When I was eleven, I had a bikini underwear set, which looked more like a bathing suit than a bra and panties. The pattern was loud—large orange and brown flowers. My aunt gave me the set as a gift. I never would have picked it out myself. I wasn’t wearing a bra yet and preferred quiet, solid colors that allowed me to blend in with my surroundings.
I tried it on. Though my breasts were just nickel-sized swellings, I liked how the bikini made me look. Older. Sophisticated. Like a teenager. I decided to wear it as pajamas. With all that bare skin, I would be covered in the warm fur of my fuzzy flowered purple blanket, soft against my skin as I fell asleep. I brushed my teeth and went downstairs to say good night to my parents.
They were in the kitchen having coffee after dinner. Dad sat, expecting to be served. He leaned forward, eating a piece of crumb cake greedily, as if afraid someone was going to take it from him at any moment. Mom was up, moving around—pouring the coffee, adding the sugar, putting the milk away.
No one seemed to notice I was there.
Dad slurped his coffee. This tastes like crap. Judi, I told you. When there’s a couple seconds between perks, you turn down the flame.
The crumbs and powdered sugar spilled all over the table. He had powdered sugar on his face and his fingers, which he licked noisily. Watching him, I felt grossed out.
You want a bite of this, Wasa? He said, without looking up from his cake.
No thank you, I just brushed my teeth. When my father was being too much—too loud, too close, too hungry, something inside me would tighten. I shrank. Denied myself. He hated this about me and would say I was too uptight.
He picked his head up to address me, convince me how delicious it is, that I should just have a bite—relax, it wasn’t going to kill me, when he stopped, seeing me in the bikini set.
I felt his eyes on the underwear, first the top, then the bottom, lingering. My private parts radiated embarrassment, as if the bikini set was transparent and he was seeing me naked. He had seen me naked a million times. We used to take showers together when I was little. I could still remember seeing his limp penis, sprouting from a haze of black hair, wondering about this body part that seemed—extra. Him rubbing my head vigorously with a towel afterwards until my hair stood on end.
This was different. Before I came downstairs trying on the bikini was fun, an experiment. Now it was gravely serious. Somehow, I had transformed myself. The bikini had made me like the women in the magazines he kept sandwiched between discarded sections of the NYTimes. Exposed and enticing. Beckoning. I experienced an odd mixture of vanity and shame spreading through my body. Under his gaze, I was both attractive and wicked. Good-bad and bad-bad. What was I thinking, flaunting my body? In front of my father. Was I a slut?
I quickly said goodnight, ran upstairs, and put on a real nightgown, a flannel one that covered me from head to toe. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being hunted. His eyes boring into me. The tingling, confusing sensations I would never, ever tell anyone about. The humiliation of it all. I wrote Dad saw me in a bikini and his eyes popped out in my Ziggy journal, closed it and stared at the cover. The words I’ll Remember That floated above Ziggy’s head. I opened back up to what I had written and viciously crossed the words out, blackening them with permanent magic marker.
Melissa Brand is a writer and psychologist practicing in Philadelphia. She is passionate about supporting parents and working with neurodiverse, traumatized, and sensitive children. Melissa recently completed an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Rutgers University-Camden and is writing a memoir related to this piece.