I always remember having such an amazing time. For example, I remember Costa Rica, two years ago, when we went for those glorious five days. It was the first time I think I’d spent that much time with Bear. Before then, work always broke everything up. There was always more work.
And then, for five perfect days, we were alone, uninterrupted. There were the two six-hour bus rides over bumpy, complicated terrain. Monkeys in the trees. I could read the signs, but I couldn’t communicate. He could remember a few phrases, and I was embarrassed every time we had to try to talk to a native speaker. But it was amazing.
I remember coming out of the pool like a Bond babe, glistening, possibly in slow motion. In my black string bikini from Victoria’s Secret that a college friend had given me after she mail ordered it.
“Here—my boobs are too big for this. It might work for you.”
It showed off how flat I was, the cloth was so thin. And my butt was bouncing free and scandalous. But whatever. I felt perfectly proportioned, because I was having so much fun.
Fun can do that.
We watched the sun slide down the curve of the sky, spreading like yoke when it broke on the distant edge of the ocean.
I was definitely beautiful in Costa Rica.
Beauty like a low, gentle hum in the background. You don’t have to think about it directly, but it’s always a part of the mood. I was beautiful because I was happy and in love and wearing a ridiculous bikini and slathered in sweet-smelling sunblock, and covered in sand, building a fort against the approaching tide. Maybe I should say that I was vital, instead of bringing beauty into it. But they get mixed up in my mind and become part of the same thing.
Of course, we took pictures.
And later, back home in New York City, in our tiny apartment with the tiles that would never ever be clean, I flicked through them on my computer.
And I did not look beautiful.
Even in the moments when I distinctly remembered feeling as though I must look perfect. There I was—disproportionate somehow, lopsided, failing. Was that how I’d actually looked? Had I looked like that the whole time? What about when I was coming out of the pool, glistening and being a total babe? Was my small chest really so unflattering? Were my thighs really my dominant characteristic? I didn’t remember them being my dominant characteristic. Was it possible that everyone except for me had always known? “Thigh girl,” they had been calling me, for years, behind my back. Behind my giant thighs.
It didn’t seem right.
Is it possible that I actually just don’t know what I look like?
In fact, I don’t. I don’t have any real idea what I look like. I look like too many things for that.
When I thought about Costa Rica after looking at the pictures, I thought about the girl in the pictures—coming out of the pool, running along the beach with Bear, climbing on those rocks in the middle of the day until she was so sunburned she could barely move. She seemed like a sad character. Not very vital. Depressing. Weirdly proportioned. With a crooked nose.
I haven’t looked at the pictures in a long time, and I am beginning to recall my original, spectacular memories. It’s slow going, but worthwhile.
And because of this, I am reluctant about cameras and vacations, and cameras and special occasions. Which are always exactly the times that I want to take pictures of everything I see, to try to capture the moment. But I also want to remember myself in that moment, how I feel. How I actually am. The whole picture. Not just the one on the screen.
I’m not sure how to work this out yet. Big sunglasses? Bravery? Nonchalance? No pictures of me?
But I do know that I fully intend to put that bikini on again (why do I never get around to buying a new one, that actually fits?). And I am also pretty sure I’ll feel beautiful, somewhere new and thrilling, with or without monkeys in the trees.
Maybe I’ll just write about it. Sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures. Especially in the age of the camera phone.
Or maybe I’ll ask Bear to take more like this one, to keep everything in perspective:
My face looked great then, by the way. I remember it perfectly.
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Do you like your special occasion/ vacation photos? Do you dread them?
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel in the spring.
Here’s my very first post about being unphotogenic! How precious. It’s called “the monster in the camera.” Bear was still my boyfriend back then. Weird.
This is a ranting letter to the camera, in which I attempt to reason with it, and then give up, when it doesn’t listen.
And that’s enough of that.