It really is remarkable how much your life can change, in just one day.
Right now I'm back in my hotel room in downtown Washington D.C., attempting to relax. My head's spinning as I recall the events from earlier today. I desperately want to write it all out while it's still fresh, but at the same time I know the memories with stay with me forever. Did you ever have an experience that left you wondering whether anything would ever be quite the same again? The past few hours have been the strangest, most exhilirating, arousing, and terrifying moments of my life.
It started innocently enough, like most things do. I'd booked the D.C. trip for myself, just because I'd never been. I'd been walking along the shore of Hains Point, at the southern end of East Potomac Park, following the traffic clockwise along the loop of Ohio Drive, under Washington's famous cherry trees. The park was a popular spot for sunbathers this time of year, and I'd brought my swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops, so I changed in one of the restrooms, deciding I'd join in.
Well, as I followed the curve of the road up the river's east bank, I was shocked to discover an increasing number of nudists! I blushed to look at naked guys with their things just hanging there, not seeming to care who saw. And I felt a twinge of jealousy looking at the younger women with their tiny, perfect bodies. All of them just milling about, casual as could be... except that they had no clothing on.
I glanced around but couldn't see any signs indicating this was a clothing-optional area. There weren't any police trying to get people to cover up under threat of arrest. And there were people around the fringes of the nude crowd still dressed, who didn't seem particularly upset, merely curious.
I hesitatated, swallowed. I'd had fantasies about nudism since my teen years, but I'm so painfully self-conscious about my body. I'm what you'd call curvy if you were trying to be nice, and my dark purple string bikini didn't look as good on me as it used to. Since I was on vacation where no one knew me, I'd worn it anyway even though my stomach isn't completely flat, but it had taken me quite a bit of courage just to go through with that.
But as I scanned the naked crowd I noticed not everyone was good-looking. There were older, bearded men with bellies hanging down, and chubby middle-aged ladies who were in a lot worse shape than I was. And it occurred to me that this opportunity had just sort of landed right in front of me. I'd probably never have another chance like this to go nude outside, in public, without fear of arrest, and far enough away from home where nobody I knew would see me.
I set my bag down at the foot of one of the cherry trees and took a deep, shaky breath. Turning toward the water, my back to the crowd, I slowly peeled my bikini top off my chest. My heart was pounding as I lowered it, and I stood for several long seconds with my breasts cradled in my arms, trying to work up the nerve to fully expose them. They're size DD, quite large, and I feel like they're always sort of getting in my way, though of course guys seem to like them.
Finally I closed my eyes, bit my lip, and let my arms fall to my sides. A breeze brushed against my exposed chest. My large, erect nipples pointed out across the Potomac. I heard laughter in the crowd behind me and got an awful paranoid notion that it was directed at me. I forced myself to open my eyes and look. I just turned my head toward the crowd, I wasn't ready to swing my whole body around to face them yet. I mean, I was topless!
But no one was paying any attention at me. And so, reassured, I turned my attention to the remaining half of my swimsuit. My stomach quivered with excitement and uncertainly as I undid the strings holding the bottom piece together on either side of my waist. It fell away, and I let it, revealing my bare, round behind to the crowd.
Looking down, I blushed anew at the sight of my unshaven pubic hair. From what you hear, most people nowadays shave or at least trim theirs, but I hadn't, and once more I became momentarily afraid of ridicule from the other nudists. Again I turned my neck to look at the crowd, and was relieved to see others, men and women, young and old alike, who still had ample hair down there.
I took another deep breath and decided I'd turn myself all the way around, just briefly. Pivoting on my bare foot in the grass, I rotated my naked frontside so it was facing the others, just me in my flip-flops and nothing else. I avoided their eyes at first, fearful of some imagined reaction, and tilted my gaze to the strip of blue sky just above them. I held that position for about twenty seconds, trying desperately to appear casual, hands clasped behind my back, squeezing them together as if giving myself some needed reassurance.
And it worked. As my initial anxiety drained away, it felt so amazing, so truly liberating, to be standing naked and facing a crowd of strangers, and not caring. Because none of them cared. To them, I was just another nude body. The summer breeze's touch was incredible, caressing areas of my skin that had never felt the sensation before. I thought about our culture's obsession with modesty, "decency", the way Americans always seemed to link nudity to sex, promiscuity. I wondered if I was enjoying this more because society said I wasn't supposed to be doing it, and I decided maybe I was.
I wondered what the water would feel like, so I stepped toward it and probed the surface with a foot. It was cool but not inhibitively cold, so I started to wade out a bit.
I was just about up to my knees when someone behind me called out, "Hey, where are you going?"
The water splashed a bit as I spun around to find a nude college-age girl with braided brown hair decorated with colored beads, looking at me quizzically from the shore, and it was only then that I realized none of the other nudists had ventured into the water.
"Oh, um..." I stammered, "I was just... just going for a quick swim." Unconsciously and self-consciously, my arms found their way down my body between my thighs, covering the most glaring evidence of my nudity. I noticed a few of the others turn and glance in my direction. "That's... allowed, right?" I certainly didn't want to break any unknown rules dressed, or rather NOT dressed, like I was.
"Well sure, if that's what you want, but--" The girl indicated the rest of the crowd. "--we're starting pretty soon." Then she made a bit of a face and added, "Plus, I don't think it's very clean."
Before I could think to ask, "Starting what?" she splashed out, took my forearm, and led me back to land. She pulled me toward the rest of the nudists who were heading north across the park and away from the water with a distinct sense of purpose in their step.
"First time, huh?" she asked knowingly. "Well, don't worry, you're among friends. We all went through that ourselves once." She offered her hand. "I'm Alicia, by the way."
"R-Rhonda," I stuttered, shaking it. "Rhonda Royce." I couldn't decide whether her "first time" query referred to my obviously shy public nudism, or something else. The crowd was rapidly leaving the seclusion of the shore, and none of them showed any signs of getting dressed.
"Oh! My suit!" I cried, suddenly remembering I'd left it at the water's edge before I'd waded out. I spun around to go grab it, but Alicia caught my wrist.
"Oh, leave it, it'll be there when you get back," she assured me. "Well, unless somebody takes it of course!"
She smiled broadly to let me know it was a joke, but it managed to melt away any remaining excitement, and left me with a growing sense of unease. My handbag containing my regular clothes was also there, under the cherry tree. If it wasn't still there when I came back, I'd be stranded with nothing to wear!
And just where were we all going? The naked crowd seemed to be filing orderly onto Ohio Drive, but in the wrong direction, against the normal flow of traffic on the one-way street. On the nearby tennis courts, people had stopped mid-game to peer through the chainlink fences at us. Unlike us, they were fully dressed. We were clearly moving away from the park, into an area where I knew public nudity was definitely NOT allowed.
That was when I first saw all the police. They were aware of the nude gathering after all, it turned out, and at the entrance to the park, they had the entire street cordoned off. Stern expressions and mirrored sunglasses eyed us watchfully, alert for the first sign of disorderly conduct. There were even a few National Guardsmen in military uniforms, rifles at the ready. It was intended to be an intimidating display, and it worked... at least on me, as I found myself herded along through the tunnel under the Francis Case Memorial Bridge, into who knew what, without my clothes!
At the intersection on the far end, two uniformed officers pulled aside a pair of striped sawhorses acting as a makeshift barricade, and allowed our group to pass, and soon we were all proceeding up 15th Street. The sprawl of buildings loomed taller on this side of the tunnel, intensifying the sensation of exposure and making made me feel diminished, insignificant. Along both sides of the road, people were lined to watch the passing spectacle. Some cheered us on, some simply grinned and stared, and a few shook their heads in disbelief, even disapproval.
"Rhonda!" Alicia reappeared beside me and thrust a big piece of white paperboard into my hands. "Here, hold this up!" She was a naked ball of energy, weaving amongst the crowd with ease, clearly enjoying herself. I, on the other hand, was terrified beyond belief. Here I was walking down the middle of a major thoroughfare without a stitch of clothing on, in our nation's capitol of all places! The lack of apparel amplified every jiggle of my body, every extra inch I'd put on over the last few years. I held the paperboard over the front of my bare self as if it were a shield, covering as much of me as possible.
"No, not like that!" chided Alicia's voice next to me. "Hold it UP! So everyone can SEE!"
The absolute last thing I wanted was for everyone to "see"! The only reason I'd shed my clothes in the first place was because I thought the other nudists would be the only ones to get a good look at me. I wasn't prepared to deal with hundreds of people, clothed people of all ages, watching me parading down the street with my entire body bared!
Suddenly, as one, the crowd began to chant.
"POLITICIANS FIGHT, INNOCENTS DIE!"
Then the light came on and everything fell into place. In my eagerness to be nude in public, I'd gone and gotten myself swept up in some sort of organized political protest! I tilted the sign Alicia had given me enough to read "STOP THE WAR!" with a peace symbol for the letter "O" and the word "WAR" in bright-red paint, spattered like blood.
"POLITICIANS FIGHT, INNOCENTS DIE!"
I gasped, and my stomach did a flip, as I got my first glimpse of the television cameras! Up ahead, I could see large white vans with CNN, MSNBC and Fox logos on the sides, tall antennas spiking out the roofs. Sharp-looking reporters dressed -- dressed! -- in suits, were being framed by camera crews, the sun glinting off glass lenses as they adjusted their angles.
Without even thinking, I lowered my arms again, making the handheld sign the last bastion between the media and my body. If I were filmed naked, I quickly realized, people I knew back home would see me! I mean, they'd have to blur my private areas to show it on TV, but they wouldn't hide my face! Everyone who watched the news would know I'd participated in a naked protest, and those who didn't would quickly hear about it through word of mouth! "So, Rhonda, did you do anything interesting on vacation?" they'd ask, knowing smirks betraying the answer they already had.
Petrified, overwhelmed by the sense of imminent mass-scale exposure and embarrassment, I froze in place, and staggered momentarily when another nude body bumped into mine. "Uh! Sorry!" I mumbled, and quickly tried to squeeze myself toward the center of the crowd. I felt my bare thighs rub against those of other naked people, people I'd never even met before. Everything around me was a sea of exposed skin, and I hoped it would help to hide my own.
Then I looked to the side again, and was horrified to see cell phones in some of the spectators' hands, held and pointed at us, thumbs clicking on cameras. Undoubtedly they'd been at work before I'd managed to slip behind the others. Any attempt to hide my nudity from the collective, permanent eyes of the Internet was already too late. Was I already a YouTube sensation?
"POLITICIANS FIGHT, INNOCENTS DIE!"
"Come on, Rhonda, shout it!" Alicia, having the time of her life, had somehow found me again. Did the embarrassment visible in my body language make me that easy to spot?
Back in the park I'd tried to focus my attention on her face, away from our nude state, but now... I wasn't trying to look, but my nervous, darting eyes took in a glimpse of Alicia in her entirety. Her small, perky breasts were pointed at a slightly upward angle. Unlike mine, her crotch was clean-shaven, leaving her vaginal lips fully visible. At least the hair hid the shape of mine, though this knowledge was of miniscule comfort.
"POLITICIANS FIGHT, INNOCENTS DIE!"
I joined in too, belting out the syllables at the top of my lungs, although I was in such a daze that their meaning at the time escaped me. If nothing else, it was an outlet for all my pent-up, terrified energy.
"THAT'S the spirit!" Alicia encouraged.
I HAVE to find a way out of this, I thought. But if I backed out now, I'd have to walk all the way back to East Potomac Park alone. Everyone lined up along the streets would see me, and only me! That was so completely not an option. Plus... I couldn't explain why, but I didn't want to disappoint Alicia. Even though I'd just met her, and we had nothing in common save our currently shared exhibitionism, I felt a sort of bond with her, a solidarity. Naked sisterhood, I suppose. And she was clearly thrilled to have me on board for... whatever this was.
"So, Alicia," I managed to breathily ask during a lull in the chanting. "Um... What exactly is happening here?"
"What do you mean?" she replied excitedly. She waved her arms, as though encompassing the naked mass. "It's what always happens! It's 'Change Without Clothes'!"
"Change Without... Clothes?" I wasn't sure I'd heard right.
"You know, us! We hold marches and rallies like this all over the country to bring about change, and everybody gets naked to draw attention to our cause. Change Without Clothes. You know, the activist group?" Seeing no recognition on my face, Alicia giggled. "What, you mean you DIDN'T know?"
"Um, no... I, uh, thought it was like a nude area. Back in the park." The embarrassment was obvious in my voice and on my face, I'm sure.
"Are you kidding? In D.C.?!" Alicia threw back her head and let out a hearty laugh. A few other people next to us had heard our conversation and reacted the same way. I felt like a colossal, naked fool.
We must have walked about two miles total, and toward the end I began to wish I'd worn my street shoes instead of the flip-flops. The other protesters, the ones who knew what they were doing, had brought more practical footwear, sneakers or boots. Together we marched to the center of the very open National Mall, surrounded on all sides by the Veterans' Memorials and the Washington Monument. The latter of which I couldn't help but be reminded of its resemblance to a giant, erect... well, you know. I thought of all the world-changing events in history that were commemorated here, and right alongside them was me standing in my birthday suit!
I noticed some new activity getting underway at the outer fringes of the crowd, and stretched up on my toes, hands covering my breasts, craning my neck to see. What I saw was people passing around buckets of what looked like glossy red paint, dipping their hands in, and splashing some on themselves. Then they handed the container to the next person, slowly passing them inward to the center of the nude crowd, where I was. Could this experience get any weirder?
Someone, a male voice belonging to someone I couldn't see, began speaking through a bullhorn. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen... citizens of this country... visitors from abroad. We are Change Without Clothes, and we are here to show you the bare, naked truth! Every day people around the world die in endless, pointless conflict! Brought on by warmongering politicians, who sit in cushy offices making decisions that affect people's LIVES!"
Suddenly I felt my entire frontside splashed with liquid, and it was cold! I inhaled sharply and spun to see Alicia grinning, holding the bucket she'd just doused me with. I'd been so caught up listening to the speaker that I hadn't noticed her sidle up to me again. I looked down at myself and saw that my entire left arm and both breasts were now glistening red, and it was quickly dripping down my stomach to my thighs and legs. Up close, what I'd originally assumed to be paint was clearly fake blood, like the kind they use in movies. Alicia herself had a splotch of it between her breasts, though nowhere near as much on her as I did.
"Take a good long look, congressmen... senators... Mister President!" continued the orator. "THIS is what your war looks like!"
Then, at some unspoken signal, everybody suddenly dropped to the ground in unison and lay there, pretending to be dead.
Well, everyone except ME, because I wasn't aware of what the signal was, or what I was supposed to do in response to it. For a full agonizing second, I was the only naked person standing. The only one in full view of the entire crowd of spectators, the police, the National Guardsmen, the politicians and the camera crews. Heck, if he'd been watching, even the President of the United States himself could have seen me naked!
My eyes widened and I quickly threw myself to the ground with the others, my face flushed a bright scarlet that almost matched the paint on the rest of me. Next to mine, Alicia's body quivered slightly as she snickered at my ineptitude, but she tried to hold it back since this was supposed to be a somber demonstration.
Once again I silently questioned how I'd gotten myself mixed up in all of this. I closed my eyes and lay motionless, too mortified and frightened to move. Our bare bodies remained like that for what was probably several minutes but felt like hours, and then at another signal I didn't pick up on, everyone stood back up. The rally had ended without incident, and the nude protesters began quietly departing. Alicia gave me her hands and helped pull me to my feet. My legs were shaking involuntarily, and I felt unsteady.
"So, um, what now?" I managed to ask her.
"Now? Now we're done! Oh, lemme get your info so I can send you updates on our next event. You want email, Facebook or Twitter?"
"Oh, no, that's okay, I..." All I wanted was to get out of public view, and the dispersing crowd was quickly leaving me with less cover and fewer nude people to blend in with. Some had brought backpacks and were pulling their clothes out, getting dressed again. (Why, oh why, hadn't I insisted on bringing my bag along?) Others, still naked, were boarding buses that the group had apparently chartered for the event.
"Well... Thanks for helping today," Alicia offered anyway. I could tell she was a bit hurt by my refusal, and I felt bad. But much more noticeably, I felt exposed. I desperately wanted to be dressed again. Maybe there was a clothes store around here somewhere. Wouldn't they be surprised to have a customer like me walk in! Then I reminded myself that I didn't even have any money.
"Excuse me, miss, could I get your name?" someone else asked before I could get away.
Without thinking or even looking, I answered, "Uh, Rhonda. Rhonda Royce."
"And Rhonda, how did you first become involved in Change Without Clothes?"
I gasped as I saw the news microphone held out to me. It was one of the reporters, a handsome man about my age, who had apparently seen me as the last of the crowd to remain standing, and because of it had incorrectly deduced that I was one of the organizers! Had he been keeping tabs on where I was this whole time?!
I forced myself to look directly into his face, and was relieved to see that he was looking at mine, rather than at other parts of me. "Um, it... just... sort of... happened." Put on the spot, I couldn't think of anything to say.
"Tell me, what's it like being naked in front of all these clothed strangers?" His demeanor was professional, but it couldn't completely mask the amusement in his eyes.
Reminded of my nudity -- as if I could forget! -- I brought my hands together and clasped them in front of my chest, my forearms hiding my breasts. I sincerely hoped it appeared nonchalant and dignified.
"It's, uh... really different than what I expected." Boy, was that ever true!
"So, do you believe anything has been changed by your presence here today?"
Yes, my LIFE, I thought. The camera pointed directly at my body blocked out any coherent thought in my mind other than: "I. Am. Being. Filmed. NAKED."
The reporter seemed to sense my nervousness. "You're okay with being recorded like this, aren't you?" he asked.
"Um, yeah, sure, I guess..." Even if I wasn't, it had already happened. It's not like I could take it back now.
Eventually he gave up, and went on to find someone less camera-shy to query. They had me sign a release form stating they had my permission to tape the interview, then I got away as quickly as possible, praying they wouldn't use the footage!
Oh no, I thought, what if it was a live feed?! No, it wouldn't be a live feed, would it? They'd have to edit it first, to blur my nudity. But what if it was just a delayed feed and they were already preparing it? Could they do that sort of thing, maybe from inside the news vans?
Should I go back and specifically ask them not to air it? Would that even stop them? The demonstration had been in a clearly public place, and I was pretty sure that left me with no recourse. And if I did protest, they'd immediately know I'd never wanted to be filmed naked like this. Then they'd probably laugh and joke about me on their ride back to the station! The inescapable truth was, I'd chosen to shed my outerwear and join the others. Any expectation of privacy I might have had was surrendered when I'd wandered into a public area with every inch of myself on display.
Behind me, Alicia squealed with delight and clapped her hands on my bare shoulders. "That was GREAT, Rhonda!"
"Really?" I asked. "You're not just saying that?"
"Are you kidding? I've never had the guts to talk to the media, and this is my fifth gathering! I dunno, I think it's 'cause of my parents. I mean, they know I do this, I've told them, but I think they'd sort of unhinge if they saw me up close like that. So yeah, you did great!"
"Th-thanks," I stammered. "Should we... head back now?"
"Well sure, unless you wanna take a skinny dip in the Reflecting Pool?" she teased.
I looked down at myself, at the spattering of fake blood that now coated most of my legs. The summer sun had already dried most of the red liquid. I knew Alicia was joking, but it really would have been nice to wash off. However, when I looked toward the Pool I saw that the police had moved into position to prevent the other protesters from doing just that.
"C'mon, I'll walk with ya," Alicia volunteered, and she gave me a naked little hug.
And so we walked the two miles back together, just the two of us, dressed just as we came. Every time a police cruiser passed by I was sure we were going to be arrested, but apparently they'd been instructed to let us return to the park. None of them offered us a ride though, or even a blanket to cover up with. At least if they did arrest us, I told myself, I wouldn't get strip-searched! The absurdity of that thought was incredibly amusing, and I just started snickering uncontrollably, and when Alicia asked what was so funny I couldn't get an immediate answer out. When I finally did, she had a laughing fit too. I was grateful to have her beside me.
People pointed at us, waved at us, honked their horns, stopped and took our picture. A few wanted to pose with us (while remaining fully clothed themselves, of course). Alicia enjoyed every moment of it. I went along, there wasn't anything I could do to stop them. At least everyone kept their hands to themselves.
Of course, when we reached the Potomac, my worst fears were realized. There was no sign of my swimsuit where I had left it. Either it had been swiped by someone or blown away in the breeze. My bag with my street clothes had disappeared too.
Alicia's had not, because she'd left them locked securely in her car. She got dressed in the parking lot, but didn't have anything extra she could loan to me. I did take the opportunity to wash off the red dye, and Alicia stood at the shore and watched me while I did.
"Get in, I'll give you a ride. What hotel are you staying at?"
"The... Uh, the Capitol Hill Suites." For a second I'd almost forgotten the name.
It's a given that I had to walk through the front lobby still naked, and of course people stared, but no one said anything. I guess they were aware of the protest, and understood that I'd been a part of it. Still there were smiles and whispers, and I had to stand for at least 5 minutes while they issued me a new keycard. I suspect the (male) staff was taking their time on purpose.
The funny thing is, I didn't immediately get dressed again. I'm still lounging around completely bare, now feeling the same reluctance to abandon my nudity as I first did at embracing it. Am I the same person dressed as I am when undressed? Do the "clothes make the man", as the old adage goes, or is it our attitude about what we wear, or don't wear, that makes us who we are? Or does it simply affect how everyone else perceives us?
I'm still too nervous to turn on the TV or look at the Internet. Maybe I'll order a pizza, or room service. Maybe I still won't get dressed for that!
In all, I have no idea how many people saw me naked. Between the news vans and the other spectators with camera phones, there's no doubt there will be many, MANY pictures and videos of the entire event posted all over the Web, and you can bet some of them will have me in them! I've accepted the inevitable conclusion that people in my life are going to see me. Friends, family, co-workers, bosses. When I go back to work next week, will they have already seen, or will they find out later? Will they catch my nude interview on the news, assuming they decide to air it? If not, will they recognize me at the edge of the crowd holding up the sign, or standing bare and alone as everyone else drops around me?
Someone, somewhere, will identify me, and I WILL be the subject of much discussion when that happens. I will be recalling, retelling, reliving this experience for a long time to come.
Yes, it really is remarkable how much your life can change, in just one day.
And without clothes.
(Copyright © 2011 by ToddCheese.)