at Ocean City, Maryland, with my brother and our cousins. The sun is setting and it’s starting to get dark but we are not going to sit in the hotel room and play Hearts with our parents. We convoyed down from New Jersey, a dad at the wheel of each car, communicating and coordinating with walkie-talkies purchased expressly for this trip. They gave each other handles and cracked each other up with their attempts to use truck driver lingo. It was a long drive.
After dropping our bags on the beds we wanted we ran outside to walk on the beach. I don’t remember asking permission and I don’t remember the parents saying anything about it, any words of care or concern. They were probably just as glad to be rid of us for a short while. We are all in middle school. We are all hormones and awkward limbs and nervous energy in bodies we hate for hating us.
I’ve just started to grow taller, losing some of the chubbiness I’ve been defined by since 5th grade. I remember standing in line in the cafeteria after lunch one day, lining up to go back to the classroom, and looking down at what I was wearing, this favorite shirt that was styled in the torn sleeves and sweats look popularized by Flashdance. A shirt I loved. And suddenly seeing myself like for the first time, seeing myself how others much see me, and realizing it didn’t fit, that it was much too tight on me. That I was fat. Everyone else in my class had probably already noticed this; they probably talked about it behind my back. I immediately began sucking in my stomach, and haven’t stopped, 30 years later.
But now we’re in Maryland and no one here knows me, except my cousins who’ve known me forever. There are still a few people on the beach, lounging on blankets, snuggling up close and watching the waves as the sun sets. It’s too cool to swim and we’re not sure how far down the beach we’ll be able to get before it gets dark but we’ll go anyway, toward the lights from the boardwalk in the distance.
Wait, my cousin says, I want my shoes off. She kicks her flip-flops off, leaving them in a pile near a trash can. You can’t just leave those there, I say. Yes I can, she says, Who’s going to take them? She starts walking and then I kick my sneakers off and follow after her. The sand and wind are suddenly so cold so we start running. The surf rushes up to meet us.