Story written by Rick
First published: March 2006
Last Update: August 2011
This is the story of how Rick
and Marla met at sea.
The origin of the SSQQ Travel Club can be traced
directly to an enchanted evening under a full moon.
This fairy tale encounter came
complete with thrashing
waves, dark clouds, strong winds and a hurricane
clearly visible in the distance.
Rick and Marla's cruise
ship courtship serves as enduring testimony to
powerful role a trip at sea can play in creating
romance. Although the many twists and
turns may seem implausible,
please note that every event is true.
Chapter One - Divorce
There is no
way to wallpaper over a divorce and disguise the
ugliness. I was briefly married once before in
the Eighties. All my wife Pat and I did was argue, so it made sense to hit
the Exit Door. At the time, I felt little guilt and tremendous
relief, but the failure still flattened me with pain and doubt. The
second one was much tougher.
didn't see my second divorce coming. I knew my
marriage wasn't particularly satisfying at the
moment, but oddly enough the thought of a divorce
from Judy, my second wife, never even entered my
Although things were cool between us, I
wasn't all that unhappy. I had a young daughter to
raise and I was
preoccupied with my business. In 2000, the
studio was enjoying its most successful year in
history, but that success demanded my full attention. I put every spare moment into
handling the details necessary to keep the energy
going. I guess I assumed things would improve
in my marriage with time.
Christmas Eve, 2000.
This date was
a Sunday, the day a religious group known as the Quakers held their weekly
service at SSQQ.
Back in those days, SSQQ
doubled as the Quaker Meeting House. A Quaker
by birth, I was more than happy to let this kind
group of people use the
studio for free while their lovely new Meeting House
in the Heights was being built. From
what I gather, the Quakers enjoyed holding their
Sunday Meeting at the dance studio. They had
total privacy and absolute silence. Quakers
very much enjoy peace and quiet.
On this particular day, the
Quaker group held their traditional Christmas Eve
candlelight service. Afterwards they stayed at the studio for much of the
afternoon for a potluck dinner and social gathering.
It was a happy time for the group. Not only
was it the day before Christmas, but they were
excited because their new
Meeting home in the Heights would soon be ready.
I did not attend the
gathering. In fact, I rarely attended Quaker Meeting.
Quite frankly, I felt so overwhelmed by my job that
I could not force myself to come to the studio
during my free time even for a religious gathering.
I really don't remember
exactly what went wrong that day. My memory is pretty much a blank. The
single thing I do
remember is that late in the
afternoon, I got a phone call from the
Quakers. The last few people were
getting ready to leave, but the person with the key
had left and forgotten they had the key.
The person on the phone had no way
to lock the studio door.
Probably the only thing I do remember
was feeling irritated. I
would have to stop what I was doing and
spend a half hour of my time on Christmas Eve
driving to the studio to lock the door and
return home again.
Apparently I got into an argument with Judy over this phone call.
We were both worn out and neither us wanted
to be the one to get up and drive to the
studio to lock the door. The next
thing I knew, Judy walked out the door of our
house and left without explanation.
Shocked, I stared at my 9-year old daughter
Sam who stared back at me. Sam asked,
"What is Mom so
I shook my head. I was
just as confused as Sam was. The argument
had not been that heated. I was
irritated, yes, but I wasn't angry.
mood seemed much darker than the moment
called for. Two
hours later, Judy returned. She
got right to the point. She wanted a divorce.
request took me completely off guard. It was a complete surprise to me. The thought of divorce had not crossed my
mind. Neither of us were particularly happy
at the moment,
but for the
most part, our relationship was solid.
I had a lot of respect for Judy. She
was a good mother and a dynamite business
However, now that I gave her request some
thought, it was okay by me. Assuming I
could have joint custody of our daughter, I
said I would agree
to the divorce.
I left the house. I
wanted to be alone. I spent the night
sleeping at the studio. Oh boy,
Christmas Eve alone in the giant dark dance
studio. Just my idea of fun. The next
morning I ate my Christmas meal at IHOP.
Back when I was Sam's age, my parents fought
every night for about a year. Many
nights I fell
asleep crying out of fear and insecurity.
When Sam was born, I vowed I would never put my own daughter
through an experience like that. So
much for that vow. Not only had I
failed in my marriage, I had let my
daughter down too.
So much for Christmas this
I cannot remember feeling more miserable.
Word of my separation made its way through
the Grapevine. One day in January my
friend Tom Easley gave me a call. Tom
needed a favor. He wanted to go
skiing, but he needed a roommate. Tom
heard a rumor I might be available.
Tom Easley was the acknowledged leader of
This group had a tradition to go skiing
together every January. Tom and his
friends had originally met through SSQQ back
in the Eighties. Over the years, this
group had formed deep and lasting
friendships. I counted an amazing
total of 5 marriages within this group and a
long-lasting committed relationship for good
measure. I would be going skiing with these
six couples and several others.
invitation to go skiing was a real blessing.
I needed to get out of town and nurse my
wounds. How funny that Tom should come
to my rescue again. Tom had also been
there to save me when my first marriage
broke up back in 1986.
At the end of January,
I spent an entire week skiing with a tight-knit group of 40
people. As I watched how happy these people
were to be with one another, I
noted with quiet satisfaction that my days as
'Leader of the Pack' back in the Eighties had been
largely responsible for helping this wonderful group of
people first connect.
was I their dance teacher, I had organized the ski trips in the
1980s that had led to this tradition getting
However, Judy was not interested in skiing, so I
had lost touch with this ski group during the Nineties.
Now I was
having a blast
reconnecting with my friends. Every day I skied with
different couples who had met through SSQQ. It
was like old times again.
The week I
spent with the group was a definite shot in the arm. It reminded
me of all the
good will the studio had created over the
years. I began to wonder what I could do to bring
this magic back to the studio.
I thought about my role for a while. The
studio was doing well, but I was keeping a very low
profile during my separation. I preferred to
lick my wounds alone.
My main contribution
in those days was writing about the
antics created by my wild and crazy SSQQ Staff who
were always up to something. At the moment, my
instructors were getting married left and right.
I thought it was ironic that they were all
getting married at the
same time as I was getting unmarried.
That's the way life is sometimes, a revolving door.
What Could I Do to Rekindle
the SSQQ Magic?
A major problem throughout my dance career has
involved how much time I
willing to invest in the social side of SSQQ.
Any time I participate in a studio-related
extracurricular activity, I help boost the energy of
the event. The more I go out dancing with the
students, attend weddings, go to a pool party,
show up at a dance competition or simply go around
saying hi to people at Practice Night, the more the
social side of SSQQ begins to click.
face it... as owner of the studio, I am the obvious
leader. To be effective, I have to participate
in as many important moments as possible. However,
when I teach six nights a
week, it really wears me out when I give up my one free night of
the week to participate. I need a breather
just like anyone else.
Whenever I was single, this
wasn't an issue. I assumed my natural Leader
of the Pack role because I was lonely. I
was more than
happy to see my friends from the studio on a regular
basis. I didn't mind using my free time to
hang with the group at all.
However, every time I entered
a relationship, my interest in playing Leader
of the Pack diminished dramatically.
After teaching dance six nights a week, I was a lot
more interested in spending my seventh night alone
with my girlfriend than I was in going dancing at
some Western club with the group.
In other words, whenever I was
single and miserable, my dance studio thrived
because I was willing to be the Leader of the Pack.
But whenever I was in a relationship, the energy at
the dance studio tapered off because I was neglected
my 'Leader of the Pack' role to take care of my own
This set up a struggle with my
own conscience. I would often literally have
to force myself to attend private non-studio parties
because it was 'good for the studio' even though I
deeply preferred to stay at home.
This problem grew even
worse during the Nineties. Neither
Judy nor I were particularly social people.
Consequently we invested very little of our free time in
the social side of SSQQ.
example was our disagreement over the
volleyball parties here at my house. My entire backyard was
designed to host volleyball parties for the
dance studio on days like Memorial Day, July
4th, and Labor Day. These parties were
very popular. We would draw
crowds of 100 people. It was a great
way to meet people.
I know one couple who credits a volleyball party at my house for the start
of their marriage.
the parties. She would help
me prepare and she would help me clean up,
but was nowhere to be seen during the
party itself. After a while, I
just stopped having the parties.
With this 'hide from the
not surprisingly, the social energy at the studio
during our marriage in the Nineties was
nowhere near as strong as it had been back
in the Eighties. I was well aware of
this problem and felt bitter about it.
It was one of the points of tension in our
Now it was 2001. A ten-year chapter
of my life was ending. I was free again. What would be the next chapter in
my studio's destiny?
Ski Trip gave me plenty of time to reflect on this
issue. Whenever I had a spare moment, I reflected on all the
distance I had put between myself and the dance studio.
I still taught lessons with as much enthusiasm as ever,
but I no longer got involved in people's lives like I
once had. I was something of a stranger at my
own dance studio. My dance teachers were
the current leaders, not me.
Now that I was
reminded of how much good I had done helping Tom's 'Look-a-Like' group to form, my impending divorce
would give me the perfect
connect to the current generation of people at the
I decided the studio needed an
adventure. It was obviously too late to plan a
ski trip. The best time would be this coming
summer. What else could I do? Hmm.
What about organizing
another cruise? I thought back to the
Jamaica Cruise of 1998. I frowned. I had
not really enjoyed that trip much at all.
I didn't have much fun on
the 1998 Trip. Instead I continued to
withdraw inside myself and avoid people. During
the trip, I had spent most of my spare time in my
cabin reading a book or hanging out with my daughter
Sam. Other than 'Game Night', I barely
lifted a finger to get to know anyone on a personal
Even worse, I let the
acute poverty of Jamaica get under my skin. I
really didn't have a very good time.
Well, that was 1998
and this was 2001. I was single again. That gave me a
free hand to organize something. What would happen if I
opened up a little? It wouldn't
hurt to be more
sociable. I decided to
give a studio cruise trip another try.
I called Alan Fox, a friend of mine who owned a travel agency.
Alan had suggested that I offer our first
SSQQ cruise back in 1998. He
was more than happy to help me arrange our
2001 Trip as well.
This time I decided to take
promoting the trip
more seriously. Once my ski trip was over, I
announced the cruise. I started to look people in
the eye and tell them how much fun this trip was going to
be. I knew from experience that personal
contact worked better than just laying
flyers around the studio.
the personal touch worked. Something clicked.
One person after
another signed on for the 2001 Cruise.
As the months went by, the
total climbed. The buzz was circulating.
2 joined one
day; 3 joined the next. Our total reached 40 people. At this point,
what started as a pleasant
campfire turned into a bonfire. Soon we were up to 50. 60. The
number kept climbing. 70,
80, 90. In the final week
before the trip, we finally crossed the Magic 100 threshold.
We had 101 people sign on
for the trip. I shook my head in
amazement. Wow! As I reviewed our list of
people, I sat back and smiled with satisfaction. It was fun to be the organizer again. It had been a long time since I had
played Leader of the Pack. Even though
I was now 50 years old, it was nice to know
I still had what it took.
This was a role
that made me feel good about myself. I liked
creating energy at my studio. It was
good for business and good for the spirit. 'Welcome back', I said to myself.
Now that I was single, it had been
relatively effortless to organize this
But then I frowned. A sense of
déjà vu had entered my thoughts. I
had been in this same spot before. As always, I was far more
effective at raising the energy level at the studio
when I was single.
I sought happiness in my private life,
the studio energy dropped. I was
keenly aware that throughout my
marriage, I had barely lifted a finger to
organize events. I ran the business like a
'business' and let the heart of the
studio - the social side - fend for
It was very ironic.
Whenever I am lonely, I automatically spend more
time with people from the studio. Naturally
the energy picks up. And when I was happy in a
relationship, the studio withered.
This dilemma was straight out of the
Greek myth of Persephone.
Persephone was the
daughter of Demeter, the Greek Goddess
of the Harvest. One day Hades, the
dreaded God of the Underworld, came up
to the surface and snatched Persephone
away. Demeter was so full of grief
that she neglected her duties. The
harvest withered and people were hungry.
They pleaded to Zeus to do something.
So Zeus talked to Hades and persuaded
him to share Persephone with her mother
for half the year.
For the six months
Persephone stayed with Demeter, the
harvests thrived. For the six
months she spent with her husband Hades,
the harvests withered while her mother
wept. This was how the Greeks
explained the Seasons - Summer meant
Demeter was happy, Winter meant Demeter
I felt like I had
a similar dilemma. Whenever I was
alone and miserable, the studio thrived.
Whenever I was in a serious relationship
and happy, the studio withered.
Did it always have to be
lonely for the studio to thrive? There
had to be a middle ground somewhere. But
Chapter Three: Thunderbolt
The first time I
ever heard the term "Thunderbolt" was a scene in the
first Godfather. Michael
Corleone is walking in a Sicilian valley with his
bodyguards when he sees a stunning woman cross his
path. Michael is stupefied. He can't talk. He
can't move. His bodyguard grins and says, "I
think Michael just got hit by the thunderbolt."
I first laid eyes on Marla at SSQQ-Bissonnet as she
walked through Room 2. It was November 2000. I
stopped breathing. I was paralyzed. I had just been
hit by the Thunderbolt. Marla stopped to ask
where Room 4 was. After showing her the way, I
asked for her name.
Later Marla left the studio via Room 2. As she
passed by me, I took advantage of the occasion to
utter some really clever words. "Goodbye, Marla."
I remember taking a deep breath as she left the
building. Marla says she recalls being
surprised I remembered her name, but thought nothing
more of it.
For the rest of
the month, I noticed Marla whenever she walked
through my room. Marla always took my breath away.
I would watch her carefully because she
was so good-looking. However, I was married, so it was
strictly look, don't touch. I have a strict
rule against affairs. That said, it did upset
me how much this woman affected me. It showed
that something was missing in my marriage for my
head to be this easily turned.
And then she
disappeared. I shrugged my shoulders.
Probably just as well. Temptation is a lot
easier to deal with when it is out of sight.
Marla reappeared in March
2001. I walked in a couple minutes late to start my Advanced
Swing class on Sundays. To my complete surprise, there was Marla
standing there in the middle of the room waiting for me along with
the other students. She had just signed up for my class.
My heart immediately began to go pitter-patter.
I had been officially
separated now for two months. I had taken my ski trip in
January and had announced my cruise trip in February. The
uncontested divorce was on track to be finalized in May. Judy
and I had managed to remain friends. Judy not only wanted to
continue to work at the studio, she and I reached an amicable
decision on the division of property. We had decided on joint
custody of Sam.
The only woman in my life
was my daughter Sam, 9. Not surprisingly, my heart ached for
her. What had I done? Sam spent three, sometimes four
nights a week at my house. It was strange not having her
mother around, but the two of us got used to it.
I had no real desire to
begin seeing anyone.
I was still too bitter and grouchy. However,
by the time March rolled around I was forced to admit
I was starting to get lonely. Unfortunately
there was no one I was interested in. That changed with
When I got the
chance, I asked Marla where she had been. Back
in those days, Marla was a sales representative for
a gift line. Marla explained that in January
she had to face a two-week ordeal known as "Market".
However, once the dust settled at her job, she had
decided to resume her dance classes after a three
I secretly hoped that Marla
had taken my dance class because she was interested in me.
After all, Marla was the only woman to actually make me sit up and
take notice. However, to my dismay, during class Marla did not
pay a bit of extra attention to me. Darn it. This wasn't
going to be as easy as I had hoped it would.
My self-confidence had been
too badly damaged by the divorce to even dream of overwhelming her
resistance with my persistence. Thrown for a loss by Marla's
obvious lack of interest, I retreated to my dance teacher role and
spent the rest of March getting to know her during class.
One thing I noticed is that Marla always came to the studio by herself. Nor
did any man meet her at the studio who might have a claim to her
affections. I thought that was
a pretty strong clue that she was unattached.
I soon discovered that Marla had a
smart mouth. I
would tease her and she would tease me right back.
That didn't bother me a bit. She and I would engage in friendly banter during dance
Every time I saw Marla, I liked her even more. I began to
wonder if our easy rapport in dance class would be
just as effective at another level. I decided
to ask her out.
One day at the
end of March, Marla showed up
early for dance class.
On the spot, I decided this
was the chance I needed to make my move. I immediately
nervous. I had not actually officially asked a woman out on a
date in over ten years. This was a big step for me. Let
me add one thing - this was the first time I had considered asking a
woman out on a date without being pretty sure of her response in
ages. Marla was almost a complete stranger to me.
Marla was sitting on a couch in Room Two. I screwed up my
courage and went over to say
hello. As always, Marla smiled and returned the greeting.
There was an open spot on the couch, so I sat down. Now I began my standard "Get to Know You" Interview. What do you do
for a living? How did you get into that line of work?
Oh, you moved here from California? What do you think about
Then I asked what had brought Marla to SSQQ.
In response, Marla dropped a bombshell. Marla told me
her boyfriend Chris had first brought her to the studio a year or so
ears perked up. There was something about the way she said
'boyfriend' that sounded present tense. What boyfriend?
Marla had always come to the studio alone.
One more gentle
question revealed that not only was Chris still in the picture, they had been going together for
Six years? Oh shit. That's a long time.
Actually, that's a really long time. My heart plummeted with
This news was a zinger.
My plans to ask Marla out quickly faded away. I
did my best to disguise my true intentions and withdrew from the
conversation at the next opportunity. I cannot begin to tell
how disappointed I was. Recently divorced, Marla
was the first woman I had met who could stir me out of my doldrums.
But she clearly wasn't available. Damn it.
This was my very first attempt to try dating again and it hadn't
gone very well.
In fact, it was my last attempt as well.
In the nine months between my December separation and the August dance cruise,
this was the only time I actually approached a woman with the
intention of asking her out on a date.
There were several other
attractive women who crossed my path in this time, but Marla was the
only woman I ever considered getting serious with. Once she shot me
down in March - without even knowing she had done so of course - I
just didn't have the enthusiasm to try again. After Marla failed to show interest
during the Interview, I was too weak to pursue her further.
Even worse, I was too hung up on her to open myself up to other
women at the studio.
I continued to simply go through the motions. Every day was just
For one thing, I may have been single, but I wasn't alone. I had a nine year
old daughter who I enjoyed spending my free time with. Joint
custody meant that Sam spent half of every week with me. As I
thought about my daughter Sam, I realized that whomever I brought
into my life would need to click with her as well. For the
time being, it was less
complicated to avoid getting serious about anyone.
However, let's face it. I didn't look at any other woman
seriously because I had a crush on Marla. Unfortunately,
Marla's discouraging news about the boyfriend didn't give me much
hope. My depression over the failed marriage made
me uncertain about what to do next in regards to Marla.
I was completely stuck in the mud.
At first I just threw in
the towel and tried to keep her out of my mind. However, each
week I found myself staring at the door waiting for her to come to
class. If she skipped a class, I would miss her company.
Where was she? It really bugged me that I was attached to
someone who barely knew I existed.
The only reason I continued
to hang in there was the mystery of the missing boyfriend. As the weeks passed, it seemed more and
more odd that her boyfriend never came to
the studio. That was very peculiar. Didn't Chris ever
worry Marla might meet someone? After all, I certainly
wasn't the only person who noticed how pretty she was.
During this time, I began
to obsess over the boyfriend. My instincts told me that this
relationship was on the rocks. But until Marla gave me an
opening, I was too scared to take a chance based on just a hunch.
As the months passed, Marla
made herself at home here at the studio. There were no more
skipped months. Marla had become a regular. She seemed
to be developing a lot of friends. As long as she continued
her classes, I clung to the hope that perhaps Marla might begin to
warm up to me.
Chapter Three - Guess
What I Didn't Know?
had no idea what the real story was about the boyfriend until after
the cruise, I later learned that my instincts had been right all
along. Marla's boyfriend was indeed up to no good.
However Chris was also very clever at covering his tracks. He was
especially good at putting doubt into Marla's mind.
example was New Year's Eve of the Millennium. This was a big
event. Not only was the entire world celebrating the start of
a new 2,000 year cycle, there was an outside chance things could get
very weird if the Y2K phenomenon proved to be correct. This
was not a night anyone wanted to be alone.
He called early in the evening to report a serious headache.
He was going to take some sleeping pills to alleviate the pain.
Marla spent the night home alone. Chris didn't answer
the phone when she called. Later he said he was sound asleep
from the medication. Draw your own conclusions.
This wasn't the only suspicious
moment. There were several of them.
Marla continued to suspect that Chris was up
to no good, but she just couldn't seem to
find any hard evidence. They lived 40 miles
apart, so it wasn't that easy for Marla to
keep tabs on the guy. The one time she
tried to surprise him, there he was in his
house alone just like he was supposed to be.
Marla had too much pride to continue to play
Marla was unable to make
sense of the string of curious moments and
lame excuses. Chris was such a smooth
talker, Marla wasn't sure if this wasn't
just her imagination. A worrier by
nature, Marla could not get her brain to
quit sending her all these warning signals.
took place several months before I met
Marla. Frustrated by the continual mystery,
she worried herself into a tizzy.
Finally she couldn't take it any more.
She was so beset with self-doubt, Marla
sought out a therapist named Chuck Gray.
Chuck is the brother of John Gray, famous
for writing the Venus and Mars
like coincidences? I know Chuck very
well. Back in the Eighties, Chuck was
one of my dance students. Not only did
we play chess together, we played volleyball
all the time. Throughout the
mid-Eighties Chuck was a card-carrying
member of the SSQQ in-crowd. Best of
all, Chuck met his wife Laurie here at the
turned out, Marla did the right thing.
Chuck is a pretty good therapist in his own
right. Slowly but surely, Chuck helped
Marla get her head back together. However,
he gave Marla some curious advice. Chuck
suggested that Marla remain in the
relationship a while longer. After all, she
still had no hard evidence of treachery.
Furthermore, it made no sense to toss a
six-year relationship down the drain without
a good reason. Chuck saw enough
potential in that relationship that it might
rekindle. Either way, Chuck figured
the truth would bubble to the surface soon
Marla agreed with Chuck.
She said she would stick with Chris a while
longer, but added she was also going to
start taking dance lessons at SSQQ.
Pretty soon her daughter Marissa, a senior
in high school, would be leaving for
college. Then what? She
was tired of being alone all the time.
Dancing sounded like a fun way to get out of
the house during the week.
Chuck's eyes grew large. He said, "I
don't know that is such a good idea, Marla.
You are still very vulnerable and there are
a lot of predatory guys who hang out there."
As a side note, when Marla later told me
that anecdote way down the road, I flinched.
Ouch! I didn't know if Chuck was
thinking about me or if he had someone else
in mind. For that matter, he could
just as easily been thinking about some of
the go-getter guys from his own glory days
at the studio fifteen years earlier.
I was surprised by what Chuck said, but
decided not to take the gibe personally.
Over the years, many therapists have told me
they tell their clients just the opposite.
They say that SSQQ is one of the safest
places in town to send their walking
wounded. One therapist said she
thought of SSQQ as a sort of halfway house
for the newly divorced and recently broken
up. A dance class gave people a chance
to get to know one another. She
believed SSQQ was a good place because a
woman could be around men without being in a
high pressure situation like a bar or a
Be that as it may,
Marla decided to ignore Chuck's advice.
She began taking lessons at the studio in
late 2000. If Chuck ever reads this
story, I would tell him not to worry about
it. Marla doesn't listen to anything I
After Marla concluded
her time with Chuck, Marla also decided to
stay in the relationship. Considering
the man's suspicious behavior, why did Marla
Probably because the
relationship was convenient for her.
The two people had been drifting away for
some time, but there was still a lot of
warmth between them. At this point,
the relationship had become a part-time gig.
Marla saw Chris maybe once during the week
and on weekends. The rest of time Marla was
free to keep odd hours at her sales rep job,
be a Mom to her daughter, love her dog, and
go to dance class when she wanted some
company. Marla may have just been
going through the motions, but she wasn't
So yes, although I was
blind to the truth, my instincts were
correct. I was indeed sensing Marla's
growing indifference to Chris. I
believed Marla was adrift, but I just didn't
know it for sure. Unfortunately, in my
post-divorce blues I was too full of
self-doubt to trust my instincts. I
was scared to death my impressions were just
wishful thinking... especially since Marla
never offered any encouragement.
was vulnerable. I was much too
depressed to risk taking any chances.
I wasted a golden opportunity because I
you have it… two people who were just going
through the motions, but weren't doing
anything about it.
I made my half-hearted move
to ask Marla out in late March only to give up at the mention of her
boyfriend. Unbeknownst to me, the exact same week Marla's friends from dance class invited her
to meet them at a dance club known as The Hop out in
North Houston. Marla enjoyed Swing dancing. So on a
weekday night she drove over to meet up with eight
people from her class.
After an hour of solid
dancing, Marla needed a restroom break. By chance, there was a
fortune teller at the back of the room. As Marla left the restroom,
she passed right by the gypsy.
Oh, what the heck, why not? Marla sat down for a
The gypsy said, "You have a choice between two paths. You are
in a relationship that brings you sorrow. However, there is a good
chance that this relationship will begin to work again.
I also see you taking a
journey. If you take this journey, your life will be changed
forever. On this journey, you will meet the man you will spend the
rest of your life with."
Marla's jaw dropped open. Omigosh! Did this woman really say
that! Upon further probing, the gypsy said that Marla's
fortune was not predetermined. Marla would have a choice.
Either path had promise.
The final thing the gypsy
said was that if she did take that journey, Marla already knew the
Marla was stunned. Her heart was racing. What kind of
insanity is this?
Of course Marla understood that this was probably total
hogwash. "I see you taking a trip. You will meet a
tall dark stranger…"
However, there was an eeriness about the woman's words that
left her deeply unsettled. What the gypsy said hit
much too close to home for Marla's comfort. Marla saw
that other people were waiting, so she thanked the woman and
returned to her table. More than slightly rattled,
Marla told her Swing friends about the gypsy.
They all laughed.
On the spot, each guy said he was certain it was him and
revealed their heretofore secret intention to be on that
cruise. The fact that three guys all made the same
revelation simultaneously brought on another round of
Marla smiled at the
joking, but in a private corner of her mind, she couldn't shake
that weird feeling. They say there is more to this world than
meets the eye. Could it be true?
Did this gypsy woman just
read her mind?
How could this woman know she had an unhappy
relationship? Furthermore, by coincidence, Marla had already been
thinking about taking a certain trip.
That was uncanny.
As Marla glanced
again to stare at the fortune teller in the back of the
room, she wondered if the woman actually did have a gift of
On the way home, Marla could not take her mind
off this dance cruise she had seen advertised at SSQQ.
Marla had a deep love of travel.
Travel was one of her favorite hobbies.
One of her earlier jobs as an apparel buyer had taken her to Asia on
many occasions. Other trips had taken her to every part of the
USA and to Germany.
Marla loved adventures.
In addition, Marla
enjoyed cruises. In fact, she had already taken
in her pre-SSQQ days. Given her love of travel,
it was no surprise that the SSQQ cruise had already
caught her eye.
The gypsy said she already
knew the person she would meet on the trip. Recently one of
the men in her dance class had begun to interest her. Marla
was sure this had to be the guy the gypsy was talking about.
When she got home, Marla turned on
her computer and went straight to the "Who
is Going" list of passengers on the 2001 SSQQ Cruise. The trip would
eventually see 101 people take the trip, but at this point there
were 50 names. Marla scanned the
list and frowned. The guy she had her eye on was not on the list.
She looked again. Not only was the guy she was interested in NOT on
the list, she didn't recognize a single name on the list.
Disappointed, she looked one more time. Nope.
No one there. Then
she had a thought that perked up her hopes. Maybe
he had not signed up yet! Even
better, if she signed up first, maybe he would notice and sign up
too! That thought cheered her up, so
she turned off her computer and went to bed.
As the screen turned to black, not once had
Marla noticed the first name on the list. My
name was invisible.
The next day, Marla
signed up for the cruise. The cruise was four months away.
Chapter Four - A Ray
It was now early
April. I passively
sat around brooding what to do about Marla.
Then one day came a breakthrough… or so I thought.
To my surprise, about a
week after my ill-fated "Interview", my travel
agent reported someone named Marla had just signed
up for the August dance cruise. My eyes
widened. No kidding?
I assumed this nugget had just confirmed my
instincts that Marla really did have one foot out
the door. I immediately decided to try again. The next time I saw Marla, I
welcomed her to the upcoming cruise. I used this
opportunity to chat with her a little longer than
usual. To my astonishment, Marla acted like it
was no big deal. There was no breakup that I could
Confused, I fell back on a ploy to get more
information. "You know, Marla, we have more women
than men on this trip. Is there any chance
your boyfriend will be signing up?"
Marla shook her head and said she doubted it.
In a matter-of-fact tone, Marla said they
occasionally took trips on their own. Since Chris
didn't care much for dancing, she just thought it
might be fun to go by herself and hang out with her
I was flabbergasted. If ever there was a time for
Marla to reveal a rift in the relationship, this was
it. No such luck. I detected not even a
hint of rancor. My hopes dashed, I walked away
rather than let my disappointment show.
ridiculous. I wasn't getting anywhere.
Cat and Mouse
For the next couple
months, Marla and I would briefly chat about the
cruise whenever she came to class once a week.
Now that she was on the cruise, I had an easy
opening for our talks.
like Chris entered every conversation.
Invariably, Marla would bring him up, usually in
response to some indirect question I asked.
Every time we spoke, not once did I sense a strong
commitment to her boyfriend. During our
conversations, I could tell he was still in
the picture, but I also noticed there was never any
enthusiasm in her voice. I was positive
something was wrong. Unfortunately, to my
consternation, Marla never once explained why he
wasn't coming on the trip or hinted that they were
having problems. I was baffled, confused,
unsure, and perplexed... plus any other adjectives
that mean the same thing.
always believed that if a woman was interested in
me, she would find a way to send up a smoke signal.
Marla was always friendly towards me, always warm,
but it was a 'formal warmth'. Not once did she ever signal any interest in me.
baffled by her distance. In
the past, if
I was interested in a woman, she
was interested too. Not Marla.
I could tell Marla barely knew I existed.
I was her dance teacher and
that was it.
faint heart ne'er wins fair maiden, but
when it comes to women, I don't like taking big risks.
conflicted state of mind, I wasn't about to drop to one knee and
declare undying love for a woman who had never
even given me the time of
refused to make a bold move towards Marla without at least a little
I saw no
choice but to play this cat and mouse game to protect myself.
I refused to go beyond the gentle chats. Unfortunately, my
superficial banter revealed little. I remained completely in the
dark as to her status.
hated the fact that my crush was completely
one-sided. I should have given up,
As long as her boyfriend continued to stay out of
sight, my unfed hopes continued to simmer
softly in the darkness.
looking for a break. Since Marla
didn't push me away during our little chats, I felt
safe approaching her at every opportunity.
I kept thinking one day Marla would let something
slip that would allow me to pry a little deeper.
I was dying to
ask, "Why are you on the
cruise alone, but continuing to mention your
boyfriend? Why isn't he going too?"
However, Marla never once gave me any opening
to dig deeper nor did she drop any
hint that she could ever be interested in me.
I would roll my eyes in exasperation. These
talks were going nowhere.
This went on for
four full months.
Every conversation was an exercise in frustration for me.
Each week I would see Marla and each week I would
try some subtle way to see if the boyfriend was still in the
Each week Marla would reconfirm his status. And each
week I would crawl back behind my mask and stick to my role as dance
I don’t know
if you could say I played my cards right or not, but I did manage to
fool Marla. The entire time Marla had
absolutely no idea that I had a huge crush on her.
wanted to avoid at all costs letting Marla see
how hurt I was in case there was no possible hope of interest on her part.
I was much too vulnerable to be taking any chances. To
avoid any awkwardness, I kept my questions superficial and
did my best not to tip my hand.
From what I gather,
I did a pretty good job of hiding my intentions. Marla
would later say she thought I was just being friendly. During the months
of my three minute talks, Marla had the impression that I
was being professional. It made perfect sense to
show interest in a dance student who was also a member of the trip. In other
words, I was being a businessman.
told, she was right. I definitely used that role as a
keep tabs on her without risking anything.
It was now
June 2001. My divorce was final in May. I was starting
to get some of my old confidence back.
Some of the
ladies at the studio had decided I had put enough time between my
breakup and now. They had started to ask me to dance with them
and seemed to enjoy their trip around the floor in my arms. I
had a hunch that all I had to do was say the word and my life as a
Solitary Man would come to an end.
we always want what we can't have. Mind you, Marla wasn't
playing hard to get. Actually, she wasn't playing at all.
Yes, she didn't flirt with me, but then she didn't appear to be
flirting with any of the other guys either. Marla wasn't even
in the game.
A couple of
the ladies at the studio were starting to turn my head. It
dawned on me that if Marla truly wasn't interested, maybe it was
time to move on. But first I had to give it one last chance.
if one cue, one night in June, Marla
showed up an hour early for class. Her work day had ended
early. It was easier to come sit at the studio than drive all
the way home and back again.
The moment I saw her walk in, I was instantly on edge. This was the
night. Enough cat and mouse. It was time to quit fishing and ask a more direct
Marla sat down on a couch in Room Two. I went over and sat
down next to her. Usually I sat on the arm of the couch, but we had
enough time to warrant a more comfortable pose. Marla said hi
and I returned the greeting. As usual, I began the
conversation by telling her what number we were up to on the cruise.
Marla smiled at my obvious pride in the total.
After some pleasantries, I
gulped and plunged forward. No more beating around the bush. "I have a question to ask you. I am curious why your boyfriend isn't
coming on the trip. After all, we could definitely use a few
Ah, the art of the
innocent... and totally bullshit... question. This was the
second time I had used the same approach.
Marla frowned for a second.
Then she replied, "Well, he has no interest in dance. I
don't think he would have much fun."
That was an interesting
answer, but it didn't reveal anything.
"Won't he miss you?"
"Chris just got back from
trip to France with his rugby team. Now it's my turn. He doesn't worry about me at all."
My heart sank. This was not the answer I wanted to hear.
I wanted her to say this trip was a fiery demonstration of her new
independence. But the way she said it, it sounded like Chris was
so secure in their relationship that he could care less. I
frowned. What a lucky guy. Any man who didn't worry
about losing Marla to a sea of potential Romeos was a confident man
there, I lost my patience. This was hopeless. Marla was simply not
available. End of story. Accept it and move on.
Right in the middle of our talk,
without another word, I got up
and abruptly walked away. I was angry I had behaved
Meanwhile, I left Marla
staring at me in confusion. Did she say something to
offend me? Marla had no idea what was going on.
All she knew was that, as usual, I had talked to her for three
minutes and then bounced off to go talk to someone else.
Except that this time I seemed intense about something. Oh
Chapter Five - Soul Searching
For the remainder
of June, I did my best to forget about Marla. Over the
July 4th week, I took my daughter Sam on a trip to
Washington DC to see some of her long-lost relatives and to
visit Johns Hopkins, my alma mater, in Baltimore.
When I returned to
the studio in July, I continued to see Marla once a week in
class. However I didn't talk to her quite as much.
I told myself I had given up on my crush, but who's fooling
who? I still watched her like a hawk whenever she was
around. I wanted to see if she was pursuing any of the
men at the studio. From what I could tell, she didn't
give anyone much of an opening. That was good enough
for me. If I couldn't have her, I didn't want any
other guy at the studio to have her either.
It helped that I
was getting distracted. Judging by the increased
attention I was getting from the ladies, apparently the
"waiting period" on me was nearly over. Since my separation back in
December, the women at the studio had kept a pretty
wide berth. I was considered radioactive. The thinking
was that surely the first woman stupid enough to get close to me would go
up in smoke. The cynics suggested it would be better
to let some foolhardy woman be the first to incur my wrath
and let me get it out of my system, then move in.
I didn't blame the women at all. In fact, I
completely understood. Let's face it, I was damaged goods. I had failed
in two marriages. I had a well-known temper, a sarcastic
tongue, and tendency to be very moody. When I was in a
good mood, I was an interesting guy, but "complicated" as
one woman explained it to me. Plus no one had any idea
how long I would be in a good mood. I had a thin skin
and little patience for criticism. One wrong word at
the studio and I could be grouchy for the rest of the night.
I was like an old house. With a little fixing up, I
might be worth something, but it was going to take a lot of
It was all true. Despite trying hard in both marriages, I was
obviously no Prince Charming. I was angry at myself, I was
angry at women, and angry at the world. I was in a "Never Fall in
Love Again" mood. I was cynical about
life in general and certain that I wasn't ready for
I decided to quit worrying about Marla's mysterious love life.
There would be other women on the cruise. Yes, I had some
anger towards women and trust issues, but then what divorced guy
my age didn't? Maybe one would take pity on me.
At least I had a few things
going for me. Some women thought I was funny. I had an
education. I was
athletic and I could dance. Once
in a while I could even be outgoing. As one woman put it, I
was worth a
second look on the resale shelf. Besides, there were ten more
women than men on the cruise. With those kind of odds, surely
some woman would take a chance on me if only for a few days.
How much damage could I do in five days?
I might be on the rebound, but
the odds were in my favor I could
find one woman who would smile back. I hated giving up, but thinking
about Marla wasn't getting me anywhere.
apparently some of my old charisma had returned. As
July progressed, every time I entered the studio, the ladies
at the studio welcomed me with more smiles. For the
first time, I began to flirt back. I was surrounded by
women wherever I went at the studio or at the dance clubs.
deliberately kept the ladies at arm's length. I had
absolutely no desire to get back into a relationship yet,
mainly because there wasn't one lady I liked more than the
other. The attention I was getting was plenty enough
for me. And so that is how it stayed for July.
Never Make Your Move Too Soon
It was August now.
One day I could not get Marla out of my
mind. I was amazed to discover that
hope really does spring eternal.
Despite four months of disappointment, I
still carried a torch for this woman.
Now that I had put a month between me and my
temper tantrum back in June, I realized I
to make a play for Marla
or I would never forgive myself. This
upcoming cruise presented a golden
uncertainly about the unseen
boyfriend situation still
continued to irk me
no end. But I had to to get to the
bottom of the mystery.
If only for my own peace
of mind, I had to know what the truth was.
Based on snippets of conversation, Marla
seemingly had a boyfriend with more
self-confidence than any man I had ever met.
If I couldn't have Marla for myself, I
wanted the secret of his hold on Marla as a
maybe, as I suspected, this whole thing was
bullshit. There was a part of me that
refused to believe Marla was as nearly as
attached to this Chris guy as her party line
Furthermore, I was ready
to compete head to head. Now that I
had regained most of my confidence, I knew that just
because Marla had a boyfriend didn't mean it was
hopeless. I understood that an attractive woman like
Marla would always have other men competing for her
At this point, it wasn't a fear of Chris the mystery man
that held me back. It was Marla's
obvious lack of interest in me
That's what kept me frozen in my tracks. For crying
out loud, woman, can't you just wiggle your finger or
No such luck. Not once did Marla flirt with me or give me any
encouragement to ask her out.
One day I began to
wonder if Marla was 'Old School'. Maybe she was the
kind of woman who would never dream of making the first
move. Here I was waiting for her to wink at me; what
if she was waiting for me to wink at her?
I took a deep
breath. That was the only thing that made any sense.
At some point I would have to make the first move.
it wasn't like I had turned on the charm
yet. Covertly watching a girl from across
the room wasn't exactly the
most direct way of
announcing my intentions. I knew at some
point I would have to fight for her.
Not yet. All
these contradictions still had me way off-balance. The signals were definitely crossed. I couldn't decide
whether to listen to my brain or to
longer Chris stayed out the picture, the
more convinced I became that Marla was available
whether she knew it or not. But I had never before
pursued a woman without encouragement before.
What were my
My attraction to Marla was no accident.
I thought I was a good match for her. Marla definitely seemed to enjoy talking to me. Plus
we always joked with each other during class. She
liked crossing swords with me. Our repartee was worthy
of a good Tracy and Hepburn movie. We had a similar sense
of sarcasm that made some people think we were fighting when
we were really playing. I could tell Marla was just as smart as she was pretty.
Plus Marla always handled herself in such a dignified,
classy way. Who wouldn't be attracted to her?
The weirdest thing
Marla was this singles cruise. That is what really
kept me dangling. What contented woman with a steady boyfriend takes a singles
cruise? I racked my mind for explanations.
A new idea crossed
my mind, one I wasn't particularly fond of. Maybe they
had an open relationship. Maybe they had an
'understanding' that allowed each other to pursue other
people, especially if it was done in walks of life that
I actually gave
that serious thought because it was one explanation that
could explain some of the mysteries. That would
explain why Chris had never been seen at the studio.
However, I discounted this theory because Marla had not once
shown any interest in any man at the studio, much less me.
Whatever she was up
to, Marla did not seem to be shopping for a man. If
Marla was a vamp, she was incredibly discrete about it.
And what was Chris
thinking? What man in his right mind lets a woman who looks like Marla
take a singles cruise alone? That made absolutely no
sense. Besides me, there would be 30 other single men on that trip.
I could guarantee every single one of them would ask Marla
to dance at some point.
I have heard that
ladies men have a casual, almost indifferent approach to
women that drive women mad with passion. Their
complete lack of possessiveness guarantees a faithfulness
that defies the imagination to ordinary men like me.
However, I have never actually met a man like that.
Maybe Chris was the prototype.
I am not nearly as
trusting. If it was true that the ocean has the power
to bring out a woman's romantic side, then that was one test
of loyalty I would never dream of permitting with a woman I
Who could forget
Deborah Kerr, a nice girl if there was one, swooning all
over Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember?
By the end of that cruise, Deborah had ditched the man she
was engaged to. If Chris had an ounce of common sense,
exposing Marla to temptation didn't seem very prudent.
On the other hand,
I took inspiration. Cary Grant just happened to be my
favorite actor. If he could steal a babe like Deborah
Kerr from a millionaire nice guy, maybe there was hope for
I decided that here
land, given all my uncertainty,
my chances of prying this woman away from the
mystery boyfriend were so-so at best.
The ocean was a
different story. Out at sea, I
Marla all to myself.
I would have four full
days and nights to make my move. If
it was true what they say about those sea breezes,
ocean motion and full moons at night, maybe Marla would finally let down her
guard and smile at me.
I decided to wait
for the cruise at the end of the month.
As they say,
never make your move too soon. The
percentage play was to wait for the perfect opportunity.
The cruise ship
would be powerful turf for me indeed.
As the leader of the cruise group
and quite the dancer, I figured I
had at least a few advantages going for me.
assumed I had enough
credibility that once I finally got around to
revealing my interest, Marla would at least grant me
At least I hoped she would.
Barring some dramatic development
like Marla suddenly
sitting down in my lap, I decided to bide my
time. Three weeks wasn't
too long to wait.
It was now early August. The cruise was two weeks
away. One day Marla phoned me out of the blue.
Immediately my pulse began to race. We had never
talked on the phone before. What was this all about?
Marla had phoned to say she
needed my help. She was going
to Miami with her boyfriend this coming weekend, That was
just seven days before the cruise. Marla wanted a private lesson for her boyfriend to learn to dance to Salsa music. They wanted
to visit a Salsa club in Miami. Marla added that she hoped I would teach the lesson.
This unexpected development was a kick in the stomach.
This guy was so much more in the picture than I had previously
realized! Now he was even willing to learn to dance. I was so lost in my disappointment, I didn't know
what to say. There was no way I was going to do
this lesson. Why beat my head against the wall?
I wasn't about to sit
there for an hour teaching her boyfriend and going nuts with jealousy!
There was no possible way I could hide my feelings under
those circumstances. I knew I had a crush on Marla,
but at least I had not made a fool of
myself. The crush was still my little secret, but it
wouldn't stay a secret for long with me pining for her.
After I politely referred Marla to another instructor, I
sat back and frowned.
For the past four months I had operated under the
assumption that Marla was using the cruise trip to hit the
Exit Door. I had been hoping that Marla
was hanging on by a thread to this guy. But now, unfortunately, this Miami phone call changed everything. Marla's
phone call indicated her relationship was alive and well.
I was stunned.
Marla was flying to Miami for a romantic weekend just one
week before our cruise! Now every
remaining hope was dashed. As the cruise approached, I
moped around the house. I was very depressed.
Marla's trip with her boyfriend had put the final damper on
my dreams. Damn it, this really stung. I was