Valencia/Jerusalem. Given my choice of spending a sober morning on the Valencia beach or getting drunk at 9am with my friend from college while she discussed her alarmingly unhappy married life, I opted for the former and cheerily offered a compromise.
"Why don't we go to the beach and get some beers on the water? My treat!??"
She took the bait, but hesitated and sighed.
"Oh, but I haven't shaved in months. I guess I'll have to do that."
Of course, I had already noticed that her body hair seemingly had a fight with a disposable Bic razor many months ago, and the body hair apparently won. Poor thing. I deliberately silenced the parts of me that have been emotionally sculpted and tweezed by the vanity of my Italian mother and the many years of fully absorbing and decidedly embracing an extremely straight-and-narrow approach to my own physicality. Self-aware of my more meticulous delusions, I gently silenced the voice that wondered how a woman can get married let alone stay married without keeping her nether regions in top condition at all times? With all of my heart, I meant no disrespect to women's equality in the bedroom or elsewhere, but, seriously?--whatever happened to...self care? (When it was obvious that my friend is going through such a depressing and terrible time?)
The following morning, as we settled down on the bed sheet next to the Mediterranean, my friend caught sight of my immaculate bikini line and commented that I was "ready for action". When I assured her that, no, in fact, my grooming habits fell beyond the fray of "action", she raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Yet, when I casually told her that I found a nice lady in Jerusalem who does brazilian waxes for $12, she jerked up in absolute wonderment.
"What the hell, Namaste? Aren't you living, like, in the middle of Jesus land? Aren't people too religious to do that kind of stuff in Israel? I thought they were all frumpy and g-d fearing??"
"Ohhhhhh nooooooo," I assured her with a laugh. "Trust me, I found this lady who can wax just about anything. She seriously laughs while she's doing it because she thinks it's so much fun. I think it gives her a thrill to get paid to rip the hair out of people every day. And the Arab women wax EVERYTHING...including their ARM HAIR!"
"But you have to be careful," I warned her from one harrowing experience in Tel Aviv two years ago, "If you go to a Russian waxer and she's blond, then you need to keep your pants on and leave right away. The blond ones don't know a thing about body hair, and I can tell you this from experience. There was one woman who honestly violated me once, and I swear to you, I nearly punched her!! But the dark Russian ones are the best. Actually, a dark Russian or an Arab woman is the only way to go."
"So, which one do you have--Russian or Arab?", she asked.
"Oh, my lady is a dark Russian who speaks very little Hebrew and no English. She's the BEST. And I have to say that at first, I was a little scared that she might burn me with her cigarette when she stuck her face down there, because...you know...it was still in her mouth?--But now I completely trust her to ash between my legs and never burn me--even with the wax."
"Wow," my friend replied.
We sat in silence for a minute on the beach in Valencia. Two girls from Virginia. One married, one not. One living in paradise in a deep state of depression, and the other living in a deeply desperate place as if it were paradise.
As I listened to my friend carry on about her marriage and the state of her life at the moment, I couldn't help but wonder if I was in Spain because of her, or if she is in Spain because of me? Looking back at the last 12 years of our friendship, it concerned me if maybe I was the one she sought to emulate? I wondered if she made the decision to take such a blind leap of faith by marrying a man from another country who she hardly knew as the kind of decision that she thought would impress me? Or, at the very least, the sort of thing that I might possibly do or remotely dream of doing with envy? Of course, I realized that this is only what people think when they do not know or understand my deep pragmatism and ability to always have an escape plan, no matter who it is, and no matter who I love...but, of course, I would never use this to judge myself against anyone, let alone my friend. After all, I know I am completely crazy, and entirely hard to hold onto, and I am content to just leave it at that.
I listened and sat back in an effort to put myself in her shoes for a minute. I rationalized that love is irrational. We cannot fixedly control the ones who find their way into our hearts. But I can say that cycles of abuse are more irrational than the so-called love that brought us to the door. Silently, as I gazed down at my healthy body and conventional single girl bikini line, I realized that the equally conventional "green grass" of marriage and "happily ever after" may not be my end-game after all.
"Wow," my friend said after another long, exhausted silence.
"Wow, what?," I asked through a sip of flat beer.
"Wow...I think you can say that you are truly a woman of the world when you can comfortably let a Russian woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth to wax your junk."
Making a joke was her way of changing the subject.
"Yeah, I guess you're right!," I laughed.
I made her laugh even more with a spot-on impersonation of my Russian waxer and the precariously dangling cigarette, complete with accent. But really, I wanted to hug her and tell her that a "woman of the world" is so much more than this...
Later, I thought that the gem of a $12 full bikini wax on a woman who lives out of a suitcase in her real life is only an external accoutrement to real thing. Because the truth is that a "woman of world", no matter where and with whom she resides, is a woman who doesn't need a bikini wax to know when and where to draw the line.