One summer I went to a nude beach on Fire Island with my then girlfriend, and we enjoyed it tremendously. It was sexy and carefree. It felt voyeuristic and naughty. It made us feel horny and simple and glad to be alive. We were toasting our nude bodies in the sun and savoring the nudity of others. Male, female. Old, young. Fat, skinny. It didn't matter cuz we were all nude and it was fucking great. Try it sometime.
The following summer I was without a girlfriend. I was working at a job I hated and was broke. I decided to take a leisurely day off and return to that same beach by myself, hoping to recapture the same serenity I felt the year before.
I arrived early and noticed an immediate difference as I emerged from behind the grassy dunes onto the hot sand. The vibe was not the same. The weekday crowd was sparse. The sky was overcast. It felt odd removing my shorts, like I was committing a misdemeanor. I felt naked and alone.
In my head I felt that I should stick with it because it was probably a form of punishment that I needed to endure, some kind of penance for past sins that I had forgotten about. Like the time I was eleven years old and the school bus had stopped to pick up the New Girl, Shirley Gonzalez. She was timid and fat with a face that was constantly braced for ridicule. Mrs. Gonzalez was there by the mailbox to see her daughter off and, as the bus pulled away, I leaned out the window and screamed, "Hey, Mrs. Gonzalez! Your daughter has a fat ass!" Mrs. Gonzalez charged at the bus like a bull in the streets of Pamplona, but we were already gone. I'm sure I cackled and got a big laugh from the people around me. I don't know whether Shirley had heard me or not, but she sat near the front and didn't say anything.
Later that day the phone rang at my house just as I arrived home from school. I was the only one home and picked it up. A woman's voice asked to speak to my mother. I said she wasn't home, could I take a message?
"Is this Mark?"
"This is Mrs. Gonzalez."
I don't remember exactly what she said, but the woman had me crying within six seconds, which I know only because she shattered my mother's own personal record of twelve seconds. I wept not only for the horrible thing I had done to Shirley, but for the wrath that would come down upon me while my mother tried to reclaim her title.
I begged Mrs. Gonzalez not to tell my parents. The woman took pity on me. She felt I had learned my lesson and, satisfied that she had broken me in two like a Saltine, said goodbye. I swooned with relief. My mother came home to find me splayed out on the kitchen floor next to the phone receiver which was swinging by the cord like a scene from some horror movie. The only thing missing was a knife in my forehead and bloody footprints leading to the cellar door, which would be slightly ajar. My mother would leap into action and storm the basement armed with only her marrow-melting voice and an undiagnosed case of manic-depression.
When Mrs. Gonzalez Calls. Coming soon to a pent-up Catholic household near you.
I don't think lying naked on a beach and feeling a tad self-conscious was proper penance for what I did to Shirley Gonzalez, but what happened next might qualify...