A Day at the Beach or Processing Disgust

The chilled ocean air whips past my face. Seagulls flap in lazy circles and sandpipers run back and forth with the surf. I keep a tight hold on the pages of my book and glance up, shading my eyes from the sun, looking for my husband’s silhouette in the waves.

By the time Alex returns, the wind has raised goosebumps on my legs, and I’ve fought the pages for at least five more chapters. A nice, relaxing day at the beach is almost concluded, though the cold air makes me wish for a hot tub.

I stand, tucking my book away, and walk to the water. I think I feel cold, but the ocean water garners a sucked-in-breath as it washes over my toes. As I walk back, the sun warms my shoulders. There are few people around. It is a Monday afternoon. Small groups of families and friends drift past, walking where their feet can get wet. A few people sunbathe, some close, some further up the shore, where the chilly wind won’t reach them. One of those further sunbathers, a young woman, adjusts, laying now on her belly.

As I pass the lifeguard station, an older man, cigarette dangling from his lips, fights his way into a wetsuit, standing on the platform. When he returns to his things, he pulls out a phone.

Steps away from our own things, Alex calls to me, throwing an orange frisbee in my direction. I catch it with a grin and we move back down the shore to play. The wind is still chilly, but the movement warms my limbs. I stumble in the sand. I struggle to throw. Alex falls in an attempt to catch. We are smiling and laughing.

I notice the man, the wetsuit man, has his phone out still. He seems to be taking pictures in all directions, perhaps behind my back. I ignore it, ignore him, and continue honing my frisbee-throwing abilities.

By the time I’m throwing straighter, the man has turned from the ocean in the opposite direction. Alex and I eye him, still throwing, as he moves up the beach, towards the young sunbather.

“Is he…?” Alex starts.

I watch, stomach sinking, heart twisting, as he moves closer and closer to the young woman. He’s stopping every few steps, clicking his phone.

I feel yucky, icky, and angry.

We are drifting closer too, frisbee clenched in my hand.

“He’s taking pictures of her.”

“We can’t just let him do that.” The wrongness of it all mingles with the helplessness. She does not know. She cannot stop it.

We move faster now, with purpose, covering the distance. The man doesn’t even turn, though I’m sure he can hear or sense our approach. Or perhaps he just doesn’t care.

Words get stuck in my throat, my only thoughts to move, to get to her, to do something. I feel as if I’ve been poured full of sand, heavy, itchy, and gross inside.

“Sir, do you know her?” My husband’s voice is loud and clear.

The man finally turns, cigarette hanging off his lip. “No.” He is tall and large. I am scared. Scared for myself and for that girl.

“You should not take pictures of her. That’s disgusting.”

He slinks back down the beach. Now, it is time to face the girl. She turns, having heard us, and pulls earbuds from her ears.

“He was taking pictures of you.”

She sits up. “Oh.” Her face, shiny and white with sunscreen, is expressionless. I can see her processing what we’ve said, watching the man’s retreating figure, in her dark eyes.

“I’m sorry.” My hand is over my heart, hoping she knows that I truly am sorry—sorry that she can’t just come to the beach by herself and be left alone, that she didn’t know, that she had been violated in such a gross way. I want to hug her, to comfort her, but I can’t even figure out how to process this myself. And I’m not even the one at the receiving end.

She thanks us, numbly, and turns, reaching for her phone.

I feel numb myself, wishing I could speak, say something, but nothing feels right. And it is not I who would need to apologize.

We walk back down the beach.

“I feel so bad for her,” I say. “Her day is ruined.”

Our feet slip in the sand.

“I’m glad you were here with me,” I say. “I wouldn’t have been brave enough to confront him head on by myself. I would have just gone to her.”

We toss the frisbee a few more times. The man glares at us.

“Are you ready to go?” Alex asks.

“Yeah.” My day is ruined too.

We start packing our stuff.

“I’m just going to go rinse this off.” He picks up the surfboard. I fold my chair up.

“Never mind.” He’s back at my side, folding his own chair.

“Doesn’t it need to be rinsed off?” The surfboard’s surface is bumpy with wax, the edges dotted with clumps of sand.

“Yes, but I’ll do it later. I don’t want to leave you alone with…” Alex jerks his head in the man’s direction.


All packed up, we walk, past the man, now laying on his stomach, phone in hand.

“I should have told him to delete the pictures,” Alex says.

My gut twists. Too many “should haves.”

Ahead of us, the young woman has pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. She gathers her towel and other belongings in a bag. She types on her phone as she leaves the beach.

Who is she texting, I wonder. A friend, a family member?

What is she feeling? I have a small inkling of what it is. Shame and guilt, for the actions of someone else. A gross, icky feeling that boils in your gut and makes your throat clench. Emotions that are just about enough to make you cry.

We follow behind her, climbing crumbling concrete stairs from the beach to the street. She has crossed before us and disappears from view.

I hope she makes it home safe.

Now, back home where I feel safe, where I have had some time to process all of this, I am full of wishes.

I wish that I could have said something eloquent and biting to the man. I wish I could have screamed and yelled at him. I wish that I could have ripped the phone from his hands and deleted the pictures myself. I wish that anything I said or did would have been enough to change him.

But mostly I wish that it hadn’t happened in the first place.

I am tired of being frightened, suddenly, and without warning, of just being. I want to live in a world where I, or any woman or girl, does not have to worry about the actions of others, where we don’t have to retreat in shame and anger and a deep hurt, where “disgusting” could just be a word you use to describe your questionable dinner from the night before, a word that wouldn’t conjure up the image of a cigarette and an urge to scream and cry all at once.

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