Saturday, July 29, 2006

A String Bikini & Words of Wisdom

Puberty threw me into an inner-culture shock.
Meet me at the end of the seventies.
You'll see me wearing a burgundy-piped pink terry cloth onesie romper...the kind where the piping can be tied in a bow over your breast for the soft shoulders look or it can be tied in a vee over your chest & around your neck. If not alone, I tied it up around my neck, suddenly aware and afraid that one simple tug could strip me of all of my coverage, leaving me wide open for exposure. So much faith placed on that one little bow.
You'll see me walking the beach all alone, with barefoot soles hardened by the hot sand and busted up oyster shells, feeling nothing, hoping no-one will notice me & wishing someone could roll me up, pop me in a bottle, put a cork in it & throw me out to sea. Hoping I'd wash up on the shores of where I was meant to be.
My legs were long and getting longer, my waist was small and getting smaller, my breast were swelling to remind me of the eminence of growing up & forcing me to change my everyday life.
Developing breasts meant I could no longer play football with the neighborhood boys like I always had them...shirtless. It meant I could no longer go to the hose to swill some rubbery water, hoping it would quench my thirst, discovering it wouldn't & having it turn into an afternoon of playing in the water in my underwear. It meant that taking the bandana off of my head and tying it around my chest no longer counted as 'getting dressed.'
Now I was not raised by nudists, nor am I a nudist.
It's not about nudity, it is about comfort.
These days, I come home & peel out of my works duds & slip into something more comfy...something loose around the waist, light & soft & definitely not a bra. When I was a kid, getting comfy simply meant taking off my top & as the days got longer & hotter, taking off my gouchos, dittos or levi's.
I got my first bra, a training bra, for Christmas in fifth grade. I didn't know what it was or what it was for and when I found out, surrounded by friends and family I was bewilderd as to why I had rec'd it. I thought there had been a mistake. I thought it was probably a mis-tagged gift for one of my older sisters. And then I was mad, so mad that I was nearly in tears. I barked out at the crowd of strangers that I thought knew me so well....This is ridiculous! I don't even wear a shirt! Why would I wear a bra?
My sister told me that if I didn't wear a bra that my breast would grow forever. Her friend told me I could suffocate in my sleep if I didn't wear it. Mom told me I wasn't allowed to play football or in the hose with the boys anymore unless I wore it.

So I walked the beach alone in my onesie. My compromise, my stepping stone...
until Nana took me shopping for a swimsuit. A new swimsuit, not a pass-me-down. One just for me. One to accent my growing body. One to remind me that I am a girl. One that fit me.

In the bright lights of the mall store, in the juniors department, with my grandmother, I felt raw & revealed, embarassed & excited. I pulled a number of suits off the rack. Ones I thought my grandmother may approve of. I showed them to her & she quietly nodded. On my way to the dressing room and out from under her eye, I pulled a one peice Ocean Pacific french cut into my wad of suits. French-cut was new & risque for the era.
As I pulled on the first suit, Nana's feet appeared outside my dressing room door & she rambled encouragement for me to come out & model. I didn't, but I opened the door for her to peek in. She wasn't impressed. I closed the door & tried again with another modest suit. And then another & then another. Nana wasn't impressed & began to wander off in search of something better.
But the OP swimsuit was still in there with me.
A one piece, but very low in the back, high on the sides and cut & gathered in the middle. Lay it out & it almost looked like a figure 8. I quickly tried it on. I loved it. The french-cut curves & cuts of the suit made my ropeswing (with knots tied in the middle) legs look long & sleek, the criss-cross strap, low-cut back made my shoulders seem broader. The material gathered around my buds, made them appear more mature & the material tampered in towards the belly, revealing part of my waist & belly. I looked in the mirror & I saw
a girl. A fresh, clean girl. I loved it! I stood in dressing room staring, twisting & turning, looking at myself in this one-peice OP made with less material than most two-peices in shock and awe.
Nana's feet appeared again outside the door. She had another swimsuit for me to try on. I told her that I was wearing one that I liked, hinting it was a little skimpy. She wanted to see.
When I finially get up the nerve to open the door for her, she has wandered several yards away & was looking at other swimsuits. I called to her. I don't think she even turned around, but she said 'You've never been timid, now come on out here & show that suit.' I came out and took a few steps as she walked towards me. She is smiling, almost laughing & says that this suit was an improvement on the others. Suddenly, she grabbed my right arm, right above the elbow & held tightly, pulling my arm down the way only grandmothers can do. Her eyes suddenly a red-hot fire in their blue frosting and she whispered with intensity in a deep hushed voice to me. My eyes locked with hers & I listened intently to what she said.

'Let me tell you one thing child, when you're young you have resources but you don't have the balls to use them. When you get older, you have the balls to do anything but you don't have the resources.... now, try THIS on.'
In her hands she held a black two peice that had about sixty feet of string. String that connected two small patches to each other, criss-crossing across your back or belling then connecting to a third flap of material. I think I had seen her swimsuit before. I think it was in a Fredericks of Hollywood catalog I saw while babysitting. I couldn't help but bust out laughing. Here I had been afraid of my grandmothers reaction to a skimpy one peice & she was bringing me something 3x skimpier.
I got the OP swimsuit & the only reason my Mother even let me wear it was because her Mother had bought it. I wore it for three years until I wore it out. I've never found a swimsuit like it since. I've never had a swimsuit that gave me that feeling again.
The swimsuit is but a classic memory, but those words...I wear them forever. My grandmother sewed them into the fibers of who I am when she pulled on my arm & locked those ice blue eyes with me.