Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jo, Then-and-Now

Thank you, Cheryl, for a great blog post idea.

Jo was one of the dancers I grew close to during our first contract on board the Fair Princess. I believe she may have the been the one to re-christen the tiny and outdated ship as the 'Fair Bucket.' At nineteen, she was the youngest in our cast and I was the oldest, at age 26. We shared a special bond during our seven-and-a-half months at sea.

That bond was almost ruined at the very beginning, by me. I was physically attracted to Jo right from the start, during rehearsals. How could anyone not be, with her blonde hair and blue eyes? Back then, I was still involved in a support group for ex-gay ministry. I still thought it was realistic for me to pursue relationships with women. I could very well have made things very awkward for Jo and me.

Thank God I didn't. We were suitably matched in our friendship, the baby of our group, and me, the biggest kid-at-heart. When I remember Jo from back then, I think about how we bounced around the comfy love seats of the ship's show lounge during late night rehearsals, behaving like naughty children jumping on the bed. I picture her dancing in the rain on the back deck as the ship was leaving the humid port of Cartagena. We had been caught in a sudden and welcome cloud burst and instead of ducking indoors, most of our little group just let the raindrops soak our white cruise staff shorts and polo shirts. We were silly with happiness, and so we danced and jumped up and down in the rain, like young children.

At night, with neither smog nor city lights out at sea, we had an unblocked view of the stars on the back deck, right outside of our dressing room. Jo and I had shared a warm, wonderful evening between shows, staring in awe at the stars, contemplating the universe at large, and sharing whatever was on our minds and in our hearts at the moment.

I said good-bye to Jo in early '93, at the end of our contract. I still admired her lovely beauty, but I loved her like a close sister-friend, and I knew that I always would. A few years after that, I saw Jo and most of our cast mates at a friend's wedding in Scotland. It was a wonderful few days, but not nearly long enough.

Almost a decade after our trip to Scotland, Jo and her husband stopped by for a whirlwind visit in Los Angeles. We spent a precious few hours together, catching up over the course of one afternoon. We had a good laugh when we both confessed that we had each been mentally prepared for the other to have put on some weight and to have aged a bit. Neither of us had changed much, so maybe it was also laughter of relief - for our respective vanities!

I know I have gotten a little heavier since then. Recent photos are only too willing to prove that. I know that I look older too - I look like my mom! And I am okay with that. Jo, though, has still hardly aged, as we all saw at the reunion. She looks better, in fact. And she's still dancer-thin, and that's after having had a baby.

There's more to tell about Jo, but I'll save some for future posts. Like the time I was trying to amuse her with one of the classics from Kids' Greatest Hits:

Let's go on a safari inside my sister's nose
Maybe we'll find treasure like we did between her toes.

Jo did not laugh. She merely looked at the other girls and said, "I shall never again think of 26 as being old." Neither shall I, now that I'm in my forties.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Functional - and Fun! - Family

We were a family all those years ago when we first worked together as a team. The cruise ship contract was the first job away from home for most of us and we became surrogate family members to and for each other very quickly. Nine months of rehearsals and performances and working together as cruise staff ("Join Jill on the Lido Deck for an exciting game of shuffleboard!") was a bonding experience like no other.

The reunion in England last week was fulfilling. The same loving and supportive chemistry was evident among our group of nine. Instead of booking a hotel, we stayed in an old, lovely country-style home with several rooms, located right on a marina. We stayed in mostly, making meals together from the food that had been ordered and delivered to the house, cleaning up together, and watching DVD's of our shows (transferred from ancient VHS tapes) in the living room with six couches.

The weather was perfect. We had sunshine everyday. I didn't use my umbrella once, or even the pair of gloves I had packed. White apple blossom petals were blowing in the breezes and yellow daffodils dotted the green hillsides. The English dancers teased this California boy for wearing his coat inside the slightly chilly (to me) kitchen.

All five of the women in our group have children, now, most of who were able to join us for part of the weekend along with a couple of the husband/fathers (the house was huge, there was plenty of room). After observing my former dance partners interacting with their children, I joked about how we dancer boys had been their practice children while we had been on the ship.

Maybe it's true. We needed a lot of attention back then, being dancers/actors/performer types (read: insecure). It felt good to see us all slide back into our familiar roles of family and friendship with each other, as if we had been apart for only a few months and not sixteen years. Even Jeanette, our former line captain, was still like the mother of our small group, being willing to organise and delegate any small tasks. Grantly was like our dad, taking an abundance of pictures of everyone hugging each other in our first joyful evening together and building a cozy fire every night in the living room.

We were a family once again for a few days, laughing over memories forgotten and brought up by others in the group. A few cathartic tears were even shed over emotional hardships from recent years. In our familiar and comforting chemistry with each other, we were all able to let our respective guards down and restrengthen the mutual bonds.

We were a family all those years ago, three American boys, four British girls, an Englishman, and one bonnie lass from Scotland. And we will continue to be so as much as we can, online and at the next reunion already being planned.