The summer I turned fourteen my friends and I spent every afternoon at the beach. We found a spot at the end of Twelfth Street, between lifeguard tower and surf, peeled off our shorts and t-shirts, and arranged the sand under our towels just so. I slathered on baby oil, leaving the Sea and Ski and Coppertone for my freckled friends. We turned on the transistor radio and positioned ourselves for maximum sun exposure. Oh, the fine art of tanning, in the days before skin cancer and SPF.
Bodies supine, bodies sublime offered up to the sun. Our view became nothing but slowly shifting sheets of magenta, hot orange, and wild purple behind our closed eyes. The sound of the tinny transistor, seagull squawks, the rhythmic breaking of water on sand, and the voices of other beach goers drifted past us on currents like feathers. The smells of tanning oil, salt water, seaweed and dusty sand. Beads of sweat gathered in the smalls of backs, the bends of knees and swells of breasts, heat licking and searing us, the sun our first lover.
No need of conversation, no need of movement. No need. No want. No desire. Everything, absolutely everything came to us, came to me. I was, we were, complete.
Summer ended. I moved inland. School started. I studied, dated, worked, married, and mothered, exchanging bikinis first for food service uniforms then pantyhose and office attire, then maternity clothes and nursing bras, now support hose and sturdy shoes.
I am at a Sisters of Mercy retreat center, not exactly the beach, and I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not exactly a bathing suit, and the grass is damp, so I stay on the asphalt path, and I don’t have a towel, so I use a sweatshirt, and for the first time in more years than I can remember, I point my face to the sun and lay on the ground in broad daylight simply because I can.
The breeze whispers on my skin, bringing smells of roses and cut grass. The sky vibrates sheets of color under my eyelids, the birds chirp, car alarms sound, playgrounds shout, planes scrape against the sky, refrigeration units hum. Everything is a love song, coming to me and through me. No need of conversation, no need of movement. No need. No want. No desire.
This, this is God, and I never knew.