Through the icy window I watch them slink out of the hotel, their hands shoved deeply inside their jean pocket. I should go after them, but I can’t. My feet are rooted in obstinacy. Where are they going? It doesn’t matter. Will they be okay? I do not care. The energy is zapped, stolen, and an apathetic recklessness rolls around, a pinball with no clear direction. I lay back down on the bed, and let the story play out in my head.
Splash. My body hits the water hard with no regrets. Immediately, I swim, one arm swinging while the other falls back in an alternating pattern. Pull, push, pull, push. The wave hovers above me before crashing, and, like a dolphin, I sail seamlessly through, flying across to the other side and then plummeting once more. The water bites, but not hard, and its coldness is actually refreshing. I smile.
I forgot what it had felt like, the water running up and down my skin, tickling me like a father tickles his child. I used to know the ocean as well as any friend, and somehow I have forgotten it. I have forgotten its anger, which thrashes about, pulling anyone caught too far from safety into its net; I have forgotten its playfulness as I lie in the foam and it pushes me around, pulling me under only to spit me back up. How is it that my closest friend has become the furthest stranger?
I float on my back and close my eyes, the water embracing me once more. I have missed you. Why did you go away, my little water bug? I have no answer. The green and blue disappear and change into pinks and purples before settling on coal black.
The voice startles me, and I turn, my arms flailing.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” his voice was soft and gentle, whispering like the wind. “I thought I was the only one who came out here.”
“Well, that’s awfully presumptuous of you to assume there can only be one water bug.”
He laughs, and my heart lurches, but not in the way it should.
“Oh, I’m not a water bug. I came out here for a bit of fun. I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be skinny dipping.”
“I’m not skinny dipping.”
“What are you doing then?” He swims closer, his breath floating in cloudy wisps. One such wisp touches my skin and I shiver. “What’s your name?”
“Does it matter?”
He laughs again, playful and full of charm any girl should melt for. I let him take my arms and wrap them around his torso. My fingers play along the muscles of his back, his shoulders. He is built like a bull, strong and big with a coarseness that does not know how to be any other way. Yet he tries as he rubs his hands along my body. I cringe.
“Not here,” I say without adding not ever. Because that would be strange, not natural. But I did not want him to take away the water. I did not want to lose the only friend I had again.
We walk along the sand, the moon shining down across our backs. From someone behind us, I hear whistles and shouts, and between the silver light he grins. “Don’t mind them. I expect they’ll get the fire going soon. We could join them if that’s what you prefer.”
I would much prefer disappearing beneath the waves, the current dragging me far, far, from him. But I say nothing, instead pulling him onto higher ground where the hardness of the sand broke loose, each fragment grabbing onto our skin and caressing us with the same intimate care given between two lovers. We find a corner in the dark near the floppy blades of grass sticking up on the dunes and sit, him still naked as his hands glide up my arms, then under the strap of my bathing suit.
I let him feel me, touch me in ways that should gratify me but doesn’t. I am as cold and as stiff as a rock, unmoved and empty, a chasm that cannot be fulfilled. Still, a part of me hopes to feel something, to be electrified by the lips the press into my mouth, the soft bite that puckers my bottom lip, the fingers that dance and sway up and down my body.
I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.
The tears break loose from the carefully constructed dam and form a river down my cheeks. No, not again. I refuse to let it back in.
I lean further into him, but the more I try to give, the more the tears come. He doesn’t seem to notice; his body is responding to mankind’s most basic, natural instinct and he is going along with it, enjoying the ride before the three minutes are up. As he goes to straddle me, I push him back, effectively pulling the plug.
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I tell him. He is wounded, the words deflating an ego that was not accustomed to getting what it wants. I expect him to slap me, to take his fury out on me because I failed to comply to the rules everyone knew how to follow. No, instead I slap myself over and over again.
What is wrong with you?
“If you ever change your mind, come find me. My friends and I are staying over there,” he points over the dunes, to a plain house standing up on stilts. The lights are out, its eyes are closed, but still it watches, a guard dog ready to pounce. I shiver, wishing I didn’t have the knowledge he so readily handed me.
I run, my heart pounding as my feet tear up the sand and fling it carelessly to the side. Where are you going? The water calls to me, begs me to come back. You are going to lose yourself again, aren’t you?
I stop, my mind caught in a fish net of memories. It had come quietly, stealthily like a fox, snatching away pieces of myself until I no longer did the things I used to do. It came beneath their words, and like their words it stayed, watching me fall slowly into the whirlpool of self-abasement.
“Johnny is so cute, don’t you think?”
“What about Nathan? Boy, he sure doesn’t skip leg day?”
“What do mean you don’t find them attractive? Are you telling me you’re into girls?
“Wait? You’re not into anybody? Girl, are you crazy?”
“You’re not a girl? What the hell are you going on about? You’re not broken, you can’t be broken because if you were it would be a shame. No one keeps broken things around.”
“You better fix yourself before anyone knows. You can’t tell anyone what you just said. You’re being a fool, okay? It’s not natural, those thoughts.”
“What is wrong with you?”
Around and around, I am stuck on the merry go round, refusing to get off and read through the thousand of books piling up in a closet, write through the journals that remain blank, and swim through the fresh blue and green of the ocean. My chest seizes and I cannot breathe. I stumble through the screen door, fall onto the porch before I pick myself up and hide inside my room, folding myself into a ball.
I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.
What is wrong with you?
You are not natural.
The chorus sings and sings, and I am tempted to do what I did before. I stumble from by bed into the bathroom, flinging open the doors to the medicine cabinet. It is empty, much to my relief. I slam the doors shut and climb back into my bed, letting my dreams carry me away from the world which has sought to drag me down.
I will not let you take me away. Not again. I sing quietly to myself, the new chorus bringing itself above the old one. Then I fall away, smiling, as I drift into fields of green and gold, the flowers dancing like ballerinas above me, and wait for morning.
I am still smiling when I wake, and I bounce freely from my bed, skipping weightlessly to the sandy shores. Splash. My body hits the water with no regrets. Once again, I swim, one arm swinging while the other falls back in an alternating pattern. Pull, push, pull, push. Dive. I flip underwater, spinning head over heels in a somersault before bursting through the surface, crying joyously.
Welcome back, my water bug, the ocean joins their voice merrily with mine.
The waves lap back and forth, playing as a child plays with toys with those stuck in between its current. Yet it never drags; it recedes to allow me to catch my breath before diving beneath its coolness. I can feel its fingers wrap around me and caress beyond my bones. A piece of broken seaweed floats by and I grab it, gently rubbing my own fingers between the silky strand. Then I let it go, returning it to the one friend who has never left. Silently, I cry, the tears immediately wiped away.
The blue and green shimmer, the sunlight striking it with a beam of gold, and shift into a darker shade. But I do not let it get any darker, instead choosing to separate myself from the water and lay on the dry sand. Each grain clings to my back, monkeys climbing an exhausted tree. This tree does not care and smiles as it spreads its limbs wide, swinging back and forth, back and forth, creating an imprint of angel wings.
“Looks like you’re having fun,” a voice interrupts and I open my eyes to see a wrinkled face peering down at me.
“You’re a bit different, you know that?” Ordinarily I would flinch, but his words sail past me, a ship I did not need to catch. He continues, smiling sweetly and surprising me: “And it’s a good thing.”
I watch him leave, his walk clumsy and worn from the years spent dancing and climbing, running and exploring, with those things he loved and the love of those who stayed by him. A ball rolls past him, bouncing along in a search to obtain more springy hands.
His voice no longer startles me, and I barely glance up. His lips are tugged downward, frowning as I fail to give him the attention he desires.
“We’re having a party later tonight. You should come by. Maybe we can give it another go?” So casual and calm, yet beneath it he frets, worrying about the lack of control slipping from his pale hands. Out of the shadows of the night he is unremarkable. Attractive to any sensible girl who depends on looks to reel a fish in, but his smugness defines the ugliness otherwise overlooked.
I look over at the house, its plainness hiding in the light, suddenly ashamed to be seen above the dunes. “I will think about it, but don’t hold your breath.”
He puffs out his cheeks as he grabs for the ball I never intended to hand him. “Suit yourself. Your loss.”
He runs past a little girl with curly pigtails and knocks her over. Behind her, young boys wearing swim trunks pulled to their belly button snicker, some even flicking sand onto her dark skin.
The little girl stands, brushing the sand from her body, then pouts, but not at the boys. No, she ignores them, and I smile wryly. How I would give to go back to that age where innocence is not a blunder but a protection against the evil which eventually worms its way in, supplanting doubt where confidence should be and laying heavy stones on top of a heart that should be weightless. No, the little girl pouts with a determination that has not been stolen from those sinister machinations seeking to bring us down.
“Today’s the day. I’m going to do it,” she whispers to herself.
The girl points her head to the shining water waiting patiently as a mother waits for her child. “I’m finally going to go in there. I am not afraid; I want to go beyond the white and play where the dolphins play. Because then,” And I see her eyes, mismatched green and blue with flecks of purple swirling in between, “I will not have to hear them call me a freak.”
There it was. It managed to crawl its way under her skin after all. I take her hand, intertwining my fingers with hers. “You are not a freak,” I tell her, but mostly I tell myself. “Come on, little water bug. Let’s go swim with the dolphins. I’ll show you where they like to be.”
Together we wade through the water, the waves soft and warm against our legs. Splash. We dive beneath the surface with no regrets, just two little water bugs flying from our restraints, our hearts beating with joy.