Not Just a Day at the Beach: Part 1


“You don’t have to do it,” Elaine said. All our beach stuff was set up. Sienna was already having fun in the sand. That left me standing there taking deep breaths.

“I DO have to,” I replied, looking everywhere but at my wife and daughter. I hadn’t had two surgeries to correct gynecomastia and three years of laser treatment on my back just to chicken out when the time came. I took off my hat and tossed it aside. My hat’s like Linus’ security blanket. I’ve worn one as much as possible ever since I was a kid; it just makes me feel safer, though it couldn’t protect me against cruel pranks when I was at camp. Another deep breath and off went my shirt. I’d purposely worn my “Breaking Bad” t-shirt thinking this would be my “Heisenberg” moment. I know Walter White isn’t the best character to emulate, but I looked at it like a chance to take control, to leave the self-loathing defeatist I am behind with just the removal of my shirt.

“Is anyone looking?” I desperately asked Elaine.

“No one. No one cares.”

“I’m still so big,” I said. I scanned my fellow beach goers, my brain conveniently and automatically deleting everyone except those who seemed genetically bred or lived their lives in a gym.

“You’re not big at all. The guy right over there is twice the size of you. It’s ok. You’re ok. We’ve got to get sunscreen on you.”

I stood as Elaine sprayed sunscreen all over my cottage cheese-colored body. I hadn’t been to the beach in more than seven years. The last time was when Elaine and I had visited the Dominican Republic. That time she’d shaved my back and I spent the whole time imagining people were staring at the stubble. It had been more than twenty-eight years since my body was devoid of both gynecomastia and back hair, more than twenty-eight years of taunts and teases; of one kid pointing out to everyone else that I robotically tugged the neck of my shirt forward each time I came out of the house so that when I got on the camp van, everyone was laughing at me; of a 17-year-old kid, a head taller than me and a real jerk who would go on to date a girl on whom I’d had a major crush, looking down the back of my shirt and yelling out in front of everyone, “Damn your back is hairy!!”; more than 28 years filled with similar stories and events, of hiding my defects as best as possible and hating myself. Physically there was no more need to hide.

I kept repeating, aloud, that no one was looking at me. I tried standing straight, something difficult and exhausting since my shoulders now lean forward after years of hunching. We took Sienna’s hands and headed down to the water to let her feel the waves splash and rush around her feet for the first time. She was in heaven!


“Do it for her. Do it for her. No one’s looking at you. Do it for her.”

I tentatively walked deeper into the water as Elaine held onto Sienna. It was cold, but not freezing. I took a look back and then dove into the water. I swam for a bit and looked back. Sienna’s eyes remained locked onto mine. Elaine kept telling her to look at Daddy. I made my way back to my wife and daughter and then the three of us returned to our little spot on the beach. Sienna went right for her pail and shovel. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Elaine told me to just lie down and relax. “Relax!” I commanded myself. “No one’s looking!” I forced my arms not to cross over my chest. I lay in the sun. Sienna played in the sand under Elaine’s watchful eye.


We stayed at the beach for a few hours before deciding it was time to give Sienna lunch and head home so she could nap. We packed up and headed to the boardwalk. Elaine took off Sienna’s swim diaper and washed her in the shower. I stood watching, wondering what it was like to not know shame. I worried for Sienna. I never want her to know that awful feeling, though I know I’ll never be able to completely protect her from it. Children will tease and bully her, but she’ll never get any of that from me. I’ll be the one to soothe her and tell her she’s beautiful, and should anything crazy appear (like my gynecomastia did for me), I’ll make sure it’s corrected ASAP.

We had lunch and drove home. Sienna passed out in the car. Elaine told me she was so proud of me. She kept her hand on my thigh. I started feeling shaky as soon as we got home. Elaine ordered me to the bedroom and put Sienna down for her nap. I felt I needed to blog, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even look at our beach pictures. Elaine came into the room and I said I HAD to blog and she said I didn’t, that I’d write when I could. Guilt about not being able to blog was crushing me. I don’t know how long it was between that and my breakdown – not a simple panic attack, but a full-on breakdown. I was in hysterics. Tears, shaking, stuttering. I held tightly to Elaine who hugged back, telling me she was proud, that I was courageous, that I’d accomplished something huge, that a year ago I never would have been able to drive to the beach, make the day all about Sienna, and drive back before losing it. I felt like I was looking down at my quivering body from somewhere else, trying to figure out why I was bawling and trembling.

At some point I started repeating, “My dad said I’m as big as house!” and crying harder. I’m not sure when he actually said this. I’d buried the memory, apparently, but I do know that growing up, my father showed massive intolerance and derisiveness towards overweight people; both myself and my mom were heavy. It was just one part of dad’s personality which at times was viciously sarcastic and bullying. He also blatantly favored my sister. My dad is no longer like this. It is incredibly important that it be said that father has completely changed and he and I have a great relationship now. I love him. I think he’s a wonderful father and grandfather. I trust him as much as I can trust anyone. I know he’d never hurt me and that he feels miserable about my childhood. So to any family members out there that might be reading this, know that I forgave my dad a long time ago, but apparently the child in me remains hurt and buried memories keep surfacing. There just one of the reasons I’m still in therapy and on medication. I repeat: I love my dad. He is NOT the same person.

Elaine said the breakdown lasted about an hour. I felt guilty that I couldn’t help with Sienna’s dinner, but Elaine said we were a team and she’d take care of everything. Mentally drained, I fell asleep. I was supposed to go to the movies that night, but my movie buddy canceled. Still, I awoke and decided to go anyway. I needed to get out. Elaine asked if I was ok to drive and I said I was and so I went to seeĀ Fruitvale Station, an excellent film. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to go out; I would have been bedridden for days. I recognize these things, but I don’t feel them. That’s something I still need to fix. My therapist always tells me my feelings are irrational and irrelevant.

After the movie I went home, read for a bit, and fell asleep thinking it was all over. It wasn’t. To be continued as soon as I’m able…


2 thoughts on “Not Just a Day at the Beach: Part 1

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    August 9, 2013 at 2:51pm

    Wow, that’s rough. But you did a great job! Hang in there. You look wonderful in your photos.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      August 10, 2013 at 2:36pm

      Thanks Caren

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