I keep telling Mike that being at the pool is going to give me plenty of fodder to write my Great American Novel. There are so many things to observe at the pool, so much of humanity (and flesh) on display. It reminds me that there really is nothing new under the sun. (Except possibly my blindingly white skin.)
It is still hard for me to watch those girls that I never was: the confident ones in the tiny bikinis with their perfect tans and their perfect hair and their perfect boyfriends to rub sunscreen on their shoulders (get a room!). I relate more to the ones who are holding back, shy in their bathing suits, aware of their flaws. Of course, they don’t have to be wearing bathing suits to be that shy. I see it at school, too – the girls who, somehow, aren’t awkward at all. And the girls who are profoundly aware of their own awkwardness. I am sometimes overwhelmed with the feeling that I need to take these girls aside, the shy bathing-suit clad, the awkward, and tell them: You might not be like the girls over there, but you are still wonderful. There are things I wouldn’t say, because I know they would not hear them: You will look back and realize you were looking pretty great after all. And: At the same time, you would never go back and relive these days for anything.
But I know, like all the rest of us, they will have to figure those things out for themselves. So I sit in my chair and watch and pray and root for them to find their way.
There has been a lot of dress talk in my house lately. I have seen a lot of magazine pictures that I know I could never live up to, all those tall leggy women who tower over me. I have been very tired and my class has been very frustrating and the economy has everyone worried about their jobs. I have forgotten things I needed to do. I have not lived up to my own expectations. I have not felt beautiful, inside or out. In the midst of that, I ran across this poem.
“Perfect Dress” by Marisa de los Santos
It’s here in a student’s journal, a blue confession
in smudged, erasable ink: “I can’t stop hoping
I’ll wake up, suddenly beautiful,” and isn’t it strange
how we want it, despite all we know? To be at last
the girl in the photography, cobalt-eyed, hair puddling
like cognac, or the one stretched at the ocean’s edge,
curved and light-drenched, more like a beach than
the beach. I confess I have longed to stalk runways,
leggy, otherworldly as a mantis, to balance a head
like a Fabergé egg on the longest, most elegant neck.
Today in the checkout line, I saw a magazine
claiming to know “How to Find the Perfect Dress
for that Perfect Evening,” and I felt the old pull, flare
of the pilgrim’s twin flames, desire and faith. At fifteen,
I spent weeks at the search. Going from store to store,
hands thirsty for shine, I reached for polyester satin,
machine-made lace, petunia- and Easter egg-colored,
brilliant and flammable. Nothing haute about this
couture but my hopes for it, as I tugged it on
and waited for my one, true body to emerge.
(Picture the angel inside uncut marble, articulation
of wings and robes poised in expectation of release.)
What I wanted was ordinary miracle, the falling away
of everything wrong. Silly maybe or maybe
I was right, that there’s no limit to the ways eternity
suggests itself, that one day I’ll slip into it, say
floor-length plum charmeuse. Someone will murmur,
“She is sublime,” will be precisely right, and I will step,
with incandescent shoulders, into my perfect evening.
Sometimes the ordinary miracle comes in charmeuse or a good hair day or the perfect bathing suit, but even better is when it comes from relationships that give you confidence, the hard work of exercise and study, time taken for prayer and reflection. These days, I will put on the ordinary miracles of drinking coffee in my sunroom, a sky so blue you wouldn’t believe it, and pushing a three-year-old “not too high” on a swing. They may not make everything that is wrong fall away, but they are miracles nonetheless.