I stood in the murky, shoulder-deep water, nine-years-old and naked as a newborn, my swimsuit at the bottom of the sound and lost for the rest of time. As the depth of my predicament washed over me, panic took over and I started to cry hysterically.
On the list of terrible ideas feral farm child Marebs has had, the decision to switch swimsuits with my friend while we were a twenty-minute kayak ride from her house is particularly confounding. For several of my elementary school years, my best friend was a girl named Amy. I would go over to her house after school and we would do homework, listen to the Spice Girls, and hang out by the water. Her house was on a channel off of the sound, so we would periodically take out her family’s kayaks or small rowboat. At the mouth of the channel, the beginning of the sound, the water was shallow enough for us to tie our vessels to a piling and hang out either in our boats or in the water. We would talk about boys in our class, our lame teachers, which Spice Girl we were. Occasionally we would have a brilliant idea.
On the day in question, I was wearing a one piece, and she a bikini. I wasn’t allowed to wear bikinis yet, or spaghetti strap tank tops. I was bemoaning this fact when we came up with the brilliant idea that she and I should switch bathing suits right then and there. The idea of wearing something I knew I wasn’t supposed to was, like any act of rebellion, equally thrilling and terrifying. The exchange was to be simple. The water was opaque, so we just had to get into the water and any potential passing boats would be none the wiser. We separated ourselves by a respectable distance for privacy and set our plan into motion.
She tossed me her bikini bottom as I tossed her my one-piece. After I had gotten the bikini bottoms on, she said, “OK, now toss me your suit.”
My gut clenched as I looked at her and said, “I did… did you… did you not catch it?”
Her eyes widened and she shook her head.
In my anxiety over the idea of defying my parent’s express wishes for abdominal modesty, I must have overshot my mark. I did not account for the fact that she had two pieces to deal with, and mayhaps I should have made sure she was paying attention when I tossed her my bathing suit. We had no goggles and the water was too salty and sediment-filled to open our eyes underwater and search for my suit. Even if we had been able to see underwater, the current could have carried my bless-ed one-piece a significant distance on its way to its watery grave.
Amy blindly searched the bottom of the sound as I wailed over the prospect of my imminent naked kayak trip back to her house. Then a boat appeared at the mouth of the channel. In the boat, her parents, my saviors, sat all but enrobed in a halo of light. We should have been back thirty minutes prior, so they came out to look for us. I was crying too hard to say anything, so Amy explained what had happened to her parents. Her mom was wearing a baggy t-shirt, which she immediately removed and gave to Amy to hand to me. We had learned our lesson about tossing items of clothing. I put on the shirt and climbed into my kayak. Amy’s parents escorted us back to their dock. I put on the change of clothes I had brought with me, and Amy’s parents lectured us on the moronic nature of our ill-conceived swimsuit exchange and how worried they had been when we hadn’t come back at the appointed time. They didn’t use the word “moronic,” but it was an apt description of our half-baked plan.
Amy’s fumble was accidental, and it was partially my fault for not making sure she was ready to receive my incoming suit toss. And yet, it felt like a betrayal. I had trusted her to catch my hap-hazardly flung suit. She hadn’t, and I had been left totally exposed with no options. Even though she felt badly about what happened, that didn’t change the results of our actions.
Trust and I have a tenuous relationship at best. In a situation that demands trust, like making a new friend, deepening an existing friendship, or thinking about possibly maybe dating someone at some point, I often find myself raising an eyebrow and skeptically saying, “I don’t know about that.” What is the difference between naive, blind trust, the kind that hurls swimsuits at and unsuspecting friend assuming she will catch it, and for real built-in-the-trenches trust? How do we know who to trust when so many of our motives and agendas are hidden? What if, in a crucial moment, it’s actually the wrong time for a leap of faith and everything falls apart? Where is the line between wise and cynical, practical and paranoid?
We humans are going to derp up this trust thing at some point or another. Many times it is accidental or absent-minded. Sometimes it is intentional and vindictive. And with some humans, it is habitual. And yet there’s no way to know if a person is truly trustworthy without giving it a shot. Not blindly and all at once (we’ll cover over-sharing next week), but incrementally like little trust breadcrumbs. For example, you can learn a lot about a person’s trustworthiness by how they talk about other people and how readily they share private information. Another indicator is paying attention to how this person responds to feedback when they have betrayed someone’s trust. Do they become defensive and blame the other person? Do they hold wrongs over our head?
Trust is, of course, a two-way street. We can’t expect our friends to whole-heartedly trust us if we do not behave in a trustworthy manner. Do I receive confidences from friends without judgment? Do I demonstrate care with information that is entrusted to me? Am I open to hearing how I have wronged a friend? Do I do what I say I will do? Is my behavior consistent with my professed ethics? As much as I would like to believe I always catch the metaphorical bathing suit that’s tossed my way, I don’t.
Trusting another human means opening ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt and betrayed, of being left swimsuit-less twenty minutes away from your nearest clothing option. But I think that it is such a foundational characteristic of love because you can only experience so much of one without the other. It is helpful for me, when wading into the murky waters of trust and love, to try to remember that I am not expected to be perfect in this. It is not possible for me to know everything and therefore never make any mistakes. It’s always going to be a risk. Sometimes it will be worth it, sometimes it won’t. Either way, I am given the grace to learn and grow. One crucial lesson I learned that fateful day? Double check that your friend is paying attention before hurling your only piece of clothing in their general direction. Or, better yet, keep at least one item of clothing on when in public.
Picking up what I’m putting down?
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