Today is Summer Solstice and I don’t know about you, but summer always means skinny dipping to me. There’s something so deliciously pagan about getting naked and dipping into dark water under the warm night sky.
I grew up on islands: first Oahu, then Whidbey. On Oahu I was too young to understand that I was skinny dipping. I was simply swimming. But as a teen on Whidbey, I knew the score. When night fell, I’d sneak out of my bedroom window, hop into my pal Natasha’s vintage Dodge Dart (the one everyone recognized on unlit country roads because of the unique shape of the tail lights) and we’d head to Deer Lake.
En route I’d shuffle through a box of tapes to find just the right song. I don’t know which sound is more nostalgic: the rustling of those tapes or the music. The rustling of the tapes reminded me of grade school classmates searching for just the right crayon in their pencil boxes, when the teacher would give an assignment. No, not Burnt sienna. No, not Lavender. Yes, Aquamarine. As the class fell silent, full of ideas, that rustling sound was the song of expectation. And so it was with the box of tapes. No, not The Sugarcubes. No not The Pixies. Yes, Cocteau Twins.
Sometimes we’d manage to rustle up a bottle of wine or some weed. Most times though, it was just about the freedom of swimming naked, bathing in the light of the big moon. Possibilities were spelled out in the starry sky. Life was going to be spectacular. It was only a matter of time. It never once occurred to me that I’d be looking back at how spectacular it was just being there, in Deer Lake, skinny dipping with my friend.
After I graduated from high school and left Whidbey Island, I didn’t skinny dip for several years. But trust me, I knew damn well what I was missing. Then I moved to Atlanta to work for CNN. I worked an overnight shift, but still found time for a guy I’ll refer to as My English Bastard. I’d sneak out of my apartment, hop into his white Miata, which I hoped people would recognize by the rainbow sticker I’d secretly slapped on the back, since this was clearly a straight man driving a gay man’s car.
One night in particular there was no rustling of crayons or tapes. There were no options. Yes, Periwinkle. Yes, Roll With It by Oasis.
We went to several tacky bars in Buckhead. He drove me through Peachtree Hills, car top down, as I stood on the passenger seat, arms spread like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic. I rambled on about how nice it would be to go for a swim. It was crazy fucking hot. August in Atlanta is a month without pity. Even at two in the morning the heat is staggering, especially for a Whidbey Island transplant like me. Summer in Atlanta alternates between sexy and suffocating. Despite cherished Southern images of magnolia scented wind ruffling through the lovely locks of the preacher’s daughter, Atlanta often smells like hot tar and exhaust fumes. As for the preacher’s daughter, you’ll find her in the air conditioned comfort of Phipps Plaza, shopping for shoes and a husband.
Neither of us had a swimsuit, so I suggested that we shimmy down a 20-foot fence and go skinny dipping in some public pool that was closed for the evening. I was thrilled to return to my teenage roots, and My English Bastard cheerfully stripped off all of his clothes too. He climbed up onto the diving board, jumped up and down repeatedly, his uncircumcised dick flapping around. I was amazed at how comfortable he was being naked and watched him as he dove into the water, his sleek body illuminated by the summer moon. I sat on the side of the pool, trying to position myself in an attractive way, wishing I could learn to like working out a little more, and hoping the moonlight made me look as sleek and sinuous as he did. (Though deep down I knew even the moon had its limits.)
He swam over and grabbed me, pulled me into the water, whispering,
“Saara, you’re so bad for me,” as he rammed his tongue in my mouth. I laughed. For one thing, he had a problem with the letter “r”, which meant he called me “Saawah”. But mostly it was the idea of me, with my chubby Mrs. Santa Claus thighs, being “bad” for him…or anyone. I thought of me at age six, dressed in a drug store Tweety Bird costume. It’s the same image that always pops into my head when the pages of women’s magazines ask, “How do you see yourself?”
As the hazy morning sun began to rise, we knew it was time to go, mostly because we weren’t sure when the pool maintenance crew would get there. In the harsh light of sobriety, the 20-foot chain link fence we’d so cheerfully scampered down a couple of hours before seemed daunting now. As I climbed back up, I was acutely aware of the fact that my underwear were in my purse and not on my ass. My English Bastard peered up under my dress, climbing after me.
“Saawah, ” he said. “I never knew the curtains didn’t match the carpet.”