I was fifteen when my family and I went to Provincetown, a beach filled with grassy dunes. Its landscape differed from Rockaway Beach. Just like back home, we carried bags filled with sandwiches and drinks. We laid our blanket at a clearing and settled in. My sister and I began removing our tops and bottoms ready to show off our brand new bikinis. My mother cried out, “Shut your eyes!” Naturally, we looked around. There were many men. Buffed men of all ages wearing tight Speedos. “Don’t look at them!” she whispered frantically as she gathered our things. We left.
The shrill squawk of ibises distracted Julia. Her brown eyes darted upward, unable to move her head. Forehead folded into her hairline. An observer might wonder if her eyelashes tickled her eyelids for everything about Julia oozed length: long strong legs, long thin arms, long straight hair, long pointy nose. Despite her angular structure, though, Julia appeared approachable. Her round cheeks and plump lips softened her face. Out the corner of her eye she spotted the ibis’s thin legs, stretched out as if the bird beckoned her to follow it. Relief crossed her face realizing they finally reached the riverbank.
The art teacher looked at my poster board. “What is this mess?”
It had been a simple project, “draw a beach scene.” Like in writing, though, I tackled too broad a scene. Where classmates focused on an individual or even a drink, I took on the entire landscape at Far Rockaway. The wide stretch of sand before reaching the shore, bodies and bodies of people stretched out on blankets absorbing sun rays, an occasional beach umbrella, coolers, radios. Even as a kid I had trouble polishing a small moment to its beauty. Instead I mash too much in a small space.
Thin girls with long limbs tend to appear unwieldy, like colts learning to negotiate body movements. This awkward phase often leads to introverted behavior dictating future life choices. Not Julia; she had full command of her long, thin arms and long, strong legs. At seventeen, she towered over her peers. Where the women in her Puerto Rican community averaged five feet, she measured a good five feet, seven inches. She wore her height with confidence, walking with a straight back and head held high. With each step she took, her long, straight hair swayed side to side, grazing her waist.