Before a field trip during summer camp to some water park in the middle of nowhere, Inland Empire, they rounded all the little girls into the computer room, closed the doors, and told us to change into our bathing suits. No feasible alternative—there were about 80 girls but only 6 bathroom stalls for the whole elementary school. I was six: young enough to be the darling of the camp counselors but old enough to notice the newfound dimples on my thighs. I squirmed under a beach towel to keep myself covered while other girls hid in corners and the rest ran around the room naked. Later that day, I noticed that some of the fifth graders were wearing mascara; it streamed down their faces as the lazy river swept us along.
When I was about eight years old, I took a shower while a friend was visiting my house for a playdate. It was winding down; she was waiting for her mom. I heard the sliding door of the bathroom creak before she opened the shower curtain a crack and looked inside. We made eye contact, and I didn’t say anything. She laughed, told me it was okay, that it was normal, even, to shower with friends.
I guess so, I guess it was okay. We were young.
If you made it onto a sports team in high school you were expected to change in a special section of the locker room—the girls on varsity would each get this human-sized locker, and in the middle there was a huge table always stocked with snacks. I tried not to observe too closely, but I noticed the girls on the swim team seemed the most comfortable, walking around nude and unbothered with one-piece speedos slung over their shoulders.
I used to leave my sixth period class early every day to snag a chance to change in a bathroom stall. It worked great, except there was a girl who shat there every day at 1:30 p.m. like clockwork—a dump with a smell that physically slapped you in the face. But the other stalls would get snatched up by the girls on the basketball team who decided to wear thongs to school when they knew they had a strength training session scheduled an hour after lunch break ended.
He said there’d be a bathroom at the beach.
I had told him I could have changed in the car, that I was actually pretty skilled at doing exactly that. He could guard the Prius like a bouncer, and I’d be good to go in 20 seconds. I had told him before how much more comfortable I feel when I’m covered up. How I don’t like my upper back being touched without permission. How I don’t like that strip of skin between the crop top’s end and denim waist’s beginning—that landing strip of belly flesh, always scrunched up and deformed.
He said there’d be a bathroom I could use, a bathroom closer to the water. I planned on slipping off my overalls and jumping into a bikini in the quiet and disgusting privacy of a sandy outhouse.
Instead, he holds a turquoise beach towel like a makeshift tent around me as my bare ass bears the sea salt wind. There are tiny, happy crabs on the stained, blue curtain, their eyes prying and beady. I can tell he is looking at me, looking at my naked body and trying to look as though he is not looking. I can catch his pupils. He looks now how I must have looked when we changed in the school’s computer room that day in summer camp.
It’s just the two of us on the beach. It’s taking me longer than I would like because there’s this stupid bow I have to tie around my back, and I’m flustered. It’s windy, and not in a good way. He stalls, pretends to drop the towel a few times as a joke—and the third time, he actually does. The rag drifts down and hits the ground in slow motion. I try to conceal my left nipple before anyone can see it, try to scoop my body into my hands to hide it from no one in particular, and he laughs.
When we finally approach the ocean, I throw an old t-shirt over myself, getting a clump of hair caught in my mouth. He laughs again, and tells me I should just enjoy the water.
“Fitting Rooms” by Sarena Kuhn appeared in Issue 40 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Sarena Kuhn is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley studying civil and environmental engineering. Her work has previously appeared in The Daily Californian and Rafu Shimpo.