In my last post I confessed that I roasted this year’s turkey while wearing a wet swimsuit. This confession was, of course, a thinly veiled attempt to brag about spending Thanksgiving in Hawaii. And I’m hoping that by confessing that, I’ll somehow dilute the aforementioned bragging and make you like me again. (Did it work? Tell me in the comment section.)
In relating the wet swimsuit incident, however, I omitted an important back story that warrants no bragging whatsoever. In fact, I hesitate to share it with you now, but in the spirit of this blog, our trust, and mint-smeared sunglasses everywhere, share it I must. So walk with me, friend, back to 1983. I was ten years old, it was summertime, and it was hot.
So hot, that my two sisters and two neighbors (the Neighborhood Gang, natch) spent every waking minute we could at the local public pool. These were the glory days of unsupervised childhoods: we walked or biked everywhere, and for fifty cents could enjoy four decadent, parentless hours swimming with two hundred other parentless kids at the Kennewick Municipal Pool. Oh, the sunburns and germs and fights that must have ensued at that mobbed pool; I still wonder if the lifeguards weren’t CPS agents disguised as teenagers, assigned to monitor the Great Latchkey Masses. I remember one dazzlingly dramatic day when a bee sting required my sitting in the First Aid Office while one of the lifeguards on duty ministered to me. He was tan, sandy haired, and The Most Beautiful Man I’d Ever Seen. (He was maybe sixteen.) Sitting next to me on a bench,
he held my hand (!) near his face as he studied the wound. I can still feel his cool breath on my palm as the giggling Gang smashed their noses against the other side of the window, giddy that one of us had finally made contact with a member of the male species. And what a specimen he was! The bitter sting of the bee was eclipsed by the tenderness of the caress; I was a damsel in distress, rescued by my knight in shining swim trunks. It was a moment of moments for me, and largely explains how I came to develop The Rash.
See, after our passionate encounter with the bee sting, I couldn’t stay away from My Lifeguard, even for a day. Could you blame me? And so to the daily afternoon swim session it was: one ‘o clock to five ‘o clock, Monday thru Friday, by foot or by bike. The success of each session required only two things I adored: My Lifeguard’s presence, and my copper-colored swimsuit.
Oh, my copper colored swimsuit! It was a shimmery, one piece that cinched around my non-chest and tied halter-style around my neck. I loved this swimsuit as much as I loved that lifeguard; perhaps even more, since the suit was, I believed, my ticket to making him mad for me. And so, armed with that logic, I never took the swimsuit off. Like, ever. I wore it before the pool, during the pool, and after the pool (it dried nicely as I bicycled home wearing it–and only it.) I played tag in it, ate dinner in it, and delivered newspapers in it. I slept in it every night, then woke up magically dressed and ready for the day. It became my permanent underwear and, by happy accident, my first training bra. And don’t worry: I washed it every day by showering–with it on–in the locker room at the pool. That swimsuit was comfy, convenient, and I looked like a million bucks in it. I saw no downside with it becoming my second skin during the torrid affair that was my tenth summer. It seemed to me that I’d finally beaten the system. What system, I wasn’t sure, but somehow I had beaten it.
Until one late August evening when, over the tater tot casserole, my treacherous older brother pointed out to my parents that I’d been wearing “that suit” for weeks in a row. This got their attention; they’d naively assumed that when their nearly-grown daughter came to dinner in shorts and a T-shirt, regular undies were being donned underneath. Oh, the innocence of the elderly! They’d long forgotten that to a child, Hygiene is The Enemy. My mom asked me if my brother’s accusation was valid. Had I been wearing the suit every day, even to bed? Of course I said no.
“Yes she has! Make her show you. She has it on now.” My brother wasn’t backing down. This was a serious breach in our Sibling Code of Not Telling which would, thankfully, be reinstated before high school.
“Shut up, Doug.”
“Mom, she has it on now. She’s been wearing it under everything, every day. I bet she hasn’t even taken it off to shower. It’s so gross.”
“Shut up, Doug!”
“Jennifer, show me your suit.” My mother had called my Jennifer. I knew the gig was up.
Avoiding eye contact with anyone, I lifted my white tee ever so slightly to reveal a flash of beautiful, shimmery copper beneath. I quickly closed the shirt and squirted more ketchup on my tots, hoping this gesture would close the subject.
“And how long have you been wearing that, Jennifer?”
“I don’t know.” I shot my brother a look of hate, which only delighted him.
“Forever!” he spat. “Like, all summer. She never takes it off, Mom. Like, ever.”
“Nu-uh!” I yelled. He was smirking his terrible freckle-faced smirk, and I cursed him, silently and once again, for being Mom’s favorite.
“Jennifer, you go up to your room right now and take that thing off. Put it in the wash, and put some real clothes on.” My shoulders slumped as I scraped my chair out and left the table with a dramatic sigh. Of course nobody understood that this wasn’t just a swimsuit, it was a potent aphrodisiac! How would I ever get My Lifeguard now?
“Fine.” I went to my room and slammed the door. I peeled off the beloved garment–and all my hopes for romance–then dressed in the “real clothes” my mother had insisted on. Looking down at my lonely tummy no longer swathed in nylon, I noticed a little red bump, kind of like a single chicken pox. I then noticed another right by it, and another right by that one, and than another and another and another. My belly was covered with as many red bumps as I’d spent days in the suit–maybe even more. Maybe ten times more. And as if on cue, the moment I noticed them, they started to itch. Bad. I went to scratch and despite having worn my suit perfectly dry all day, my skin felt moist and hot. My wary scratching soon gave way to a ferocious clawing, and I wondered how the Suit could have betrayed me so. I didn’t understand what was happening then, but I do now: it was the first in a lifetime of disillusions about love, loss, and epidermal ventilation. My heart pounded and my belly burned as I realized that this swimsuit would prove the ruin, not the redemption, of my blossoming summer romance. Frantic and furious, there was only one left to scream down the stairs.