The Great Escape

Aaron Bleyaert
Sep 24, 2015 · 7 min read

A bunch of months ago I was working out all the time and I had quit drinking to try and lose weight and a bunch of bad shit happened and I stopped hanging out with all of my friends. I wanted to disappear; become someone else, have someone else’s life. I couldn’t stand my own.

After my third straight weekend of not leaving my apartment or speaking to another human being, I decided I had to do something drastic. So I booked a cruise. By myself.

Little known fact, for those folks who live in Los Angeles: For around 200 bucks, you can get a weekend cruise from Long Beach down to Mexico for the weekend that leaves Friday night and returns early Monday morning. Early enough, as it so happens, that you can make a 10am meeting at your job with no one being the wiser (although the second time I did it I got to work 45 minutes late and told everybody I forgot to set my alarm. Whooooops).

I told no one about this.

First off, it was completely insane.

Secondly, secrets are power. Having a secret that no one else knows is a cheap and easy way to give yourself confidence — not too different from emotional Red Bull — and a shot of confidence is exactly what I needed right then. A couple of shots, as it turns out: I actually ended up going on two cruises by myself. The second one was a mistake. But I’ll get to that in a second.

Driving down to Long Beach on Friday night, I got a feeling I’ve never known before — but it’s a feeling that will be familiar to anyone reading this who’s ever gone on a trip by themselves: It’s a mix of equal parts freedom, self confidence, and the exhilarating feeling that you are carrying around a secret fire within you. You can do whatever you want. You can act however you want. You can be whomever you want. It was this last thing I was most interested in.

The first cruise was whatever. I spent a lot of time in the hot tub talking to moms and their kids, I spent a lot of time reading. There are shops on the boat. The cheapest cruise tickets give you a room without a window — my windowless room rocking back and forth made me feel seasick, so I spent a lot of time up on the deck or walking around. Talking to no one.

I did most of my talking at dinner: For dinners, they put you at a table with other people. There was a couple from Arizona who were very nice (the husband had worked in the control room of a local TV station, so we bonded about that). Otherwise, I kept pretty much to myself. There was a nightclub (VERY loose definition) on board, but nobody went in it. We got down to Ensenada, and I walked around for a bit, then we got back on the boat, sailed back, docked at Long Beach, and I drove into work. Made the meeting. Nobody knew. It was glorious.

I took the same cruise again two weeks later, but this time was different: I decided I was going to lie to everyone I met. I was going to pretend to be somebody else. Insane? Yes. Horribly fun and exciting? Also yes.

But here’s where my plan backfired: On this cruise, I met a girl.

Since I’ve gotten in shape, occasionally girls will talk to me. I still have no idea what I’m doing and am incredibly awkward, but they try anyway. Here’s how it happened: I’m in the hot tub, waiting for the moms and their kids to show up… when 6 college girls get in instead. They are all from USC, and they are all very nice. One of them in particular is hilarious, and we hit it off. Because I am stupid and flustered about this whole situation, I immediately spill the beans and tell them all my plan to lie to everyone on board. The girl tells me flat out that my plan is “stupid and clearly the plan of a murderer”, and that she loves it. I tell her my fake name (Scott), and she tells me her fake name (Norah, although later when we all get drunk in the nightclub her friends forget and call her Mickey). She says we should do a whole “Lost in Translation” thing, never tell each other our real names, and hang out for the whole cruise. I agree.

So we do. It’s great.

Here’s what I learn about Norah, of which all or none may be true:

  • She’s a senior (she was drinking, so I believe this one)
  • She’s studying Kinesiology
  • She’s from Ohio
  • She’s never been to Canada
  • She has a scar running down her leg from when she was a kid and she tried to prove to her older brother that she could fly and jumped out of a tree.
  • She has a dog named Potato Chips
  • She’s beautiful and I’m in love with her
  • She thinks my name is Scott
  • This whole dumb plan is fucking stupid and I hate myself

The rest of the cruise we all spend very, very drunk. I hang out in their suite, which is great and not at all seasickness-inducing like my own personal windowless cave of misery. Norah keeps doing this bit where she stands on my stomach for some reason I can’t remember. I pass out on their floor (but so does this other girl Kasey or Kaley or something, so I don’t feel so bad). I can’t eat the pretzels in their room because I’m trying to not eat carbs. We all go back to the hot tub, but there are other people in it and it’s too cold to get in the pool so we go inside and play cards. Norah is great and funny and charming and she keeps saying that her haircut is too short and I keep complimenting her on her great wig and she keeps pulling my hair and then someone says we should all go play shuffleboard up on the top deck so we do but on the way up we lose some people and then it’s me and Norah on a team versus the girl who passed out on the floor with me and this other girl who is as dumb as a bag of shit and Norah is TERRIBLE at shuffleboard I mean like really bad so we lose but it’s hilarious because after every point she keeps screaming “NOOOOO” towards the heavens like it’s the end of the world and the other two girls go to bed and the deck is deserted but still so brightly lit up and Norah and I fight the wind and work our way to the front of the boat where there’s a bench. And we sit.

Cruise ships travel in twos — in case one sinks, the other can come to their rescue — and when you’re out there in the endless black ocean on the deserted top deck of this big bright ship, you can’t help but watch the other boat, your traveling companion, out there ahead of you in the dark. Sparkling and silent and gorgeous, cutting through the black. A diamond in ink.

Secrets are power. Having a secret that no one else knows is a cheap and easy way to give yourself confidence — but that confidence lasts only as long as the secret does. True confidence comes from comfort; from having a companion out there ahead of you in the dark, ready to help if you sink — and that can’t happen when you’re pretending to be something you’re not. I knew right then that this would be my last cruise. This had been a mistake.

The wind is ferocious up there on the top deck and it’s suddenly very cold. Norah tells me to put my arm around her, so I do. Looking out into the night at the other ship, she tells me her real name is Mickey. It’s short for Michaela. I tell her that Scott is actually my middle name. She doesn’t ask for my first. She says that’s good enough.

This is the part of the story where I tell you that I leaned in to kiss her, or that I whispered in her ear, or that I invited her back to my room. But I didn’t. I should have, I should have. But here’s a hard truth: even when you’re pretending to be somebody else in the middle of the night on top of a cruise ship somewhere out in the endless dark of the ocean deep drunk with a complete stranger who tells you to put your arm around her, you are still yourself. And I am a coward.

Michaela and I sat there for a while, not talking. It was nice. It was terrible. The wind, the only one bearing witness to my gutless display of doing absolutely nothing, did its best to chap my lips and chill me to the bone. Eventually Mickey said “let’s go to bed”. But she meant hers and mine. Not ours.

The next morning we got back to Long Beach. I went to her room, but they had already disembarked. I waited around for 45 minutes like an asshole on the dock in the hopes of running into her, but didn’t. Instead, I walked to my car, was late to work, and told everyone I slept through my alarm. I never saw her again and she never knew my real name — but she’s out there somewhere; a girl who has never been to Canada, has a dog named Potato Chips, and once fell out of a tree while trying to show her brother she could fly.

Or not.

Aaron Bleyaert

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I’m Always Home. I’m Uncool.