Naked, Sandy and Slightly Afraid
It’s 9pm on a Saturday. Joel and I sit on the couch in the shared common room of a North Queensland hostel. I tilt my head back and close my eyes, remembering a night four years ago when I was just 18 years old, drunk in one of my hometown nightclubs.
“After that it all went black.”
I’m retelling the story of the time I got drugged – roofied to be specific. After meeting two strangers on the dancefloor, my friend and I sat in a booth as they shared their drinks with us. That was the last moment of the night I remember. Eight hours later, I was tucked into bed vomiting into a bucket and wondering what exactly transpired in those hours I spent completely unaware of my own body.
I’ll admit Joel takes the story quite well. He nods and raises his eyebrows in sympathy, laces his fingers with mine and poetically says, “That sucks.”
Honestly, not the least inspired reaction I’ve had.
Just two hours after this slightly wine-drunk confession, we move from the ratty hostel couch to a deserted beach. Save for the waning iPhone flashlight Joel is using to light our path through the sand, the darkness is all-consuming.
“I guess you could murder me out here and nobody would know,” I joke.
Joel looks over at me and laughs, shaking his head as he continues walking further down the beach, tugging me along by the hand.
In the four years since I was drugged and later picked up semi-conscious from the 16th floor of an apartment building, I’ve been cautious to avoid putting myself in vulnerable situations. That is, apparently, until now.
Maybe it’s the fuck-it-I’m-on-holiday mindset that’s found me on a secluded beach at night with a man I met mere hours ago, or perhaps it’s the seven months of celibacy I uniquely claimed as “self-love” that’s fuelling my need to have sex with a hot stranger at any cost. Regardless of the motive, this is where I have found myself.
We make it 100 metres further down the beach and Joel and I finally choose a spot to set up camp. He ties a hammock with rope across two trees as I climb in with the grace of a drunken toddler. Finally, he starts to kiss me, the faint scent of Aeroguard setting the precedent for an incredibly erotic evening.
Struggling to manoeuvre around each other in the built-for-one hammock, I resign myself to the only comfortable position I can muster. Tragically, it is one that necessitates all of my clothes remaining on my body. Even so, we manage to frantically make out, tongues and teeth clashing like two 15-year-olds in the back row of a movie theatre.
Kissing Joel feels like kissing anyone. It feels the same as my very first: on a hill outside of my eighth-grade classroom. And it feels the same as my last: in the middle of a crowded bar.
In fact, being with him entirely has this numbing effect. In the three short hours we have known each other, I’ve found myself looking into his face as he speaks, looking and not listening as his confused half-accent trails off into the air.
Dragging me back to Earth is Joel’s hands on the small of my back. Finally fed up with our limited ability to move, he suggests we take the party back to the car.
We pack up our beach-camp set up, discovering two groups of young families seated just a minute’s walk away from us, their wide eyes accusatory as we hurry past looking down at our feet.
In the relative privacy of Joel’s back seat, we continue in a flurry of discarded clothing, laughing intermittently as we bump our heads on the felt ceiling or our knees against the door handles.
Naked and sharing our breath is where I finally begin to panic, tasting the wine I’d drunk earlier on my tongue. I start to feel again, the numbness of Joel’s company fading. I notice now how dark it is outside of the car’s front windshield, the humidity of the air, and just how quiet it has become.
The confidence I’d carried with me from the hostel to this faraway beach is slipping, and I remember now to be scared. Scared like they taught you in school: teachers telling you not to go home with strangers. Scared like the girls you met in the bathroom of a club: telling you to watch your drink.
Joel does not scare me. He tucks the stray strands of my hair behind my ear and kisses me softly on the jaw. But it is not really about him at all, nor had it been for the night so far.
This is (incredibly egotistically) about me. It’s the memory of being in the passenger seat of an Uber, the driver’s eyes trailing carelessly up my bare leg. It’s a walk to my car at night where I was tapped on the shoulder as I inserted my key by a man who’d followed me for the past four blocks. It’s the fun little trauma anecdote I flash like a party trick: drugged and unconscious in a hotel suite.
These memories are where the fear sits. It’s trigger-happy when it sees me in a city far from home, child-locked in the backseat of local boy’s car.
Joel smiles at me and the panic settles. He trails a finger across my collarbone and I’m back to the solid ground of the car seat. I notice the way the seatbelt buckle digs into my thigh and feel safe again, swept up in the realisation that I am happy and having fun, and that the fear is simply memories.
It’s midnight now. Joel plays with the knobs on the dashboard until the mist on his car windscreen starts to dissipate. We drive back in silence and I memorise the little details for later: the mosquito bites on my ankles and the way his teeth felt against my bottom lip.
When I’m delivered home, I’ll tell this story to my friends. They will cheer and laugh and never once say, “What if?” out loud for fear of what would follow. I, too, will avoid the thought: the rabbit hole of what could have been after a night with a man I barely knew.
Instead, I will remember those small things. I will smile and text him and say, “Thanks for not butchering me and leaving my body in a ditch.”