Ray is proving to be something totally extraordinary.
Yesterday, he took me to a place here in the Portland area that I had already decided I hated. Along the northern reaches of Sauvie Island, where we did some fantastic picking of summer berries – blackberries and raspberries by the pound – there is a quiet nature reserve that also has a sandy beach along the shores of the mighty Columbia. Part of this beach is clothing optional, which is the part that I least wanted to know about. I knew, however, that he would go there from time to time, and really enjoyed being in a quiet natural setting in a quiet, natural state, simply enjoying the sun on his skin. I knew this was important to him, and that if I wanted to experience this kind of thing with him, I’d need to put aside my own judgements and take the plunge.
It was cloudy, verging on rain, and being a mid-week day, there wasn’t a soul out there to bother us. He suggested we take our picnic there, the one I had planned earlier this week. In my backpack were some deli crackers, two types of cheese, and a bottle of wine. I enjoyed the ride there, snapping some photos of the farms and fields, and keeping up a lively, happy conversation with him. Still, as we drew near to the parking spaces for this beach, all empty, I felt my throat tighten and myself go a bit dizzy. Something was not right about what we were about to do, and Ray could visibly see that I was in distress, on the verge of panic.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
My reply became something I’ve never shared with anyone prior to that very moment. I told him what had happened to me the last time I had visited a clothing-optional beach. An older man had been rather aggressive with me, and had crossed a very personal line that left me feeling really, really scared, vulnerable, and rotten. I managed to get out of the situation, and fled home, upset and disturbed, but never spoke of my experience to a soul. Ever.
As I told him this, the look across his face went from concern to sadness. As I explained why this thing was standing between my enjoyment of a very beautiful, very natural setting with a very wonderful, very beautiful man such as him, and myself, I could see him, full of grace, take a very gentle and very peaceful turn of behavior. We didn’t have to stay. He was sorry this had happened to me. I insisted that we go to the beach, so long as we kept to ourselves. There was absolutely no one there, from what I could tell. I was not in danger. Ray was there to protect me. That thing that had happened in my past was not going to happen again. He promised me this, and I believed him.
When we got to the waterline, there were a couple of people also enjoying the breaks in the clouds, but they were far off, almost out of eyesight and totally out of earshot. It was clear that I could simply ignore them and remain present, with Ray. We did manage to enjoy a kiss of sun on our skins, but the clouds grew thick and the afternoon wind blew up the river, forcing us to leave a little earlier than we had planned. Still, we’d managed to sip a little wine, and along with the food I’d brought, plus some of our berries, an experience that I dreaded and feared because of this old demon turned out to be something beyond romantic. Yesterday was transformative.
Ray gave me back a part of me that I’d lost. When I was a young boy, growing up on a rural farm in Maine, I used to always shuck off my clothes and play in the streams that ran near our home without any regard. I was a boy in the summer enjoying a swim. Innocent, relaxed, happy. I have never been comfy in my skin, but when I knew I was safe, when I was alone, when I knew I could put down my armor, I was always able to enjoy myself and the kiss of sun and wind on skin that is usually covered under layers of cloth. As an adult, and in that moment of darkness on that beach in my past, that innocence and purity was taken from me. No longer could I expose myself that way. No longer, and never again. I simply shut that part of me off, and ever since then, have really shunned nudity in public spaces, distancing myself from spaces where it is either encouraged or simply allowed. I forgot how nice it felt to simply be a human being in nature, being in my own flesh, being both exposed and unhidden – an honest visage of myself. Yesterday, under his careful watch, Ray allowed me to find that part of me again, and for a short while, I was just a human boy in the woods along the river again.
Another demon has been slain. Another part of me has been restored.