The contemplation of what activity clenches the jaws, contracts the abdominal muscles and furrows the brow of any woman of a certain age? Considering what action fills her brain with anxiety and her heart with trepidation? What thought incites a riot of classic avoidance behavior?
Buying a bathing suit.
My own avoidance behavior is such that my one bathing suit, purchased in 1995 in Kauai, bears the marks of several seams resewn and holes darned by my hand.
But I was heading off to California on vacation and had determined that the Vixen Divorcee deserved a fresher image. Too that end, on a rainy Saturday in early June I convinced my friend, Susie, that our time would be best spent shopping for beach wear.
By crossing the threshold of Nani Nalu Beachwear Boutique, we left behind the chilly, dreary midwestern day and plopped down in Aruba. Or Jamaica. Or Key Largo. Or anyplace with palm trees, exotic birds and bright colors.
The ambience also lulled me into confident optimism.
I pulled suit after suit off the rack, contemplated them at arms distance, shook my head and hung them back up. The sympathetic eyes of the clerk when she approached me communicated commiseration with the deep resistance my body language expressed.
“May I be of service?” she asked. “I’m here to make this a fun experience.”
Making buying a bathing suit a fun experience? In what universe would that ever happen?
In mine, as it turned out.
I told her the size of my bra cup and slacks and ten minutes later she escorted Susie to a lounge area with couches, magazines and big mirrors and me into a fitting room lined with a dozen tankinis, those newer two piece suits which, my assistant assured me, would discretely cover my middle and lend lift and support as required at my age.
I loved almost every suit I tried on. Susie responded with careful observations about the style, color and fit of each of them. I eliminated a few and then started back through the five remaining possibilities. After 45 minutes, we decided that the one with the raspberry and white striped top and solid raspberry bottom miraculously combined femininity, sexiness and modesty into one garment and was the perfect choice.
The shop owner explained that nani nalu means “beautiful wave” in Hawaiian, and that was exactly what the experience felt like. The vibrant colors of the shop, the graciousness of each woman who worked there, my joy at feeling attractive and the loving patience and encouragement of my good friend washed over me just like a beautiful wave.
As we settled over lunch and a glass of wine, Susie said, “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you today. I want to bring you up to date on my health.”
Susie has been dealing with a persistently annoying health issue for the last six months. Her doctor hasn’t found the cause despite several visits and tests. This was old news.
What wasn’t old news was that one of these tests revealed a mass of cells growing where no mass should be.
Susie’s husband had been out of town on business since last Tuesday. The test results came Thursday morning. We were having lunch on Saturday afternoon.
Between Thursday morning and Saturday afternoon, this friend of mine had been alone with her fear of cancer. I leaned over and squeezed her arm. We looked at each other, both of us with tears gathering behind our eyelids. I was thinking of how incomprehensible and unacceptable it would be if anything was seriously wrong with Susie. Then another thought hit me, along with concern over her health, sadness about her being alone with her fear and my sense of inadequacy because for three days I didn’t know about the challenge she was facing.
The thought was that she had just indulged my pirouetting and posing for 45 minutes while pain, fear and loneliness gnawed at her heart. At that moment, a second beautiful wave of love washed over me for my dear friend.