Chapter 3: Priya (The Cultured One)
After a full day of team building activities, Priya felt close to her group. She was very rarely in a group. She always wanted to be a part of a group but due to her interests and personality she had spent much of her life by herself. She had been that quiet girl on the periphery of every grade school classroom she inhabited. Back then, Priya was always seen with a novel in hand with an unrecognizable voice. The only reason anyone noticed her was because of brown skin in a sea of white. Priya had grown up in a small college town.
Her father had been and is still a professor of engineering. They moved to that town from another small town where he taught as an Associate Professor. Her love of academia started there. Her classrooms may have lacked diversity but not the campus itself. She felt at home in those halls of higher education. That feeling had lead her to a bachelor degree in Art History with a minor in English. Her father understood her love of knowledge but did not understand her love of the humanities. Though he was happy when she continued onto her masters at Bard Graduate Center in New York City. Her father wanted her to follow in his footsteps. Currently, she was taking a break to work in a museum before she headed back to school for her PhD. Her short break had already become five years. Her father urged her to get into a PhD program, but she loved her job and having a regular check. Going full-time as a PhD candidate meant being broke. And Priya wasn’t about that life. Her parents had other objections to her life in New York City. It was too big. It was too far. It wasn’t going to bring her marriage. Her father, a fan of Seinfeld and Friends, thought New York was full of white men who are afraid of commitment. Also, her father had studied for his Masters degree in New York. He remembered those days as a time of sowing his wild oats. He did not want his daughter in the midst of that debauchery.
Yet, Priya loved the city. It gave her the ability to melt into the loud noisy background to be the observer she wanted to be. She felt comfortable on the periphery of the world watching people pass by. She knew that cloistering herself in the corners of the city was the reason she had no group of friends nor romantic prospects. Joining The Caramel Princess Conference: An Affirmative Retreat for All Women of Color was Priya's first move out her comfortable corners. It made her nervous to meet new people but at least her group was smaller than the others.
By dinner, her group was close enough to tell jokes with each other. Now she was in a room she shared with someone the Conference planners paired her with through the message boards. She was not sure if she should chat with this woman. They had barely said five words to each other. Priya tried to read the historical romance novel she brought with her. She could not get into the book. She was bursting with socialization and wanted to talk more. A text popped up on her silent phone.
“It’s Vic, we’re meeting in the lobby in 15 minutes.”
In ten minutes, all four women were standing at the reception desk of the hotel.
“Do you know anything you want to do?” Myra asked.
“Get a drink, of course,” Vic said.
“Well, where?” Myra asked.
“The hotel bar looks okay. Do we have any other options?” Vic asked.
“We are in a suburb and most things are closed. Maybe we could find a dive,” Myra said. The last sentence was given with a higher than usual voice indicating she was unsure to suggest it in such a new group.
“Uh huh, I knew you were a dive, girl,” Vic said with a laugh.
“We can use Yelp,” Shanelle said while pulling up the app on her iPhone.
The few places she found were over a mile away.
“None of us have cars. Maybe we should just go to the hotel bar,” Myra said.
Everyone agreed. They walked into the very chic hotel bar restaurant with it’s white vinyl and gunmetal studded furniture. The walls were mirrored. The stereo system blasted generic house music. The lights were dim with colored lights flickering in a spread of small circles periodic around the room. There was a nightclub atmosphere. It was an oxymoron in such a tame bedroom community. Yet the bar was packed with women from the conference and locals. They walked through the fray of people looking for hookups. The white male locals were enamored with the “exotic” women that ascended on their hometown. The four women marched to the patio which was full of smokers. They found an empty table in the corner. The waitress came by to take their orders.
“We can’t breathe but at least we can talk,” Myra said.
Vic shook her head, “I can’t deal with that vibe in there. No offense if you like that sort of thing.”
Shanelle shrugged her shoulders, “I tend to go out to places like that. I don’t like them but most of my friends are into it.”
Priya as usual wished she could add to the conversation. She had some nights out with coworkers and former classmates but they normally chose intimate Manhattan bars in Murray Hill or the Flatiron District. That wasn’t worth mentioning, she thought.
“Priya, where do you tend to hang out?” Shanelle asked.
“Usually some bars in Murray Hill or Flatiron District,” Priya responded.
“That’s fancy,” Myra said with a pseudo ghetto girl accent.
Priya and the other women laughed.
“That’s how we do it at the museum,” Priya said. “We like good design.”
“So do I,” Myra said. “I like the good design of a shitty dive.”
They all laughed again.
“I’m a warehouse party girl,” Vic said. “Give me the LES or Williamsburg any day. Shanelle, where would you rather hang out?”
“I already said it,” Shanelle answered.
“You said where your friends like to hang out. Not you,” Priya piped in.
Shanelle looked perplexed as she mulled over their observation and her own interests. “You know, I’m not sure. I’ve never been to a warehouse party or a dive. I’ve only been to lounges and nightclubs. I’ve been to plenty of college bars though.”
“Oh wow, we need to school you on going out,” Vic said.
They all laughed. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of truths in those couple of hours in the bar. When dating was discussed emotions were put on the table. They discussed their first times. Priya shyly admitted to being a virgin. Vic bought another round of drinks when she heard Priya's admission.
“How? You’re so pretty!” Shanelle said. She had just admitted that George was the man she lost her virginity to in college.
“I-I just never had a boyfriend,” Priya stammered looking down at at her asymmetrical yellow agate necklace.
“You can have sex without a boyfriend,” Vic said.
Priya looked and felt wrong. She hated talking about this because so much of the current culture was about hooking up. Someone put a hand on her shoulder. She looked to her left and saw Myra giving her a friendly smile.
“I think Priya is saying she only wants to be in something committed,” Myra retorted.
“Yes, I guess. I only have sex within a relationship,” Vic said lost in thought.
“I wanted to date in high school and college but guys never looked my way,” Priya said sadly.
“Well they're idiots,” Myra said.
Shanelle nodded, “Besides having a boyfriend can hold you back in those years.”
Vic agreed. “Making decisions always involve someone else. I didn’t study abroad in Italy like I wanted to in college because I was all wrapped up in this chick. Ugh! And then we broke up a semester later.”
“I didn’t study abroad because of George. He couldn’t deal with me being so far away,” Shanelle said folding her arms across her chest. She was clearly still upset about this decision.
Myra said “I did study abroad and I fooled around with a few British guys. I had a great time. Thats why I’m single for life.”
“For life?” Priya asked clearly bothered by the concept.
“Well, for now. If there is a guy out there that can let me be me then I’m cool with a relationship. But most guys I’ve met want you to be their biggest fan and they have no interest in what you want in life,” Myra said.
“You can always date women,” Vic said in a flirtatious tone.
“I tried that once in college. Not for me. I like dick,” Myra replied.
Once again the group laughed. Priya noticed that Shanelle seemed to be on a different planet after Myra’s statement about men.
“I studied art history in Vienna. It was beautiful,” Priya added quietly.
“Oh just rub it in!” Vic said jokingly.
Myra moved her hand in a rubbing motion on Vic’s shoulder. Shanelle seemed to snap out of her revelry and laughed with everyone.
This was the first night for the four women. As Priya walked down the hall at 1am she felt like she had a group. A part of her feared that their newfound friendship would not continue once they traveled south to the city. Once everyone continued in their daily lives. She hoped that part was wrong.