When I was a little girl, sometime in the first year after my daddy died, my grandmother took me and my mother on a short family trip to a beach a few hours drive from our home. I have pictures of them and me, squinting in the sun and digging our feet into the warm sand.
I think the goal was to get my shocked and grieving mother out of the house and back into some of the enjoyable moments of life. Our family’s lives at that time were about my mother’s grief more than anything else.
What I remember most about the trip is my red two-piece bathing suit that looked as shiny as a polished apple when it was wet. It was a tiny bit big for me, and the shoulder straps kept sagging down off my shoulders. My mother kept fussing around me, moving the straps back in place or telling me to fix them.
What she didn’t realize is that I was wiggling to make the straps slide down because I thought it made me look sexy. I didn’t want to say so because I knew I was a kid and she would laugh, and I didn’t want to be made fun of. (Even at that age, I knew to anticipate a big, braying laugh and a chuckling sharing of the story with others.) So I just refused to fix my straps until my mom shrugged and took the pictures as is.
Today, when I look back at those photos and see a little seven-year-old girl with stick-like legs, a gap-toothed grin, and her red bikini straps flopping onto her shoulders, I’m bewildered.
Notice my age: 7. It was the summer between grades 1 and 2. Who told me what sexy was?
This was in 1968. No cable, no social media, no Internet. Did I overhear a cousin or aunt having a conversation about their own wardrobes and immediately decided I needed to do the same? Or did some adult do something inappropriate with me? Or was this just a normal thought a kid has when growing up?
I’ve always wondered. I have no memories of molestation, and I’ve never wanted to explore it through hypnosis and run the risk of an inept counselor inducing false memories.
But I have always, always wondered.