Confidence is not concrete. It is fluid and amoeba-like. Aqueous and ever-changing. And just when you think you're grasping it in your hands, it can trickle through your fingers.
I am reminded of this as I awkwardly haul a leg over the torso of my lover and sink into his chest and we, in turn, sink deeper into the soft mattress of the bed in our room at the W Hotel.
It's a knee-jerk reaction I can't extinguish. I mutter "sorry" again and again as he steadies me, grabbing onto my thighs, and tells me to breathe. And to stop laughing. But all I can do is look down at a body I find myself unfamiliar with in a new position. It feels like the sexual equivalent of putting your shoes on the wrong feet and trying to walk a straight line over a carpet made of vanilla pudding.
He is patient. And even. And non-judgmental. And I am awash with something that isn't love, but feels more like gratitude as he taps my forehead with a single finger and laughs with a Jedi-like understanding I've come to appreciate in him.
"Get out of your head," he instructs.
But for me, that is impossible. And in the next 10 seconds, a Jane Campion film narrates in my head...
On the other side of 35, I find myself at a crossroads. I am smarter than I've ever been. More in touch with my emotional well-being than ever before... yet at the heaviest this body has ever been. Aware that there needs to be MORE to my life, yet decently satisfied with where I've been.
In many ways, my life has never been better. I am blessed to have healthy, loving parents and supportive, loving friends. I have a true understanding of things that make me tick thanks to a lifetime of self-reflection, an inquisitive nature and some great therapy. Yet I still have some lingering college-aged habits. Like forgoing breakfast four out of seven days a week. Or letting the laundry build up instead of doing it every few days in manageable piles. Picking my nail polish off and leaving tiny dust-like molecules of watermelon on the floor.
I've always believed I was a pretty confident person. I know how I work. I carry my head high. I know what I can handle. I can stand on the wet sand of the beach without being swept away by the tides. There are scars on my shins (and maybe a few on my heart) that have proven I've made it out the other side and all for the better.
I'm a master at witty banter. And I know how to wear a red dress with the best of women, regardless of the fact that I'm usually (OK, pretty much always) the largest woman in the room. Yup. All in all, I'd say I'm pretty damn confident.
Up until this exact moment. When I'm overcome with rawness. Uncomfortable. Gawky. Doing this in a way I never do it and feeling ridiculously exposed. Wishing my legs were longer and my thighs were smaller and my breasts were perkier and my mid-section more toned. Wishing we'd be in some other configuration of limbs and parts, one that was more familiar and automatically happens for me like intimate clockwork.
"Relax, give me your leg," he instructs and I start to fall over like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or a big oak tree in the middle of the woods, unstoppable. "One leg like this."
And while I'm covering my face and my cheeks glow pink like those same watermelon-colored polish bits, he slings my left leg in front of me and the next thing I know I feel like an Olympic Fat Flo-Jo mid-stride. All I can do is cling onto his broad shoulders or else I'll wipe out and roll off the side of the king-sized pillow top mattress and onto the carpet with a mortifying naked thud. And it's smack broad daylight in the room.
The fact that I am sucking at this unfamiliar position (which is, of course, totally familiar for most people) strikes me to my core. No, no, no, not ME I'm confident! I'm self-aware! People look up to me! Women bare their arms, inspired by my pictures -- how can this be happening? Who am I if I'm BAD at this?
I'm gripping onto his forearm, my body uncooperatively moving when it strikes me....
This feels good. Really good. nd something in my body must change, because he notices.
"See? Chill out. Gravity," he exhales. "Use it."
"Are you OK?" I ask about four times in a row while he nods and nods and just tells me to shush and relax and calm down. I am acutely aware that I'm terrible at this. And I hate myself for being so clumsy. I hate my short legs and my thick thighs and my bouncy mid-section. But in between the beats of self-loathing is increasing pleasure that I felt fairly certain was saved for the More Perfect Version of Sarah that lives somewhere inside me.
I read somewhere that the definition of confidence isn't believing you are great at everything, with an infallible and false sense of perfection. Instead, that confidence is a comfort and ease with knowing what we do have and what we have not achieved.
At the second I recall this, I calm down. Yeah, I'm pretty bad at this move right here. But I can get better at it. This is who I am. This is the body I have right now. And I'm looking at my level-headed partner who doesn't seem at all fixated on my bouncy mid-section, but seems pretty damn invested in me enjoying myself, bouncy mid-section and all.
12 seconds after the panic first kicks in, I conclude that I am exactly the same person I was only moments ago. My sense of self, my pride and my well-earned knowledge, have not slipped away. I am not less of a woman. Flailing, falling tree or no, I am still myself. My confidence is intact. I've simply found a thing I have not achieved yet. And that is OK.
And as I roll to the side minutes later, laughing, flushed and tangled in a bed sheet, I note that next time, I won't apologize. I'll jump on and run to the finish line like Flo Jo. And one day, I'll win the damn race.