Four years after boys from my class held me underwater and wormed their fingers inside my swimsuit, three years after I’d starved my hips and breasts into air, and two years after I’d found a gentle blonde boy who could love me back to myself, I went to Galiano Island for the summer. I stayed with Leigh, a midwife in training who made her own baggy dresses and tinctures from scavenged herbs. She lived with her boyfriend in a small woodshed on a property with no running water. My boyfriend and I stayed in their converted van parked beneath the canopy of the island’s temperate rainforest. Every day, long haired boys with dopey eyes floated through to sit under the trees, smoke pot, and listen to the Grateful Dead.
On the day Jerry Garcia died, Leigh and I took a long walk from the middle of the island into town. We ate blackberries from bushes at the side of the dirt road. Some days, those were all Leigh ate. I recognized myself in her thin clavicle, in the way she counted each blackberry in her mouth. My boyfriend, the sweet blonde, had spent a year feeding me hummus and carrots and SunChips, fattening me with love and kindness, but I still wanted the kind of body that would vanish in the right light, the kind that would sink in water.
The hems of our long dresses got dusty in the gravel; our black Converse paled. Her border collie sniffed at fat banana slugs gathered in the bushes, and Leigh and I passed secrets. Mine were polished quartz, Leigh’s sharp limestone cut from a mountain ledge. Hard, heavy things held naked in our palms, turned over like talismans. We knew how they could cut. How heavily they weighed in our hands. But, also, in the crystalline edges, we each saw the rough lines of our own story, the way pressure and power could crack something as solid as a rock or a girl.
I told her how, when I was younger, I learned to stand at the edge of the pool, back against the wall, so nobody could grab me from behind. Arms around my chest, limbs held close, as if I could make myself vanish.
How, each swim class, even shy, timid boys got in on the action. I could never predict. Their hard, skinny fingers darted under my swimsuit and exploded like hot little bombs. Sometimes I giggled because what else was there?
Leigh tipped her pale face to the sun; blond wisps haloed her head.
When we returned, Leigh and I prepared a bath. A clawfoot tub stood on cinder blocks in the clearing. Leigh pulled big buckets of water from the unfiltered well. They’d start out full, slosh against the sides, and come out half empty. But bit by bit the bath grew deep. Long-haired boys drummed in a circle on the porch, loose ponytails swaying.
We gathered logs; lit a fire beneath the tub. Flames darted up the white glossy sides like red fingers. When the fire reduced to red and white embers that could not grab us, we took off our dresses and tossed them to the ground. Pulled off our underwear. Placed a long plank in the water, to protect ourselves from the hot metal bottom. Leigh held it steady as I put one foot, then the other on the rough wood, and she followed. I watched her naked body sink down into the water. We pulled our knees to our chests and held each other to keep from touching the burning sides. All around, Douglas fir and red cedar held space.
The boys gathered around, smoked joints, and talked about Jerry Garcia. We were naked and they were not, but none of them looked at us that way, none of them reached into the bath, and I loved us all a little for it. For the memory of safety. For the memory of water.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Adam Tinworth