She talked him into this, everything so new between them. She wanted to go to the beach, an easy trip for a Saturday evening, a drive to the east coast, a place of her growing up years, a place familiar. He had warned her, in their planning, of rain as predicted on the weather channel, warned her of the heat. But here is what she knew: There was a difference between the middle section of the state and the beach. She knew the rhythms, when rain was likely in summer and how long it would last, what temperatures were like by water, how beautiful sunsets were and of course she hoped they might walk and she hoped, if they did so, he might hold her hand. She saw it in her mind, but she coached herself: Let him do it. In a previous broken relationship that crushed her heart, that other man could not be counted on. This was a chance to test this new one’s feeling.
She felt a little deflated, upon their arrival at the public beach pavilion, to see a young woman with hair like a mop, each strand a worn color of a flag. She felt irritated. Why did so many people insist on calling so much attention to themselves? She went to Venice Beach to see the freaks, but now not even her childhood beach was sacred. She felt guilty because she knew this new man would not share her attitude. He was a much more generous spirit than her previous one and would not indulge the ugliness she felt inside at this moment. And it might turn him turn him away. Of course she would not show her true self, at least not at this moment.
The woman wore huge pants that ballooned outward though she was skinny, had a nice figure evident from the flat tummy between the midriff. What was going to happen? A woman like that does not show up at the beach just to hang out in the sand and watch the waves. She was there to compete with all of that. A young man was with her. But he was hardly noticeable by comparison.
As she and this new man put their shoes in a pile and blanket on the sand, the woman with the hair and the pants starting working a huge hula hoop, wrapped with strips of tattered cloth, her hips undulating in a slow, seductive gyration.
What the — ?
She couldn’t take it any more.
“Some people like to be seen,” she said.
“Oh, haven’t you been to the drum circle in town?” said this new man.
She knew of drum circles, what a lot of people did, what they looked like. She had stumbled across a huge drum circle when she was with her child and husband in Asheville, her husband now her ex and who would not have hung out among drum circles.
She felt a little pressure. Would she be expected to go to drum circles?
She had to confess, beneath all the layers of her identities that had come with each relationship, she didn’t know who she was any more. She was a pleaser. The only time she seemed to feel her true chosen identity coming through was when she was a senior in college and finally free of all relationships that would bind her to a course. Her dream was to work for a nonprofit and help people with AIDS. The horizon had been ever before her in that moment, a span that lasted several months but then disappeared again under the weight of expectation.
(Perhaps this is why she sought so vehemently the horizon of the shore at the break of this new relationship, perhaps, she thinks, as she writes this. She sought it to the point of arguing her way to it even as she was concerned about making a good impression. The horizon over the ocean: an ever visible inspiration when you are standing before it. Walls are false pretenses. Water is stronger. The sky is forever.)
This new man brought with him a set of new beliefs. She felt pressure. But not too much pressure. She only felt anxious she would disappoint him as she had the men before. Maybe in a different way perhaps, but wasn’t it all the same when you could boil it down to one word? Disappointment.
They walked on. He held her hand.
What if she can’t believe what he believes? What if she can’t be as nice as he expects, as open and free? What if she can’t be open to his teaching? He seems to want to teach her things. (In fact, as she is now recalling as she writes this, all of them had.) She didn’t want to be lonely again. Her heart ached with the possibility of it but she knew, deep down, she would have to be true to herself. Was it the woman’s burden always to bend? Sometimes she had bent to the point of almost being broken: don’t write; don’t write this; you’re not political enough; you’re not intellectual enough; you’re not organized; you’re too fat; your face is round; your butt is big; you talk too much; you talk too little; I like women in dresses; I like women in heels; women should not wear pants suits; a real woman doesn’t wear her hair short; I like a woman who keeps up with her nails, sometimes the glitter art helps her express her creativity; I think your hair should be blond like it used to be when I knew you years ago; if you bought a platinum blond wig and wore a white dress you would look a lot like Marilyn Monroe; I would like to read your stories at some point (An ever receding point, she thinks as she writes this, fading off into the distance like the sun setting over the Gulf.)
No one knows you really, no. No one wants to know. They want to imagine, something. And when you show them who you are, their dream is gone and so are you.
When they return from their walk, the woman with the ragamuffin hair has taken the hair off for as it turns out it is a wig and she is sitting in the sand, in her hoop, looking slightly deflated.
She and her new man spread the blanket out. He says he has something for her he wants her to smell. He pulled something from the bag but told her to close her eyes. She did so. She hoped she would be up for it. There was fear she would not be. It was an oil he said while her eyes were closed. She knew the meaning some people attributed to oils. It smelled like a rose perfume she used to wear until she reacted to a comment that it was something for old ladies. She had thought, up until that point, it was wonderful to always don the scent of her favorite flower. She said it was rose bergamot. He said it was not. He said he didn’t know for sure but he knew that much. He said “This is intention.” Here it comes, she thought. “You breathe it in.”
She thought of something she intended. She wanted a good, long relationship with him though she never would have said that. She intended to lose weight and so she turned to him to say that but he was facing the water, eyes closed, as if in meditation. She hadn’t done the right thing. Was this what you were supposed to do when you smelled oils?
For that moment, she felt no harm in the man sitting on the blanket with her.
When he opened his eyes she spoke clumsily of her intention. She looked at the sand. She knew she was dependent. There was even a term for it, not co-dependent, but something else, a term her therapist used to describe her and her clingy woman self, though she could be other things too, she was mainly this way in relationship, dependent upon the opinion of men, particularly the man she was with.
She looked at the sand. thinking of the oil and the many things he had said already, and she thought of his look in profile as they sat there on the blanket and what she decided for that moment was this: He was good. She knew this. And that was all for now. And for now she would keep her secret belief to herself, except, dear reader, what you are reading here now. She would play along with these notions for a while because they seemed important to him and frankly, she liked him. And he seemed ready to care about her and so what he showed her was something meaningful and that in and of itself would be the gift and she would allow herself to receive it though she had no idea of what it was, only that it had been given. In and of itself, she realized, that was enough for the moment in which she found herself and it seemed to be something different from what had happened to her before and so what if she had secret unbelief? A nice man sat on a blanket with her.