The man draws a circle around the whole island with a blue ballpoint pen. He says, “Ischia is good for swimming.”
Two months before, I had never heard of the place—a tiny lump of volcanic ash nudging out of the Bay of Naples. And then I stood on it and I swam.
I lay facedown on a tiny towel, the only person without an umbrella in the burning July sun. I’m so dark at this point that it hardly matters, that I only use dime-sized drops of sunblock for my nose and cheeks.
There is a single road that loops around the edge of the whole island, a way to get anywhere and back again. And maybe all tropical places are like this, a protective circle where you can never get lost. There is a similar circle on Oahu, around the edge of Sicily, a line drawn by a finger in the sand.
They tell me I can walk to the beach, and I do. I follow the road along the edge of a cliff. The busses zoom by, make the hem of my skirt flutter. Every once in a while, I turn my head around and watch the line of footprints my sandals have made in the gravel and I think.
Every second of my life so far has been in preparation for this. Everything that seemed so awful—my sick dad, my thrice broken heart, a masochistic former boss, a pretty water glass kicked over and shattered—was what culminated and bore this. Take away a single thing, an instant of that distress or struggle—putting my arms around my sobbing mother one morning when I was 12—and I never would have stood on Ischia. I would have skipped it entirely, headed to Sorrento three days early. I would have never left New York.
Beaches switch on all of my senses, make my nerve endings shiver. That’s why I spent a whole summer floating from one to the next.
The man is right about Ischia. It’s good for swimming. The white sand at the bottom is soft on the soles of your feet until it drops out entirely, leaving you to tread against the waves, which are gentle—just a nudge in either direction. The water is warm. No assimilation necessary, no standing on your toes to save the two inches around your navel from the freeze because even that would be too much to bear. On Ischia, the easiest thing is just to dive.
The water does not shimmer like diamonds, not like Sardegna. The sand is not entirely free of cigarette butts, a single unbroken curtain, like Crete. The color near the shore is a mucky blue. A snarl of weeds occasionally floats by. A lazy cloud or two blocks out the sun sometimes, sends a chill through every peeling back. An ice cream wrapper flutters by and the sand bakes so hot that I can hardly bear it through shoes. To have it differently, though, would be to have someone else’s life. To have somewhere else in summer.