Chapter 1: Myra (The Quirky One)
Myra stood awkwardly in the roomful of women. They were all varying shades of brown but each one wore a nametag that said “Hello my name is…” on their right breasts. Myra also wore one on the right side of her large bosom. Her dress was printed with a 1950s retro inspired geometric design which was fitting for the warm early June weather. Her red and white print dress had been her own sewing project. She offset the look with a skinny red belt on her waist accentuating her curves. Her curly dark hair was in a new asymmetrical cut, shaved in the back and draping over her red cat eye frames. She loved her new haircut because she had always worn long hair. It was a release when her hair was cut in the salon two days before. That moment of exhilaration lead to her current situation standing at a registration table. The moment after the stylist unveiled her haircut in the oval framed mirror, Myra received the email inviting her to join The Caramel Princess Conference: An Affirmative Retreat for All Women of Color. The email had been forwarded from a friend of a friend that she chatted with at a bar two years ago. The conference was a three day affair just outside of New York City in New Rochelle. The conference seemed like a good idea. But standing there, Myra felt a bit of regret.
In the three years since she moved to New York, she had a fleeting group of friends. She missed her college group of friends who all dispersed around the country after graduation. Being a fashion major, she felt her only option was to move to New York. She was from Los Angeles, but the idea of going home felt stagnant. She was 23 and didn’t want to live at home. She didn’t want her Mexican American mother checking up on her when she stayed out late. Myra needed the distance. She didn’t regret the decision to move to the East Coast. But each day she experienced deep loneliness in a city of seven million people. She met people constantly. To herself, she referred to those people as “friends for a day or a night.” The people she met were usually introduced to her from some loose connection from college or work. They would have great nights together drinking profusely, swapping stories about trouble with men and then complaining about the towns they came from. The first few times Myra experienced these friends, she thought it was the start of something more. New friendships would be minted much like in her college days. She was still solidly friends with people she met around keg of watered down cheap beer. Myra would call these new New York besties in hopes of getting another drink with them. She had also believed that they would take her to their family’s second home in Rhode Island that they couldn’t stop inviting her to the night they met. But these friends were always too busy to meet. They are working late or have trips planned for the weekend (including to the homes in Rhode Island but without mention of Myra’s invitation). After a few of these encounters, Myra stopped believing the hype. She did so many things in the city by herself. Visits to Brooklyn Museum; alone. Meals in locally sourced, organic restaurants; alone. Sitting in Prospect Park; alone. So she took a dive and decided to go to this conference. Maybe she will find her people.
It seemed like many of the women already knew each other. They were chatting in small groups of twos, threes or fours. Her eyes sought out the soloists. She saw a few. The first was an East Asian woman that was in a very hideous lumpy green sweater and a sour look on her face. She didn’t look friendly. Myra scanned past her towards a pretty black woman with long hair framing her round face and wearing a pretty shift dress on her full-figured frame. Myra thought “She’s got her shit together.” She shifted her weight to head in the woman’s direction. But she was stopped by a voice behind her.
“Are you solo too?” the voice asked.
Myra turned and faced the short, curvy latina standing behind her. There was something slightly masculine about this gorgeous tiny woman. She too had short hair in a pixie cut. The woman wore a simple maxi dress with a long chain necklace with a crystal pendant.
“Yes, I am,” Myra replied nervously.
“Well, we’re both solo no more,” the woman said with a smile.
“I’m Myra and you?” she said extending her right hand.
“I’m Vic. Short for Victoria,” she said taking Myra’s hand.
“What brought you here?” Myra asked
“I heard there was a bunch of ladies gathering and I figured I would scope out my next girlfriend,” Vic said with a joke. That was how she introduced people to sexual identity.
Myra slightly surprised laughed at the joke.
“Actually I’m here because I recognized a couple of the speakers as activists and I was attracted to the manifesting course,” Vic said seriously.
Myra didn’t really get into anything spiritual after her devout Catholic childhood. She had never heard of the speakers. And she wasn't sure if it was lame to mention she was looking for friends. She wasn’t sure what to say next. It didn’t matter, Vic piped in as soon as the Myra paused for too long of a beat.
“This is my first time at one of these,” Vic said. “and I take it that it’s yours too. Do you live in the city?”
“Yes, I’m in Brooklyn.”
“Me too. I’m in Ditmas Park.”
Myra shaking her head said, “Never heard of it.”
“Its a little further south. Where do you live?”
“Ohh Do or die!”
Myra laughed, “that’s it.”
“Are hipsters moving there now?”
“You think I’m a hipster?”
“Hmmm, retro kitschy dress, red cat eye frames and a sleeve of tattoos. And red lipstick to top it off.”
Myra laughed again, “I guess if that’s your definition.”
“No animosity for hipsters here.”
At that moment, a gong chimed. All of the women near the reception table walked into the door of the conference hall. Myra had her placement card and asked Vic what number she had. They weren’t to be seated at the same table. They quickly said their “see you laters” and found their seats. Myra sat at the placement with her name tag. There were already two women at the table. As soon as four more women showed up to claim their spots, she realized a pattern. Her table was all latinas. The next table was all latinas and the next two tables were all full of black women. She looked for Vic and saw her sitting with Asians of all backrounds. Myra had assumed that Vic was Mexican but realized her table seating meant she was probably Filipino. Myra knew quite a few Filipinos in Los Angeles. She never met any in New York. She was also a tad disappointed because she rarely met Mexican Americans in New York. Oh well, she thought, she could still be a friend.
The introduction started by the emcee and founder of the retreat. At the end of her welcome speech, the emcee an African print wearing Filipino woman called Hope asked everyone to look at their tablemates.
“We often live separately in our daily lives. We live in area of the US that is culturally diverse and is lauded for that fact. But every New Yorker knows real intermingling doesn’t happen often enough between ethnic groups. Everyone goes back to their neighborhoods, their block and with their own. But everyone in this room has something else in common. We are women. We have wombs. We shed blood on a cycle. I am sure we all have more in common than that we are all the same gender. Today we sat you in groups divided by the ethnicities that you identified yourselves as when you signed up for this retreat.”
Myra looked around her table and the other seven women at her table were latinas from the Caribbean. They looked like Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. In the three years in New York, Myra still was not used to Caribbean latino culture. She grew up with Mexicans and only knew Chicano culture. She wasn’t used to their Spanish accent either. It had been difficult for Myra to identify with cultures she was often lumped in with under the umbrella of “Latino”. Myra still loved to dance to any of the many musical genres within latin cultures. And she loved the cuisine of every latin culture.
Hope continued, “We seated you this way because this is what you all are used to. Many of you came here with women you knew. I am hoping that by the end of this event you will know more women and continue to cultivate those relationships. We are all here to learn, grow and manifest in our lives. We understand that we live in a society that divides us. So if you look at the card under your plate, you will see another placement card. That placement card is your real seat. We asked the universe for guidance in creating this seating chart. Each one of you will be sitting with the right people. Your people. The people you will be with from this moment on during the retreat. Now get up and go find your tribe.”
There was cacophony of sounds in the room as chairs were scooted back and the murmuring of farewells came from the audience. Myra quickly found her new seat. She was instantly happy to see Vic sit at the table.
“This was meant to be” Vic said with a smile.
At that moment, a petite South Asian woman in a sophisticated wrap dress with a geometric print sat down at the table. She introduced herself as Priya. Myra thought Priya was gorgeous with her hair in a top knot and her deep chestnut skin. A few seconds later, the black woman that Myra saw earlier as a possible friend sat at their table. She introduced herself as Shanelle. She had such a soft sweet voice.
As the room settled down, they realized that they were the smallest table. Other tables had eight women but theirs had only four.
“I hope there isn’t a tug-of-war competition this weekend. We would lose for sure,” joked Vic.
All the women at the table laughed.