Three Cheers for The Rebound Girl and Alcatraz

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Photo by Bill Flanigin

Rebound relationships. The thing about a rebound relationship is that you generally don’t realize you’re in one until it’s all over and you have a little perspective. At first bounce, you think that you’ve experienced an amazing stroke of good luck. You just found a fantastic girl! You didn’t know life could be like this.

But first, let’s establish my operational definition of a rebound girl. The rebound girl is the one you bounce to after the end of a serious relationship. She can’t be a rekindled thing with past ghosts. She can’t be a person that actually spans both the old and new relationship. That muddies the waters. The most important ingredient of a rebound girl is that it she makes you feel good again, sometimes in a way you haven’t felt in a long time. She’s new and exciting. Rebound girls are like inhaling fresh, mountain air. But another part of the operational definition of a rebound girl is that the rebound relationship doesn’t take. It ends. If it didn’t, she wouldn’t be a rebound girl. However, the greatest gift the rebound girl gives us is not a place to land after a prior relationship ends, but rather a place to bounce to after the rebound is over.

I had a rebound relationship after my marriage ended. And by operational definition, it ended as well. I didn’t realize it then, but my bounce away from rebound girl caromed me from Austin to San Francisco.

San Francisco is a beautiful city, and one I’d always wanted to visit. There was no reason not to go. I made all the necessary arrangements and started planning. The Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Chinatown, AT&T Park, North Beach, cable cars.

Fast forward. I rented a bike and rode across the The Golden Gate Bridge. I felt like I was in a movie. After an afternoon in Sausalito, I decided to take the ferry back across the bay. Sitting a few rows ahead, but facing my direction I noticed a woman.

She was exotic looking with straight, black hair and olive skin. Even sitting down I could tell she was on the tall side. She wore dark sunglasses and turned her face into wind so her hair blew back. She was wearing a light blue, fleece jacket and a dark blue scarf. She was alone. I kept sneaking glances at her, but I’m sure I was doing this badly. Since she was wearing sunglasses, I couldn’t tell if we were making any eye contact. It didn’t matter. I had no intention of striking up a conversation with her for three reasons. One, I didn’t want to. Two, to do so seemed rather creepy; she was a complete stranger. Three, I really just didn’t want to. The ferry docked, I grabbed my bicycle, and we parted ways.

The next morning I lined up to take another ferry to Alcatraz. The island’s history had always fascinated me and prisons frankly scared me. I stared straight ahead waiting to get on the boat and, at some point, I turned around to look behind me. Facing me, sans sunglasses, was ferry girl from yesterday. I started laughing, so did she. After I apologized for looking at her on the ferry ride for entirely too long the day before (all was forgiven), we struck up a conversation. She was from Canada, a research biologist. After we landed on The Rock, I asked her if she wanted to just hang out and do the tour together. To my delight, she was game.

So began our day together on Alcatraz. We paused our self-guided tour often and checked out cells, solitary, aka: the hole, and the yard. The views from the island were breathtaking. It was a July day, but a customary Bay Area chill was in the air. Didn’t matter. We talked about the prison and what it would have been like to live there. We also talked about ourselves and our lives. We laughed at dudes wearing fanny packs and a kid that hit his face on a cell door. We both sensed that this was, more or less, a one off day of hanging out with each other, which was probably why we talked so openly about our history in life and love. I was fascinated with her story and more or less realized that this conversation was rare air. The tour, and our conversation, took several hours.

We finally left the island and hit the mainland. We walked from pier 33 to North Beach and shared a pizza and a few beers. More conversation and laughing. The day was like a date with no future, so there was no pressure. We shared a definite connection. Have you ever been on a date where you seem to never look at any of your surroundings because you are too interested in face in front of you? This was that.

Then, she had to go. Our time was up. I walked her to the Embarcadero BART station and we said our goodbyes. I wanted to kiss her goodbye, but decided not try. Instead, she gave me her email address. I watched her walk down the stairs to the train. I waited for a couple of minutes thinking she might come back up. I really thought she might for some reason. This is what would happen in a movie, right? After all, this was a day straight from a romantic comedy. She didn’t return.

I left. I never saw her again.

The story does not end there, however. We exchanged many, many emails over the next year or so. We talked on the phone, We shared songs we liked with each other. One of her songs was by Gordon Lightfoot. How Canadian is that? I read her research on crabs.

Months went by and we moved on with our lives in a way that didn’t allow time for our folly. I guess whatever purpose we served each other was no longer necessary. Fair enough. Alcatraz Girl was the first woman post-rebound that taught me to just relax. Be myself. Have no expectations and learn to be a good listener and a friend, and it served me well. At some point, she told me she did come back up the train steps to find me that day in San Francisco, but it was too late, I was gone.

When a marriage or long term relationship ends, you may experience a rebound relationship. When that ends, you’ll be worn out. But that exhaustion is both necessary and important. Only then will you be ready to just be. Only after a bounce away from a rebound relationship will you be far enough away from things to be able to sit and meet and talk and look at someone without your mind twisting them into someone you want to see.

Our minds do that don’t they? We pretzel people into someone we want to see instead of someone to just see. Is it only after a real heartbreak and a long rebound that we can be and just see with a clear head and heart? I believe it is.

I needed my rebound girl and my Alcatraz girl to figure this out. It was a huge lesson in love that got me ready for a coupled future on the right terms. Three cheers to Rebound Girl, and Alcatraz. The prison where I found freedom.

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