I’m guessing its rare for most people to have a complete stranger come up to them and be informed that their old home was the perfect spot for skinny dipping. Add to that situation that I was at a wedding when I was informed of this fact and you may get some clue of just how bizarre my life actually is. But maybe I should back up a little bit.
My last year of college I lived on Lake Norman, foreshadowing my obsession with living on water in subsequent years. We were surrounded by docks and walkways which made for amazing spring evenings and nighttime strolls spent battling bug bites. It was from the back porch that I wrote my thesis and various plays which were desperate to be born. And it was just the beginning of November when my friend Cristi and I discovered that the dock which lead from the back door of my apartment to the middle of the lake not only looked creepy because all of it’s lights were burned out, but also made the perfect place for skinny dipping,
Now I figure if peer pressure can be blamed for kids taking on drug use or drinking alcohol, there must be somewhere in the book that says you can blame it for suddenly finding yourself swimming naked in a lake at midnight just four weeks before Christmas. Our terry cloth bathrobes left in a pile on the planked wood while each of the five of us girls did our best to slip silently into the cold autumn water without giving sign of the icy shock. Our still changing figures cast shadows in the night as we discovered curves and lines we never knew we had. A waist which was still hidden under baby fat last summer, breasts we still crossed our arms to hide, all the insecurities of a teenager were still held up in defense and eventually had to be stripped away through a combination of proximity to other people and water which was so cold, it was violent.
Many of us girls hit puberty at ten or twelve and we look like women long before we feel like it. By college the rest of the world expected me to act like a woman and I had no idea what that was. Refusing to look down when we got into the shower, we hid under t-shirts and basketball shorts or, on some evenings, under the dock in a huddle, as a man with dog walked by. Most people assume that for young women, body image issues stem from a lack of self esteem or a fear of being ugly. I don’t remember it like that. I think my issues came from immaturity. I looked like a woman. I had all the equipment. Problem was, I was still a nineteen year old kid who thought jumping in the lake after Thanksgiving totally naked was a great idea.
This summer I found myself walking around the quays in my part of London most days. The unusually beautiful weather this year meant that I could walk around in a sundress and pretty sandals rather than pulling on some awkward combination of sensible but comfy outfit. Going along the quay one afternoon I noticed that I sat a little taller and greeted the men in the boatyard more confidently all the way around. I felt the breeze in between my thighs, a strong energy sliding down my spine and radiating through my hips. I suddenly wanted a pair of hands around my waist and someone who was as confident as I was to talk with.
Within five minutes I had met a man fishing off the dock and he and I were digging for worms. My sandals had been kicked off and I was eyeing his cooler full of orange soda. So much for being a woman.
At the wedding this weekend I looked from the stranger, who, at some point in time had jumped naked off my back dock, to Cristi in her white dress and veil. It may have been her day but I still needed an explanation.
“I don’t know. You must’ve been at an audition or something. Heck if I know, I did it all the time without you.”
“Cristi, I can’t have random people jumping naked off my dock. Do you know how much trouble-“
“Oh grow up,” said the new wife.
Girls don’t grow up in a consistent and straight line. Somewhere between the age we feel like, the age we actually are, and the age the world expects us to act, there is us, afraid to look down and see that our bodies seem much more confident than we are in them. And there are always women’s voices coming from the shadows of the banks. Strong voices of sensual women promise all the treasures and secrets of being a women. Many girls instantly jump in, desperately trying to grow up way too fast and taste the mysteries which tempt men and women alike. Others hide under the dock, afraid to let go into unknown waters. They do not know if they can swim or survive.
More often than not there are young women who jumped in naked just to be silly, only to realize later that nobody had a map of the lake. We get dangerously close to the sirens at times and then we flee to take refuge underneath the dock. There are entire days spent back and forth, restless and trapped in one’s foolishly mature body.
And there are days when we get closer to the bank than we can ever remember. And actually, we are quite comfortable just listening; we all know we are going grow up someday, but none of us know how to pass through the deep waters directly.