Lost innocence does not occur all at once like an epiphany illuminated by a brilliant bolt of lightning. Instead, it is a gradual thing, like peeling layers of wallpaper away from a wall, one layer at a time. As we grow older and are exposed to the world and its history, each new experience, bit of knowledge, and sliver of new understanding is like a layer of wallpaper being peeled away from our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our place in the world.
It was the summer of my twelfth year when one layer of my worldview began to peel painfully away. It was a day like any other, with the smell of suntan lotion and salt intermingling to create a concoction that triggered so many memories of summer days on the beach. I had a new bikini. I had never worn one before and thought I looked very sporty in the white bikini with red stripes. We had just laid our towels out on the sand when two boys in their teens invited me to play Frisbee. They were French, and I could not understand what they said, but I was so flattered and proud that two older boys, French no less, would want to play with me. I felt so special, so mature, so much like what I thought a woman must feel like.
As they took turns throwing the Frisbee to me, I noticed they were throwing far to the side and farther out into the water. I thought it odd they had such lousy aim, and it was just about that time I noticed them snickering. Apparently, the rose-colored flesh of my nipples was showing through the white material of my bikini top. I flushed red with humiliation and retreated to my towel.
When I was a girl, before the pains of puberty and the aches of adolescence, I had many ideas of what it was to be a woman. Women were hardworking. Women were smart. Women were strong. Women had so much love to give. Women were caregivers. Women were all these things, and I was going to be one.
And all it took was a bit of white material, some salty ocean water, and the snickers of two boys to realize that all of my former ideas of what it meant to be a woman, all of the beautiful attributes I associated with being a woman, would always come under and after the rose-colored flesh of my nipples.