I didn’t know I had a rib. I heard the whistle and tried to swim out of the ocean.
I was drawn in by the lifeguard on the shore, shaking a red rescue can in the air. He’s tall, with broad shoulders and a baggy chest under a blue helmet that extends to his red shorts. His head was covered by a wide-brimmed straw hat, and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of black sunglasses. Salt and pepper hair. The jaws. Retreating chin. Handsome as hell.
I check his left hand for a wedding ring. There isn’t a single one.
He said storms elsewhere make the Malibu waters more dangerous. He shook my hand, told me his name, then asked where I was visiting from. “Here,” I said, pointing behind the house I was renting for Labor Day. It was only the fourth weekend of July.
“Good,” he said, “then we have all summer.” He squeezes my fingers one last time.
I moved to Malibu during the pandemic. I needed to escape the loneliness of my home in LA, even if it was just driving to another house in a different location. As an introvert and a writer, I thought I could handle the isolation. Five months later, I realized I wouldn’t make it.
Fifty-six years old, divorced and single for over a decade, I struggled with intimacy. In Malibu, I might not wear a mask on the beach and be able to meet a man “in the wild” rather than on dating apps that are statistically unsuitable for older black women like I.
When I arrived last April, the beaches were empty. I decided to practice intimacy by getting to know the ocean that is now my backyard. I longed to dive into the water, but I was afraid. I want someone to swim with me. Then I got hooked on rip.
The following weekend, I flirted with the lifeguard unfazed. He is an athlete; he said that after his first divorce, he entered the Iron Man competition and helped a friend with cancer run the LA Marathon. I told him I wanted to swim and asked how I knew when it was safe to get in the water. He offered to take me away. For the rest of the summer, we met before his shift.
He helped me get through the storm. “Face the wave, dive under and swim through it.” I managed to keep up until he made us stop to partake in Malibu’s magic and mayhem. We walked on water and talked about our lives. The ocean connects us. We will never match on dating apps. He’s a white boy from LA. I’m a Blerd from Queens, NY, and a lifelong Democrat. He is a registered Republican. We do not focus on our differences.
We’ve talked about the Point Dume shortcut, how to hike the Backbone Trail, and cross the Malibu Triathlon. He is always positive, compassionate and loyal to a fault. He’s been real with the people he’s grown up with for a long time. I hope he will ask me out.
Week five, he told me about another lifeguard, a former Navy SEAL, who could better answer my questions about the ocean. Then he offered to introduce us. Maybe he doesn’t care about me after all and swimming with me is a good thing, like when he helped his cancer friend run a marathon. I want him to come closer and open up. Except I’m the one keeping the secret.
I’ve been intimate with him already. He just doesn’t know it.
My girlfriend and I searched for lifeguards online. Google opened up about his entire life before me – including his ex and his current wife. Their wedding registry is still posted. “But he’s not wearing a ring.” My girlfriends annoyed, “You need to ask.”
Instead, I invited him over to my house for an affogato one evening, a drink made by steeping vanilla gelato with hot espresso—a fitting analogy for what I want to do with coffee. he. He reciprocated by taking me to dinner on the moonlit patio at Geoffrey’s, Malibu’s most romantic restaurant. He said in his 40 years of lifeguard duty that he had never asked a woman he had met on the beach.
It sounded like he wished he hadn’t. Our first date, and he pushed me away.
Next weekend is Labor Day. If you feel like saying goodbye to your new friends at the end of summer camp; I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. However, when his shift ended, he came to sushi. We plan and hike, bike and kayak.
He was finally open enough to tell me what was really going on in his marriage and to admit that he was not yet officially separated from his wife. Knowing the truth, I feel closer to him than ever, but also further apart.
The next time we went swimming, the waves seemed insurmountable. He easily jumped out of the break, but I was frozen, stranded on the shore. Now I understand why it took him so long to ask me out. This is not a relationship. It was an affair, and I was the other woman.
That’s when I realized that intimacy is not about knowing someone else. It’s about knowing yourself. The lifeguard took me into the ocean, showed me how to dive and get out stronger on the other side, but for now, I will have to swim on my own.
The author is a television writer and author of the memoir “An Officer’s Daughter.” Learn more about her at ellejohnson.net. Her on Twitter @ Elle2Tha and Instagram @ ElleJay1850.
LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its splendor in the LA area, and we’d love to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Send an email to LAaffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission instructions here. You can find past columns here.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-05-27/la-affairs-sexy-lifeguard-secret-love-story-work-malibu Our differences didn’t drive us apart — his secret did