VIVA LA BEACH
We walk past each other in our hats, skirts, shorts, dresses, and tanned skin, waves crashing at our feet, white quartz sand beneath them, cool to touch. We are running, jogging, walking, biking, hand holding, traipsing, kids in tow, to find the perfect spot where we can stake out our territory for the day.
We carry with us on this day our baggage or back packs of memories that bring us together to relive them, recreate them, and reconnect with them. We get here early to make sure we get a coveted parking spot, our coolers packed with all of the accouterments that experience has defined for us as worthy for the day before us breaking our hard fast food rules we usually follow when we are not here in the white sands. Potato chips and tuna sandwiches are a definite staple in our ice packed coolers, fruit-always, thousands of us with hundreds of thousands of dollars of beach gear to have the perfect day either alone, with our lovers, friends, or our families. The seasoned beach goers are usually set up pre 10 am. The seagulls are on high alert looking for rookies who are easily tempted in creating a “nature” experience by feeding them their fritos and French fries they bought at the snack stand.
Bikini clad, young girls with their glorious booties in thongs, their firm breasts and young cleavage at a time in their lives where no scars from surgeries have left their mark. The only care in their world seemingly how much time they have on this day before they head back to work, or school or back to their grandparents house to get ready for dinner and synagogue to be paraded in front of their grandparents’ friends.
We pass each other occasionally making eye contact sizing each other’s outfits as women do, checking out body sizes, shapes, the way things fit and we do it in a nanosecond sizing each other up affirming how we look in our own skin as we compare and contrast. Thankfully the comparing and contrasting has shifted immensely as there is simply no comparing a 52 year old shape to a 20 year young one no matter how many beach boot camps, hill runs and burpees I do.
I consider myself a beach expert. I load up my sunscreen head to toe in the confines of my grandparent’s bathroom, naked, before I head out so I don’t miss a spot. I pack my cooler to the brim with my favorite foods, always too much. I usually bring three towels, one for my head, when I move from the chair to the ground for my afternoon nap, one for my hands, and one to lie on. I have been coming to the beach and loving the beach since I was born. I learned to swim in the lake at our family home in Maine, I took junior lifeguard lessons in the cold New England Atlantic in the early season and I passed swim tests at Camp Tikvah in the summers, treading water for a certain amount of time to prove our sea worthiness. I was “dragged” to the beach in the early morning at our other house on the Cape with my other grandmother and my mother arriving way before the masses. In those days it was instant “Diet” Lipton Tea (made with saccharin because my grandmother and my mother were always dieting and sugar free options was saccharin or nothing) in one of those plastic red coolers way before BPA was in our vocabulary. The beach back then also involved lots of smoking as my grandmother and my mother would place a towel over their heads like they were getting ready to steam their faces over a bowl trying to light cigarettes on the windy shore.
When we moved to Jamestown, RI, the beach no longer became a pilgrimage, as our new home was a small three by nine island. We learned to sail, to row, to dive off of the pilings, to go to the beach alone with our transistor radios. We developed rituals of getting in our first swim by May 1st to prove our New England hardiness. I still keep with this ritual almost forty years later.
I love the beach. I live for the beach. It is ironic because I am in the skin profession, but I don’t care about sun damage for myself. Vitamin D is my ally. I love to sit in the sun all day alone or with people. I love to get a tan. I read, eat, write, swim, sometimes walk and always people watch. The beach is my therapy. The added benefit of having a healthy 99 year old grandfather is that he still lives on the west coast of Florida so the beach is a glorious winter break destination as it has been since I was 13.
Of all the memories I have of my beach experiences, none include my brother, Michael, which is so weird as he was only 5 years younger than me and I can’t imagine he wasn’t with us. I can’t ask Ann (aka my mother) because even if she was speaking to me, her revisionist histories of our childhood is skewed and sugar coated with the fantasies of our childhood. I am sure her memories would lack truth and accuracy in their glossy chardonnay coating.
I can’t ask my father because he died of cancer 6 years ago and I can’t ask my brother because he died of cancer 21 years ago.
As much as I love getting a tan, I have definitely covered myself more as I now see the ramifications of my sun worship. (grandma, you were right) I wear a hat, I use 50 sunscreen on my face and hold on, I broke down and bought one of those spf 50 tent umbrellas. After the breast cancer surgery two years ago, I learned that I had a genetic mutation called BRCH 2 that besides making me susceptible to all types of scary shit, melanoma is one of the other cancers that I am supposed to watch carefully for. Is there no justice?
So now I must sit at the beach covered with my new Athleta top that preserves my décolleté so it doesn’t get sun torched because my beloved breast surgeon, (yes I have one of those) told me that it is important to preserve the skin before she operates. This time the operation is to remove my breasts and put shiny new ones on so, hopefully, I can be done with all of these cancer scares.
My partner, my friends and my colleagues roll their eyes at me when I speak of my operation in terms of summer beach going timing. “If I have the operation in early April, then six weeks of recovery, plenty of time before beach season.” I actually say this aloud to my doctors like it is a priority over living. Obviously I know it is not, but the beach has such psychological impact on me that sometimes I wonder. As I contemplate my upcoming surgery only two years after my last one, I can’t help but consider quality of life as I move into my fifties. All of these decisions I have to make as a responsible woman, mother, friend, employer seem automatic as obviously living trumps the inconvenience of missing a beach season. I know this. The beach now becomes my motivating force to recover, to heal, always my friend, getting me back to the life I choose to live fully and happily.