A Storyby Robin Perry Politan
Sari is gangly, angular as a wire hanger. I am round like two beach balls stacked one on top of the other. In the flickering images, we’re wearing matching yellow-and-white polka-dotted two-piece bathing suits.
That summer, we were nine going on ten. It’s only now, as an adult, that I think of our mothers shopping together: Sari’s mother, Eleanor Olson, long-limbed, sleekly muscular, intrepid; my mother, Roz Goldin, an elfin five feet tall, her pretty face dominated by wide, wary brown eyes, like one of Margaret Keane’s big-eyed waifs. My mother must surely have mashed her lips together when she purchased the extra-large-size version of the suit for me. She couldn’t understand how her daughter could be so large when she herself was so petite.
Nordic-looking Eleanor was equally comfortable on land and water, having spent her summers roaming the Indiana dunes, where she learned to be a lifeguard. My mother, who grew up in a boxy Chicago two-flat with conservative, nonswimming, immigrant parents, was dark, birdlike, nervous. It wasn’t until Eleanor and her daughter stood expectantly on the front step of our cabin—Sari in her new bathing suit—that my mother slid my suit out of her bottom dresser drawer, with the tags still on. If I’d known then that my mushy belly would morph into flat, enviable abs as I lengthened into my teens, I might have spared myself the humiliation of my mother’s knitted eyebrows.