I went to the beach a few weeks ago, by myself. It's since become my thing. But that first day, I went mid-morning on a weekday, hoping there wouldn't be too much company on the sand.
There wasn't, except for the birds. Heaps of seagulls and geese covered half the beach. One woman lay several yards away from the water in tanning position despite the overcast sky. A man sat in a lawn chair just beyond the waves' reach. Two women, mother and daughter, peeled down to their black swimsuits and waded out into the water.
I spotted someone swimming along the buoys, back and forth, a steady crawl. I had picked the right time, the time when those in the know come down to the beach to get their exercise in.
I had my new Marc Jacobs (from TJMaxx) one-piece on, which I had blown my budget out to get (at $50; my budget fits in my shoe) so I could actually swim at the beach instead of flail around trying to keep a bikini on. This girl is my body double, boobs disappearing under compression and all:
So I sat on a rock like a typical introvert, drawing trees and birds in my notebook and trying to look like I came to the beach to sit on the rocks and wasn't itching to dive in as soon as my introversion wore off. I looked up and saw someone walking out of the water, the person who had been swimming along the buoys:
Her sunburn turned out to be a pink swimsuit. I had been sure she was a guy. A guy in his 30s or 40s who would later be in scrubs in an operating room at the Clinic because swimming in the lake like that means you're a highly self-disciplined surgeon.
I packed up and walked out along the sand, past where the swimming woman had gone to sit next to the man in the lawn chair.
"You're a great swimmer!" I said to her. I flipped my sunglasses up so she could see I wasn't a stalker, or to give her a fair shot at describing my face to police if I were. (Really, this is how I think.)
"Oh, thanks! There's a group of us who are going to swim a mile or two miles at the end of the month."
"Yeah, the lake is perfect for it today, low waves."
Low waves, but I felt like a sliver of tree bark in the lake. It is so big and jostly, and I am a pool-adapted swimmer. But that woman was in my mind. Most women in her apparent shape wouldn't even put on a bathing suit, let alone attempt swimming for a sustained amount of time. Or swimming at all! What made her start? How long has she been at it? How had she come to join the group? She looks like a fertility idol, but how healthy must she be?
What makes the difference between her and my similarly shaped neighbor, who nags at her dogs all day long because she can't nag at her life?
I want to be that swimming woman. I want to take care of myself like that, believe in myself like that, commit like that, embrace life like that, and ignore anyone who might judge my less appealing parts because I know how fucking fantastic I am inside. Ignore them -- including myself, sometimes.
And so I swam. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to be fearless. I thought I would choke or cramp or otherwise embarrass myself. Is that my fear? Embarrassment? Is that worse than death?
I've been back a few times and the swimming is no longer an issue. I'm a fish again, though cautious. I want to take care of myself like that woman takes care of herself, actively and within a niche that works for me. There are lots of "shoulds" in the world, lots of advice about the right way to do things. But we know in our guts much more than a pile of experts or studies can tell us.
I want to do that in all areas of my life. I want to be bold enough to cut away things that don't benefit me. People that don't benefit me. I want to be bold enough to sculpt a life that will let me be my bipolar self without trying to kill me. I'm working on my courage. I'm working my way towards the buoys.