Saturday, May 11, 2013

Find Your "This"

“I was reading your post about being a nude model,” said a friend. “I admire your courage. I could never do that.”
“It was easy, actually. I just stood there.”
“You know what I mean!” she said, laughing. “I could never be that comfortable with my body.”
I wasn’t always. Let me tell you a little story.
I would be alone at the beach.
Sort of.
Well, practically.
I mean, my family was going with me but they didn’t count.
I would see the ocean for the first time in my life, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how horrible it would be. I was fourteen and my family didn’t, you know, “get” me. I mean, come on! We had nothing in common! What does one even DO with these people for four freaking days?
On the phone with my friend Melanie as I packed my favorite long-sleeved shirts, I said, “I wish you could come with me. Then I’d have someone to talk to.”
“Talk about what?” said Melanie, “How boring it is to hang out in a cabin ignoring the beach? Yeah, that’d be loads of fun.”
“It wouldn’t have to be like that,” I said. “We could find something to do.”
“Chica, it’s the beach. What people DO is go to the beach.”
I sighed into the phone. “I’ll go to the beach if I can go fully clothed.”
“Uh-uh,” she said. “We’re not having this conversation again. You need to get some sun on your pasty flesh.”
It had been a boom year for my adolescent development: I was tripping over my own feet, greasy, struggling with acne. My swimsuit from last year didn’t fit anymore. In any capacity. My bra size had increased at a speed that made the economic inflation rate seem tame by comparison. “My flesh is never seeing the light of day again,” I said. “I’m converting to Vampirism.”
“Just promise you’ll do one thing for me while you’re gone, okay?” she said.
“Stop reading Anne Rice?”
“That too.”
“What else?” I asked.
“Promise first.”
“Do you promise?” Melanie insisted.
“Sure, I promise.”
“For at least ten minutes, hang around completely naked.”
I tried to laugh her off, but she was quick to remind me I had promised. I begged, threatened, offered bribes, but I was stuck. You can’t just break a promise to one of your very best friends, not when you’re fourteen. I had plenty of time to think about it on the long drive to South Padre, fretting over a future that would either contain nudity or broken vows. I stared at my own arms for hours as we crossed Texas, lost in thought. Am I as pale as I think I am? Am I supposed to be this hairy? Good Lord, my knuckles are wrinkly - what is that even about? Every inch of me was gross, every appendage lacking in some way.
When we reached the raised beach house late in the day, after we unloaded the car, everyone but me got ready to go to the beach. “Take your time,” said Mom, trying not to pressure me. “Walk after us if you feel like it.” I watched them walk down the stairs and along the road that led to the shore, letting the curtains fall shut when I lost sight of them.
Alone, I wondered what to do with myself. I read a few chapters of a novel and checked the local cable channels, but could concentrate on neither with this geas hanging over my head.
This is ridiculous, I thought. I have to get this done so I can say it’s done.
I marched into the bathroom and stripped. This was it. I could be naked for ten minutes while everyone was gone, then tell Melanie I had done my knightly duty, fulfilled my oath. I would be safe in the bathroom where my family wouldn’t question my state of undress if they returned unexpectedly.
“Okay,” I said to myself. “We’re good here. We’re fine. This isn’t so… Oh my God, my thighs are huge.”
It was easily the biggest mirror I had ever seen. My reflected thighs were as big as posts, like something you’d find in the lumber section at Home Depot. There was nowhere I could stand where I couldn’t see them – in the tub, by the door, even perched on the toilet, my incandescent flesh overwhelmed me from every direction, shining like a beacon of Gondor. Screw this. Ten minutes is too long to have to look at that, I thought.
But… ten minutes? I looked around. There were no clocks in the bathroom. I cracked the door and peeped out, toward the only clock in the beach house, the microwave in the cabin’s kitchenette, flashing 12:00 uselessly. It was easily a mile away. My heart pounded as I lingered in the doorframe, taking deep breaths. I pictured the front door slamming open: the propriety police would bust me on multiple counts of living it up. The judge at my hearing would be stern faced. The Mission Impossible theme played in my head as I stepped toward the microwave, carrying a towel just in case, prepared to duck behind furniture for additional cover.
I fumbled with the buttons, changing the time twice before I managed to set the timer. Despite the cabin’s air conditioning on my bare skin, my face felt flushed. I went to the fridge for a root beer, immediately pressing the can to my forehead, but it hadn’t been in there long enough to cool off.
Cracking a window for fresh air, holding my towel protectively in front of me, I looked out into darkness. The sun had set while I dithered over my puritanical upbringing. Yellow streetlights illuminated the empty street below me and little else. In the deepening twilight, there wasn’t a soul in sight.
Leaning forward for a better view, I caught a glimpse of the ocean down the road. The breeze carried the mingled scents of sea and wood smoke from a bonfire somewhere. The waves lapped with a sound I had only ever heard before from white noise nature CDs, pulling my soul like a little tide.
I had a crazy thought then that couldn’t have come from fourteen-year-old me. In a moment of time-travel, I received advice from an older me, a thirty-, fifty-, eighty-year-old me, and she said, “This! This is what your friend was talking about! Not the fear, not the indecision. This is a moment you will remember forever. Do it! Do it while you’re young and stupid! This is going to make a great story someday!”
I opened the door to the balcony at the back of the house, stepped over my towel as it fell, stepped into the evening air, completely naked, and stood there for the space it took me to finish the warm root beer, leaning against the porch railing with the sounds of the ocean and the gulls, and I thought, This! This this this! at the breeze and the scents and what might have been stars behind the clouds.
Then I heard the microwave timer go off inside the cabin and I ran for my room like the coward I am and didn’t stop until I had my pajamas on. Sprawled on the bed, I buried my face in a pillow to stifle maniacal giggles and I knew – knew! – down to my bones that eighty-year-old me was right: This is a great story.
Don’t you think?

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