I turn in his arms, thinking how quickly it’s become my favorite place in the world. Familiar, foreign, comforting, and thrilling all at once.
“I’m going to get this for Carla,” I say, brandishing the calendar. “And chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. And one of those dresses for myself.”
“What about your mom?”
What kind of memento do you get for the mother who has loved you your whole life, who has given up the world for you? Who you may never see again? Nothing will ever do, not really.
I think back to the old photograph she showed me of all of us in Hawaii. I have no memory of it, no memory of being on that beach with her and my dad and my brother, but she does. She has memories of me, of a life that I don’t have at all.
I pull away from Olly and wander around the store. By eighteen years old, other teenagers have separated from their parents. They leave home, have separate lives, make separate memories. But not me. My mom and I have shared the same closed space and breathed the same filtered air for so long that it’s strange being here without her. It’s strange making memories that don’t include her.
What will she do if I don’t make it home? Will she gather her memories of me close? Will she take them out and examine them and live them over and over again?
I want to give her something of this time, of my time without her. Something to remember me by. I find a carousel with vintage postcards and I tell her the truth.
It’s possible that I should’ve tried on the swimsuit before I bought it. It’s not that it doesn’t fit. It’s that is does and very closely. Am I really expected to appear in public with so little clothing on?
I’m in the bathroom looking between my actual body and my body in the mirror. The suit is a bright pink one-piece with spaghetti straps. The pink is so bright that it gives color to my cheeks. I look flushed, like a rosy-cheeked summer girl who belongs in the sun.
Humidity has made my hair bigger than normal. I gather it up and plait it into a long braid to subdue it. I look back to the mirror. The only way to subdue this suit is to wear more, possibly all my clothing at once. I scan my body again. There’s really no denying that I have breasts and legs in this thing. All my parts seem to be in the right proportion and in the right place. I twist a little to confirm that my derriere is covered, and it is, but only just. What would I see in the mirror if I were a normal girl? Would I think that I was too fat or too thin? Would I dislike my hips, my waist, my face? Would I have body image issues? As it stands, my only issue is that I would gladly trade this body for one that works properly.
Olly knocks on the door. “Are you snorkeling in there?”
I do eventually have to leave this bathroom, but I’m too nervous. Will Olly think all my parts are in the right place?
“Deep sea fishing actually.” My voice shakes only slightly.
“Fantastic. We’ll have sushi for—”
I pull the door open quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid.
Olly just stops talking. His eyes travel slowly from my face to my toes and even more slowly back up again.
“You’re in a swimsuit,” he says. His eyes are on the expanse of skin between my neck and chest.
“I am.” I look up into his eyes and what I see there makes me feel like I’m not wearing any clothing at all. My heart picks up the pace and I take a deep breath to try to slow it down, but it doesn’t work.
He runs his hands along the length of my arms, slowly pulling me toward him at the same time. He touches his forehead to mine when we’re finally close enough. His eyes are blue fire.
He looks like a starving man, like he could devour me all at once.
“That swimsuit,” he begins.
“Is small,” I conclude.
Hawaiian Reef Fish
I surprise Olly by getting into the water right away. He says I’m like a baby who runs headlong into things, not knowing enough to be afraid. Like a baby, I stick my tongue out at him and make my way, life jacket and all, further into the water.
We’re at Black Rock, so named because of the rocky cliff formed by the lava rocks that run right up to the beach and jut high into the sky. In the water, the rocks form a crescent shape that calms the waves and forms a coral reef perfect for snorkeling. Our guide at the Fun in the Sun desk says the beach is popular with cliff divers, too.
The water is cold and salty and delicious and I think maybe I was a mermaid in a former life. An astronaut mermaid architect. The flippers and life jacket keep me floating on the surface and it only takes a few minutes for me to get used to breathing through the mask. Listening to the magnified sound of my own breath is peaceful and strangely euphoric. I’m being reassured with every breath that I’m more than just alive. I’m living.