She’s Given Herself Permission

Paula Paterniti

Beth is growing older and is stuck. She isn’t ready for old age.

She tries to be invisible, to disappear. It has been so long since she has looked at herself that when she accidentally passes a mirror, she wonders, “Who is that woman?”

Today, on one of those blistering hot July days, she decides to go to the beach. She finds an old black, long-skirted bathing suit that promises to make her thin, tugs it on, and covers herself with the flowered cover-up she knows is ridiculous but she needs to be covered.

The beach is crowded with hundreds of people who, like her, are trying to escape the heat. She trudges up towards the shoreline and finds a place to sit. The sand is blistering and burns through her sandals as she struggles to set up her umbrella and beach chair. She longs for the ocean, but she hasn’t given herself permission to be seen.  So, instead she gives herself up to people-watching, curious about the people around her. 

A big woman in a skimpy bikini is lying face down on a beach towel.  Beth thinks cruelly, “She is definitely not invisible! How can she be comfortable in her body, when I can’t in mine!” 

Close beside her is a couple her age or perhaps even older. He is sitting beside his partner and slowly, lovingly, not sexually, she believes, but sensually, rubbing sunscreen into her back. The movement of his hands has her spellbound. When was the last time she allowed herself to be touched?

In the water, a sunburned woman laughingly fights her way out of a wave, stops to find her blanket, waves to someone up the beach, and walks towards him in the hot sand. “Her blanket must be close to mine,”  Beth thinks. She envies the swimmer and the ease she has in her body. “I was once like that,” she muses. As the swimmer passes close,  she shakes her hair, and seawater splashes onto  Beth.  The water is cold and smells of salt. She feels tempted. She’s hot and sweaty, and she can swim. She wants to give herself permission to take a risk, uncover her body, and walk into the surf. She knows how good it will feel, but she isn’t ready.

Instead, she sits, hiding under her clothes and umbrella. She realizes that one is looking at her that they are all free living their own lives. No one cares how old she is or how she looks.  “What am I afraid of?” 

And then she glances to her left, at a young woman sitting on a towel that reads, “Today, you are as young as you will ever be.” Beth almost laughs. Of course! What am I waiting for?  She’s ready! She gets up, drops the cover-up, and gives herself permission to walk into the ocean.