Saturday, June 7, 2014

who will watch your things while you pee?

The idea of a day alone at the beach is, in theory, wonderfully refreshing. You come and go as you please, watch the ocean play along the edge of the sand and listen to its rumbling with only the soundtrack of your own thoughts, read a book or journal or pray with no one to interrupt you with their thoughts. No one to tell you that you should put on more sunscreen or you will die of skin cancer.

But then the day starts and you find that being alone is a bit more complicated and conspicuous than you'd anticipated. When you stop at a cafe for lunch on your way, the waiter asks how many at your table and you say one. And then once you are seated, another waiter comes and asks you if you are alone and you confirm that yes, you have chosen to come to a restaurant by yourself. You forgot your magazine in the car so you look at your phone, at the plant next to your table, at other people. The waiter comes to take your order and, used to interrupting conversations to ask for the order, he looks a little lost. And when it's time for the check, he has to apologize for it taking him too long to get it, since he is accustomed to his customers being caught up in conversation, not noticing the minutes between the plates cleared and his return.

Later, at the beach, you spread out your things, deftly handling the big blanket by yourself. The wind is kind and helps you lay it flat, and you are thankful. But an hour in, you encounter a new problem: the coffee and water you drank at lunch needs to come out. You look at the people around you and try to decide if you need to bother asking one of them to watch your things or if that would be stupid, over protective. You never think about who will watch your things while you pee when you plan to be alone. You stand up, put on your shorts and take your purse (your wallet, keys and phone), and when you return, you are grateful to see all of your things still there. Then an hour later, there is a new problem: you are getting red and should put on some sunscreen. Your legs, your arms, your chest, these parts you can reach. When it comes to your back you try the best you can to reach in different contortions, trying also not to look to desperate as you accomplish this task meant for two people all by yourself.
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Growing up, I looked to my oldest sister to teach me most things in life. She taught me how to diet, how to give myself a facial, how to twirl a baton. In the summer months, she taught me how to sunbathe: 30 minutes on your stomach, then 30 minutes on your back, just like that so that you'd be evenly darkened all over. She taught me to spray lemon juice in my hair so the sun would lighten it. And I followed her loyally, unquestioningly. But then she went somewhere I couldn't follow (life partnered, familied, peopled). She never taught me how to be a thirty-something person who is alone.
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After a few hours on the beach, you decide to go home. You put on your shorts and shirt and shove the rest of your belongings in your bag. The wind is merciful again, not whipping your blanket and the sand its accumulated all over as you fold it up. You grab your chair and place it on your shoulder and walk through the sand and up the stairs toward your car. On the way, you stop in the ice cream shop you've been to every time you come to this beach, and it's busier than expected. There you are with your purse, your beach bag and a chair, walking precariously through the store, dodging kids and candy displays. When you pay for your ice cream you have to put everything down to reach for your wallet, then pick everything up again to walk out and realize you can't eat the ice cream while holding all of your things. There should be a class, or maybe you could write a book or a blog post, you think, because going to the beach alone is something you need to be prepared for.

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