Hanging out at the neighborhood swimming pool as a kid, I found things to be predictable. The wooden deck, baked by the sun, was always stove hot. Bees grew to the size of ping pong balls. The air smelled of heat, chlorine and suntan lotion.
For some reason I remember the suicides. This quasi-forbidden beverage was a big deal to an eleven-year old boy. A suicide was made from all the other soft drinks in the concession stand: coke, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, and root beer. It was never clear why this concoction struck fear into the hearts of some adults the way crack cocaine does today, but not every older teenager who worked the concession stand would make it for us. You had to ask for a suicide from one of the cooler ones, or even better, wait until the concession stand was unmanned and then sneak in and make your own.
One afternoon did not turn out to be predictable at all. That was the afternoon that an older girl, maybe fourteen or so, came into the pool area. She wore a one-piece bathing suit, but it had a plunging neckline that showed off large fields of pale white skin. It was as though the designer had gotten drunk while making it and completely forgot that the thing was supposed to be functional pool wear, not a sultry ballroom gown.
My friends and I had finished a game of racquetball. We lay in the shade, dripping with sweat and drinking suicides, watching people swim in the pool. Suddenly, my friend jabbed me in the chest and said “Look. LOOK.”
Up on the high diving board, the girl prepared to jump. She smoothed back her hair and closed her eyes. But she hadn’t realized that the right side of her plunging neckline bathing suit had flipped back, revealing her breast.
Even though she was far away, all the way up on the high dive, we could see that her nipple was startlingly red. I had never dreamed of a red that color. It was like a strawberry ripening. It was like a rose blooming. It was like the blinking lights that beckon airplanes to land.
And then we realized something else: the moment was continuing. She still didn’t know. Although the pool patrons had begun to look up and see the vision shimmering above their heads, she hadn’t realized what happened. She continued her swan-like strut up and down the diving board, readying herself to jump, while her swimsuit continued its cowardly retreat.
Finally one of her friends waved at her, and she looked down, and her face turned a color of red that nearly--but not quite--matched her other exposed part. As she covered herself, the moment finally ended and we all erupted into laughter and excited talking, beginning a conversation and an exchange of impressions and opinions that would continue for several days, even weeks, to come.
I looked over at the girl a few minutes later. She was predictably mortified, but also smiling and talking with her friends. I knew that she would get on her with her life and exhibit a notable lack of permanent trauma. Which was good, because it wouldn’t have been fair to make her pay for the gift she had given us.
And she had given us a gift. I don’t just mean that she gave us the gift of her skin, showing us female flesh that was real and true and not trapped behind the wavy lines of a scrambled cable channel, or airbrushed frosting-pink inside the pages of a carefully hidden skin mag. Rather, when her swimsuit flipped back and her breast burst forth, like the morning sun rising into the sky, she broke us out of our routine. She showed us that not everything stays the same, or predictable, or staid. She showed us that anything is possible.
Update! Barbara has another point of view.