bought a bikini at some Spanish version of Walmart and made plans to go the next day.
Then his girlfriend called.
I assumed his hushed calls taken out of earshot were work issues, but when I checked his phone to see the time and saw an angry, accusatory text, my blood went snake cold in the suffocating heat.
“I thought you’d broken up,” I said. They had, he insisted. The text suggested otherwise, that the breakup was still happening, that he was enjoying a vacation in Spain with “some young thing,” as she referred to me, while she had to move out of the house he owned, that they had shared for seven years.
He told me it hadn’t been much of a relationship in the end; they hadn’t had sex for the previous two years. (“You should be impressed I lasted as long as I did,” he said the first time we fucked.) It was more a relationship of habit, and I supposed I was a good excuse to break it off.
I wish it hadn’t happened that way.
The vacation was over, but I still had three days before my flight left for home. The jet-lag, the heat, the sangria, the lost luggage, the sunburn I got after we finally made it to the beach -- it overwhelmed me, and I spent the rest of my time there sad and silent. I took myself for long walks through dry woods to find private spaces to cry wracking sobs over what I’d done, what had been done to me. Tears mingled with sweat as I wandered the small Spanish town, impotent and alone.
He dropped me off at the airport, my sad carry-on overstuffed with the bikini and the underwear I’d purchased. 20 hours and one Xanax later, I landed in my small beach town airport. One of my friends who had taken me to Vegas picked me up from the airport, and I sank into her sedan and cried the entire drive home.
I’ve told this story many times and many different ways over the years. I try to focus on the humor of it, but it is still a sharp memory, full of haunting regret and shame. Robby and I never spoke again, though I sent a few regrettable emails I still refuse to read almost 10 years later.
I spent two years celibate to figure out why I have such horrible taste in men (still haven’t sorted that out, but I have dated a few nice guys in the meantime). I’ve traveled around the world in that time, alone and with friends and lovers, but I’ve never returned to Spain, and I’ve never checked a bag since.