It was June 2009, and I was only a couple weeks into living in Quito, Ecuador when I decided I’d had enough. We lived in an area called “Bella Vista” which means “beautiful view” in Spanish. All that meant to me was that I had to walk up a hill the size of a mountain.
I spent my time doing a typing class online so I would have all my credits, and I could graduate high school early. When I saw the pictures of my classmates at prom and graduation, I felt completely removed from it all. I was lonely, isolated, and in a literal foreign environment.
The first time I went to the grocery store to stock up on junk food and eat away my feelings, I realized that Ecuador didn’t have the same food items as the U.S. The only thing I could find was Trix cereal and it was 8$. After walking up the steep, cobblestone hill to our house, I sat in the living room and started Googling things to do to get out a bit. I’ve always been the type to take action when I’m upset, not enjoying the feeling of standing still. I found a group on Facebook called “I Love Quito.” I certainly didn’t love Quito, but I figured there would be people my age who had liked this group and I could send them messages in order to make some friends.
Do You Want to Be Friends?
I messaged about a dozen people and patiently waited for their replies. (Bear in mind this was before the days of websites like meetup.com or couchsurfing.com)
Hi, My name is Sarah. I have just moved to Quito from the United States and since I don’t work here or go to school I don’t really have a way of meeting people. I was wondering if you might like to meet up for a coffee sometime?
The first message I received back was from a very outgoing and talkative girl named Pame. We met up for a drink at the mall and she told me her and her friends were meeting up that night at a club called “The Room.” I was only 17 and after living in the U.S. with strict drinking laws, I was thrilled. I felt like my parents didn’t have a say in what I did since I was no longer in high school and I took this opportunity to spread my wings, much like any other teenager would do when they go to university or get out into the real world.
She picked me up that night and we went back to her house first so we could get ready. I decided to wear a short black dress that was floaty, and lace. I paired it with black tights and hot pink high heels. Her house was very tall with stairs leading up to many different, small levels, and there weren’t very many lights on; it felt like a cave. Her sister came over and they sat on the couch next to me while she did Pame’s makeup. This really meant rubbing orange foundation all over her face like you would face cream, and then some mascara. (YouTube beauty gurus also weren’t a thing yet.) We went to her room so she could get dressed. It had a bed, a tall wood dresser, and those were the only things I could see under the enormous amount of stuffed animals everywhere.
Her sister dropped us off at the club and we stood outside waiting for her friends to show up. A huge crowd of people was beginning to assemble outside. It reminded me of nights I went to school dances back in Maine, but this time I was out in the real world. I was nervous and excited for my first time in a club, and hoped that maybe this was the start of my new life. Her friends came up and chatted with us. They all spoke Spanish, and occasionally asked me a question in English. I felt like an ugly accessory that Pame was wearing but nobody wanted to offend her by making fun of it.
A couple of boys walked up and right away I locked eyes with one of them. He was wearing a button down shirt, and tan blazer. He had floppy dark hair, and nice eyes. He smiled at me and I smiled back, feeling a little shy. We went inside the club, heading downstairs where it was dark and hot. Bodies were gyrating everywhere, and everyone was laughing, and flirting, and spilling their drinks on each other in time with the salsa music pumping out of the speakers.
We found a big table in a corner and ordered orange vodkas for the table. It was the first time I had ever tasted vodka, and I consistently ordered that drink for a few years until acquiring more knowledge of the alcoholic variety in bars. I had never really drank that much, except for the occasional party in high school so it wasn’t long before I was dancing, spilling my drink down my wrist and having a good time, albeit not feeling entirely comfortable in such a foreign setting with so many strangers.
A few people even tried to teach me to salsa. The guy with the tan blazer asked me to dance and I obliged. He pulled me to his chest and we swayed along to a Spanish song. His body was warm and he was a good dancer. While we were dancing he made sure to tell me 3 times that he was part owner of the club. I found this hard to believe, and assumed it was probably his parents who were the actual owners.
I liked the feeling of a guy asking me to dance in a club, and I felt like a real adult. However, after a few minutes he suddenly let go. I went back to the group I was with, feeling hurt and confused. I had my friend ask him what happened, and he responded that he thought I was too shy. I was devastated at his words since this was all I had ever heard throughout high school, and I felt like an insecure teenager once more. Unfortunately, it would be a few years before I really shed that persona.
We continued to dance until the club closed, and “tan blazer” drove us home. In the car a lovely song played on the radio. It was about a bird that couldn’t fly and was stuck on the ground. It was slow and soothing, especially after the supercharged atmosphere of a club. They dropped me off and I went up to bed, feeling pretty good about the fact that I had had my first club experience, though I was still lonely. I didn’t feel that I really had a place in this world, or any world yet.
I felt vulnerable and scared of the future. My parents were busy figuring out their own lives, and I was along for the ride, something that I’ll admit I resented. I shed my little black dress, wrapped myself up in the covers of an unfamiliar bed, and looked out at the skyline. The whole city was lit up like a Christmas tree (there were lots of street lights everywhere to deter crime) and the mountains loomed over everything like a dark cloud. I sat up in bed, tears slowly trickling down my face, and feeling completely out of control. The silence in contrast to the club was deafening. But still, a small voice in my head told me big things were coming, and that I would carve out a place for myself in the world, eventually.