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Main | 2016 Biggies: Fifty and College-Bound »

Cinderella Arches

This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take. To be seen as we truly are. - Fairy Godmother (Cinderella, 2015) 

Wendy and I were typical college girls in the 80s. We advised each other on relationships, clothes, and our appearance; I always admired Wendy’s comfort with her body. She was trim, but she didn’t exercise, nor was she a perfectionist. If the outfit was cute, then she looked cute in it.

I envied the comfort Wendy had in her own skin. On a hot day, Wendy wore shorts because it was hot. She wasn't overly concerned if her legs were white or untoned. In a bikini, she’d walk confidently and shamelessly to the water, looking over her shoulder at me, “Aren’t you coming?” I needed a minute to adjust my swimsuit, then I’d walk gingerly to the water trying to minimize body jiggle. I was a prisoner. Wendy was free.

One time Wendy and I were shopping for new bathing suits. She liked a powder blue and white two-piece. The colors and cut of the suit were pretty, but the fabric was unconventional and thick.

Wendy stepped out of the dressing room and looked at me for approval.

“That one looks like it’s made of flannel,” I said.

“Flannel? No, it doesn’t,” she said.

Wendy bought the suit. It looked nice on her slender, imperfect figure; but then, the moment of truth.

We went to a friend’s apartment pool. We laid in the sun for a bit, then Wendy announced she needed to cool off in the water. She trotted to the pool stairs with ease and conviction – or maybe it was childlike unawareness.

She entered the pool, swam around a bit, then exited, hair slicked back, a smile on her face. Only her swimming suit was hanging heavily from her frame. She may as well have worn a suit made of Turkish towels.

Wendy looked at me, knowing what I was thinking. I shrugged.

A few weeks later we headed to a popular creek for swimming and a picnic.

“Can I borrow one of your bathing suits?” Wendy asked.

Wendy [a.k.a. Em] and me in Sedona, Arizona, circa 1986.

I don’t think she ever wore the flannel suit again.

As time moved forward, Wendy lost the comfort with her body. She struggled with her weight for a decade or two but enjoyed purchasing ‘cute’ outfits regardless of her increasing size or what the scale said.

Although life separated us proximity-wise, Wendy and I remained close. We managed to visit a few times a year, stealing long conversations over lunch, coffee, or wine.

“I’m fat,” she’d say.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d say.

But I sympathized with her struggle. I told her if I lived closer, I’d be her exercise partner. Although she hated to exercise. Other than a brief roller-blading phase in the late 80s and early 90s, I never knew Wendy to move fast or sweat.

Wendy died on April 18, 2011. Ovarian cancer killed her. She would have been 52-years-old this year.

Before she died, I had the privilege of spending time with her during some brief visits. I traveled from Utah to Arizona when I could to see her in the last few months of her life.

Wendy hated the way she looked when she was dying. She said some cancer patients lost weight, and their faces looked naturally beautiful – ethereal almost. Wendy was grey, carried a little extra weight, and was self-conscious of her skin in general. She was really only comfortable with her immediate family seeing her at the end.

On one of my visits, I went with Wendy and her mother to a chemo treatment. When we returned to Wendy’s house, her mom and I helped her to bed. We noticed her feet needed a pedicure. Wendy’s mother said she’d make a mental note to bring her pedicure tools so we could work on Wendy’s feet.

“Your heels need some attention,” we teased her.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. 

The last time I saw Wendy before she died, it had been several weeks since her chemo appointment. Wendy’s mother and I were standing together, looking at Wendy as she rested. Her feet were kicked out from under the sheet. I noticed they looked soft and smooth. I asked her mother if she’d given Wendy a pedicure. “No,” she said, “her feet buffed and softened on their own. I think because they haven’t been used much.”

The reality of calluses self-healing due to a person’s bed-ridden state was sharp. Wendy had lovely feet, I thought. They were small, with nicely shaped toes and toenails, and graceful arches. Her feet reminded me of Cinderella’s in the scene where the prince slides the glass slipper on her foot. Wendy had Cinderella arches.

I recently spent a few days in Miami Beach, Florida. One morning I walked past Muscle Beach South Beach. Two very fit men, wearing matching black, thong Speedos, baseball hats flipped backward, and playful expressions were practicing gymnastic-like moves. One man would hold a hand-stand on a bar two feet off the ground, toes pointed, tanned body glistening in the humid morning air, while his companion watched and encouraged. “Looking good! You’ve got it! Perfect!” And they were kind of perfect, in an Artemision Bronze kind of way.

In contrast, while lying on the beach, I saw several people in string bikinis and thongs, who clearly didn’t devote as much time and energy to sculpting their bodies. Wendy would love this, I thought. She would have enjoyed Muscle Beach, and she would have enjoyed swimming in the ocean on a hot day with all the people. Young, old, thin, plump, pale, dark, smooth, wrinkled, but all comfortable wearing teeny, tiny swimming suits and freely entering and exiting the water.

I don’t wear a thong, but I do wear a two-piece bathing suit. The first day on the beach, I felt self-conscious of my aging, white body. Before leaving my lounge chair for the water, I triple-checked for exposed side-boob and picked my suit bottom out of my butt crack, pulling and snapping the elastic around my entire rear-end.

The more I thought of Wendy, our evolution as women, the pretty men on Muscle Beach, and the imperfect, near-naked people on South Beach, my confidence grew.

I walked to the water’s edge, sometimes running like Dudley Moore on hot sand in “10,” with my flat feet, man toes proudly painted navy blue, unconcerned with jiggle, side-boob, or ass-wedgie. The water was refreshing. I floated, swam, looked at the sky and talked to Wendy, informing her of my latest revelations and telling her how much I missed her.

If there’s a heaven, I know Wendy’s there. And I hope she occasionally rocks her flannel bikini and a pair of glass slippers.

The last photo taken of Wendy and me together, October 2009, 18 months before she died.


Reader Comments (9)

This bittersweet story is remarkably told. I'm sorry you lost such a special friend. I remember when she died.

I have never been comfortable in my own skin. Ever. I was teased by both sexes as a teen--my hair, my nose, my figure or lack thereof were all fodder for comment. No matter how far I've come in life, in maturity, in wisdom, I still wrestle daily with that daily. But I see the beauty in others--truly I do--and that is what's most important.

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

Thank you, Veronica. I love that you remember Wendy's story. And, I love that you understand this post is about Wendy, certainly, but about something broader, too.

"But I see the beauty in others--truly I do--and that is what's most important." Yes. XO

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChrisy

Chrisy, I have always loved your writing. This is bittersweet. I have always wrestled with my body image.... raised with Barbie as my female role model. When I was in high school and college, I pretty much had a tall slender build, looked decent in my bikini, but still thought I was fat. Unfortunately, I’m not sure much has changed, but I tell myself that at 62, I’m allowed to look like this. 😂. ⭕️❌

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Hi, Pam! Barbie was a mind-screw for all of us:) And, at 62, you look fantastic! XO

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchrisy

You two were (are!) a good team, there for each other in all circumstances. xo

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

I’m crying right now missing my one and only sister. I miss Wendy so much.

July 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Judy: Thank you. xo

Kim: I miss Wendy, too. Hoping you can smile, remembering her through a few of your tears. Love you. XO

July 29, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchrisy

Chrissy, dear Chrissy: thank you for posting again. My heart skipped a beat when I saw your post on my feed and I stopped my "work" work, eager to read your post. However, my elation quickly plummeted as soon as I figured out where you were going with your missive. Tears welled up in my tired eyes, as I slowed to deliberately read your every word with focus and intent. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories of your dear friend Wendy and thank you for adding the link to your original post. I remember you writing of Wendy's passing back in 2011 and I re-read that post again today. Wendy lives on a different plane now and is alive in the hearts and memories of those who knew her and loved her. God bless you both.

July 29, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGabriela

Gabriela, thank you so much for your generous, kind words. x

July 30, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchrisy

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