I was going to be fifty at the end of the week, that’s why I tried on the bikini.
We were at the beach that week – me, my husband, my kids, my mother, my brother, his kids. My brother lives on the other side of the continent, so we don’t get together very often. He’s big and has a penchant for picking me up and flinging me around when we see each other. He plasters me with cheek kisses. “You look good, Jes,” he always says.
“Good enough to wear a bikini?” I asked him as we’re hauling beach chairs down the dunes. The question seemed to come out of nowhere. It startled me as is passed my lips.
“If not now, when?” he said.
Thus the seed was planted.
Later that day, my husband and I drove up to the video store to return movies and on the way decided to stop into my favorite five and dime on the north end of Long Beach Island. I’d been here days before and fallen in like with a hot pink tote that had “LOVE” patches on the pockets. I assumed this was the extent and caliber of my mid-life crisis.
My mom was with us and she didn’t want to come into the store, so we left her in the car with the AC running and popped in to pick up my tote. I also had fallen in like with a cute little purse and a pair of cheap sunglasses. My husband considers me difficult to shop for, so when I find something I like he tries to take advantage of it. I showed him the tote and I showed him the little purse and I had to try on seventeen pair of sunglasses to make sure that the pair I was pointing him towards was exactly the right one. Oh, look at that cute scarf with the peace signs! Maybe I need that, too.
As he hauled that whole bundle of groovy stuff up to the cashier, I slipped away.
I moved tentatively toward the bikini rack and took a deep breath before I actually touched one. I hadn’t tried on a bikini since the Carter administration. This particular specimen was pale pink with broad white stripes and looked cute from a distance…not so much up close. The five suits next to it were just plain ugly. In fact, there wasn’t a single pattern I was drawn to, but for one: a soft lime bikini with small white polka dots. I pulled it off the rack and it was still cute. So I snuck into the dressing room in the same stealthy manner I skim off layers of Vanilla Haagen Dazs before bed. I took off my clothes fast, before I could talk myself out of what I was about to do, and just as quickly pulled on the bikini bottom. The top was just a couple of triangles and some string – a contraption I used to be adept at assembling when I was a teenager, but which now felt foreign and complex.
It fit. But that’s about all I could say about it. My bikini-wearing question had been answered. And the answer was no.
It’s a totally different occurrence trying on a bikini at 50 and being disappointed in the way you look. It is not nearly the suicidal experience it is at 20. And not once did the thought of skipping meals as penance cross my mind. So I put my lime green friend back on the rack and met my husband at the front of the store and we climbed into the car to get on with our movie returning. I turned the key and the car did not start. It made a weird thwaking sound that I imitated for my mechanic over the phone and he made the long-distance diagnosis (just like the Car Talk guys): dead battery.
I thought I'd left the car running for my mom, but I guess I hadn’t. I guess I’d just clicked on the ignition switch enough to run the air conditioner.
It’s just like me to think that my car battery died in response to my doing something as impetuous as baring my midriff. Of course, rationally, I know that’s not the case at all. But there is this feeling that I carry around with me lately – an unfamiliar combination of bravery and curiosity that sometimes feels close to recklessness. As if the little voices in my head that have kept me in check all these years are starting to yawn and lie back in their hammocks. Bigger thwarting mechanisms now need to take over.
I found someone with jumper cables and within a few minutes we were back on the road again. But I was nervous to turn the car off, even after the battery had recharged. Even after I was back in my safe world of returning movies and picking up groceries, my torso happily tee shirt clad again.
It felt somehow like a little something had been undone that day, and I’m not quite sure if there’s any way to take it back.