Dear Girl in the Gold Bikini,
You are laying all alone on your belly on a not-very-picturesque stretch of beach along Lake Michigan. It is still spring, the sky is pale—your skin is pale too, and the fine blonde hair on your arms stands at attention.
You shift around uneasily on your towel, trying to force a comfortable indentation in the grey sand. Your cheek is pressed to the earth and you twist your hands behind you, fumbling with the knot on your bikini top, attempting to release it in the hopes that—if you do actually tan at all, your exotic new color won’t be marred by a tan line.
Propped in the sand next to you is a cheap little boom box, and a kind of unlikely music comes out of it in staticky waves; Sonny Boy Williamson, Peach Tree.
You smile to yourself as the song bounces around your ears, and wonder for the umpteenth time how such a gleeful melody could be called “the blues.”
Unable to stay still, you flip over and sit up, clasping your untied top to your chest and looking around nervously. The water is so blue in places it makes you feel dizzy, and in others so green and frothy it reminds you of a witch’s brew.
There is a graffitied playground with a single swing creaking back and forth in the wind, and a stony promontory which has been built out into the lake for reasons you will never know, but aside from that there is nothing, and no one here.
It seems strange that this is a city with a beautiful lake glittering all along it’s east side, and not one soul has come out to enjoy it, even if it isn’t really warm yet. You gaze at the long line of buildings reaching to the south, getting larger and more impressive the further away they are and hope that maybe, at least, someone inside is looking out.
You lay down again and, after one more quick glance to confirm you are alone, let your top fall to the ground. You know it is illegal to lay here topless, but you’re willing to take that chance. You are not proud of your body, in fact, you resent it’s unreasonable height, it’s puny chest, it’s wide hips and heavy legs. But you like to indulge it occasionally nonetheless.
The gold bikini is a secret thing, worn only once in public, on this day. The rest of the time it hides in a drawer, the metallic fabric peeking out from under messy piles of cheap cotton underwear.
It looks like something a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model would wear, and when you try it on—in the bathroom with the door locked when you are all by yourself—you preen and pose as if you are a beautiful girl, which you are, but not in the way you want to be.
A cloud passes over the weak circle of the sun and a wave of goosebumps skims across your skin. The music stops with an unceremonious clack—the boom box is broken again.
You roll over in frustration and grab your sweatshirt, tugging it on and stuffing the bikini top in the front pocket. You brush the sand off your legs and feet as best you can and pull on your jeans as well. You gather all your stuff together and dump it in your backpack, where beach sand will get trapped between the pages of your textbooks.
Standing up, you realize there is a police car parked within spitting distance of where you are, and a cop is sitting in the front seat. You wonder if he saw you, and if he did, what he thought.
Dear Girl in the Gold Bikini,
I wish I could holler out at you across the years and tell you how I feel. You are me, one version of me anyway, and I want to wrap my arms around you and tell you it’s going to be okay.
I want to walk beside you on the way back to your apartment from the beach and listen to all the things you are too afraid to say to anyone: that you have no idea what you’re supposed to do after college, that you’re pretty sure you’ve never been in love, and that you’re also pretty sure you’ve never had a real best friend, and that you’ve never been one.
I wouldn’t mention all the scary stuff that’s coming—you wouldn’t believe me anyway—but I would confidently assure you, your life will be much better, more interesting and important than you think it’s going to be.
Once home, I would lay you down on your crappy futon mattress on the floor and whisper softly in your ear until you fell asleep. I would say over and over, “You can love yourself. You are powerful beyond measure. You are never alone” until the words plunged so deeply into your awareness that you’d have no choice but to believe them.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: elephant archives