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Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
As I walked onto the scorching cement, waves of nausea lapped at my stomach, threatening to overcome me. I ran back into the public restroom that doubled as a changing room. Thoughts of self-doubt ran through my head like runners on a track. If I could have had a theme song that day, it would have been Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.
The restroom was cold, dark, and slimy, unlike the world beyond the entrance door. It had blue tiled floors with a series of toilet stalls, a wall of vanity mirrors with white sinks, a row of lockers, and three consecutive white showers with no curtains. Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages were within the locker room, many trying to soothe their whining children. As they crooned to the tantrum-throwing toddlers, a sense of relaxation washed over me; I knew that no soccer moms were going to judge me because of my choice of bathing suit.
I stopped running when I got to a bathroom stall, retching all of my lunch. I could hear my cousins calling for me, concern evident in their voices. I flushed the cold, white, uninviting toilet, trying to forget about the reason I was there. I walked out to the sinks, catching my reflection in the glass.
I looked sickly and pale, but color was quickly returning to my sun-kissed face. My brown eyes were wide with nerves, and my curls were strewn about my head, my forehead slick with sweat.
This was the first time I had ever worn a bikini. I had never been the type of person to feel comfortable with my body, but I had felt happier lately. I was excited to take a risk; it felt like a challenge waiting to be overcome.
I had come to the Warren Olympic Club for the first time that day in the summer of ’09 with my two cousins, Isabella and Sophia, and my Aunt Lisa. Isabella was the eldest of the two sisters. She had the striking features of a celebrity; she was in the early stages of childhood, only about ten, but anyone who witnessed her beauty could tell that she would soon be a heartbreaker, if not already. She had golden blonde hair that was spun like the finest silk and crystal blue eyes that shone like the tranquil waters of the WOC pool. She was almost as tall as I, I being twelve at the time, and she had an athletic build set in tan flawless skin.
Sophia had beautiful coloring but was not as beautiful outright as her sister was. She was short and a little rotund with platinum blonde hair, cut short in an angled bob, and navy blue eyes that were as captivating as they were striking. Her pale skin was almost translucent, and her lips in the shape of a bow were the color of pomegranate. She was barely eight at the time.
I splashed some water on my face and padded across the locker room, making my way towards the pool, butterflies flittering around in my stomach. My mother had bought the bikini for me at Walmart the other day using my hard-earned chore money. It had a string bikini top that was white with various colored neon swirls on the cups, and pink and yellow neon board shorts that chafed my thighs when I walked too long.
I felt exposed, but I would not portray that in my face. I regained my composure, and felt my calloused feet take in the heat of the cement. I spotted my cousins obliviously focused on some other trivial aspect of their lives, as were the other swimmers, not on the pain I was forced to endure. My confidence returned with the realization that nobody cared what I looked like.
My Aunt Lisa was lounging on a white reclining beach chair. She was tall and curvaceous with strawberry kinky curls and navy blue eyes just like her daughters. She had the reserved manner of a person who didn’t have much to say and didn’t care what others thought about her. Her navy blue one piece was fading from constant use.
She held a book that had a cover telling of irrevocable love and passion. She was immersed in some other world of impossible romance. I envied her; I was not yet allowed to read such books that told of things I did not yet know or wanted to know.
I asked her if I could go to the diving boards, but she shook her head. “Hun, you have to pass a swim test before you even approach the diving area.” I groaned. I was in no mood to have even more obstacles thrown in my path.
Isabella squealed and insisted that we try the swim test. The pool was very long, Olympic sized, and you had to swim the whole length without stopping in order to go to swim in the deep end. “Seems like a lot of work just to jump on a white piece of plastic a couple of times,” I muttered impassively, shrugging my shoulders as I walked towards the lifeguards.
Isabella and I talked to a friendly blonde lifeguard who told us that, when we were done swimming the length of the pool, we had to check with the male lifeguard at the other side of the pool to see if we had passed the test. Only then could we swim and dive in the deep end. I asked if there was a specific way we needed to swim. She said that she preferred we swam freestyle, and, for that, I was grateful. I was fastest with freestyle, too, and the most comfortable.
I could tell Isabella was scared of failure, so I volunteered to go first. I made an easy dive into the cold water, regretting not getting used to it first in the shallow end, and started swimming. It felt more like flying than it did swimming, like I was a majestic bird, wings glistening, and taking flight. As I turned my head to the right, looking behind me, I could see each individual water droplet on my toned arms reflecting the golden sun, blazing down from the sky.
As I neared the end of the pool, my whole body screamed in protest, but I pressed on. I reached the ledge, coming to an abrupt halt, and hauled myself up onto the heat-resonating yellow cement, water streaming down my back, making small pools of clear water on the ground below. I walked over to the male lifeguard, anxious feelings making themselves known in the pit of my stomach, dreading that my efforts would be all for nothing.
I asked the good-looking lifeguard if I had passed; he hesitated, and then proceeded to tell me that, yes, I had indeed passed. I felt a megawatt grin spread across my face and turned to face my cousin, holding two thumbs up, signaling my success. I ran to the diving boards but slowed down as the lifeguard that had just made me so happy, yelled at me to slow down. I could tell he was chuckling under his breath.
As I climbed up the highest diving board, I sprang off with light feet, spread my arms like wings, and dove headfirst into the water making a minimal splash. I surfaced feeling the first prickling of satisfaction and the leftover sensations of adrenaline from my first dive off a high dive. I learned two things that day: no matter what obstacles come my way, they can be easily overcome with a smile and some feigned confidence. Lastly, I learned that wherever the water was, was where I wanted to be too.