Tonight I went to a mermaid gathering – women joining together for spontaneous song and dipping (or swimming, in my case), in the cold Pacific Northwest waters. The gathering started off beautiful, soulful, nourishing, and healing for me.

We shared how we were feeling and sang our names with that feeling – or in my case, sang invoking a different feeling entirely, because I didn’t want my then-current energy state to be absorbed by my name. So I sang my name like a bird and flapped my arms like wings. So did everyone else, when they sang my name back to me. It was pretty awesome.

Then we went to the water, and after wading or swimming, gathered together in a circle, to sing to the water, and just to sing while in the water. I felt so good being in harmony and vocalizing sound with others, in particular, women. I’ve been in such a state of leadership, to the point of exhaustion, and it was lovely to just be part-of.

After that, we headed into the house, to dry off and change clothes. When I emerged from the house, I saw one of the women lighting up something – either a marijuana joint or cigarette – right in the middle of the property, near the house, where we all had been gathered initially. So I ducked back into the house and waited out the cigarette.

That’s when I noticed there was a bonfire brewing around the corner from where the cigarette was being smoked. So I headed over there. I stood between a very young woman and a grandmother, and together, we struck up a conversation about how we’re all empaths who historically have absorbed other people’s energies. The grandmother shared that she learned how to stop doing that. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I was super excited. I ran to grab a chair.

A minute after I sat down, and we began talking, the smoker came around the corner and up to the fire, cigarette in hand. I spoke up and gently requested that she not smoke around me. “I’m one of five people in the world who gets severe headaches from pot,” I said, putting the onus on me. The young woman near me said she is the same way. “It’s not pot,” the smoker replied. “It’s a cigarette.” I let her know that I have asthma too (actually only in the presence of cigarettes or cats, though I did not elaborate.) She said that she was standing downwind, and she then proceeded to verbally pat herself on the back for always being careful to stand downwind. Because, you know, she’s so thoughtful.

Meanwhile, several feet in front of me, she lit up again.

I felt uncomfortable pushing the matter any further, so I excused myself from the much-needed conversation I was about to have, quietly said to the two ladies that I needed to get away from the smoke, and went around the corner – right to where I previously had to leave, because the smoker had been standing there. So basically, wherever she chose to light up, I had to leave. Which in my point of view is a form of dominance.

I then walked to the far end of the property, near my car, and entertained myself by looking at the sky and trees, while drinking tea. After finishing the tea, I looked over to the bonfire. The smoker appeared to have gotten out a new cigarette. I felt frustrated, annoyed, and disheartened. It did not feel ok that I was the one who had to leave the group, as a result of the fact that someone imposing toxins on the environment around her did not want to stand away from the group while imposing said toxins. So I left. Without saying goodbye to anyone. I just took my tea cup into the house, got in my car, and drove away.

Only midway home did I realize I had left my drum, which is precious to me – the drum I got when I moved to Kaui for two months. (I named my drum, “Thank You” and took her everywhere.) Ironically, during the women’s name-singing earlier in the evening, I had been inspired to play drums when we sang the name of the smoker, and only when we sang her name. Later in the evening, because of her, I felt so uncomfortable that I left without remembering my drum, which I had laid down on the beach. I was concerned it might end up driftwood amidst the rising tide.

Fortunately I was able to reach someone in the group, so my drum was rescued. But I was left feeling quite upset that someone else’s lack of conscientiousness put me in a situation where the softest self-care option was to withdraw. I felt so happy to be part of a group – it’s been so rare over the years, for a host of reasons involving a complex interweaving of health and financial issues. I really needed this kind of connection.

It’s precisely this scenario that makes me stay away from groups, and therefore, feel isolated. When someone lights up, or lets their dog run around off-leash, or moves aggressively through crowds, I am unsafe and, therefore, unwelcome.