So, I am driving down this narrow, rocky road—a road so rocky you can barely call it a road—along the edge of a cliff, in my rented Audi, with my wife and two kids. Now, I am not a religious person, and I no longer believe in God, but I sure was doing a whole lot of praying that day.
“Please, God . . . if you’re there, don’t let us die.”
Did I mention I’m scared of heights? A little background here: my family and I are vacationing in the Greek islands, just south of my parents hometown in Sparta, specifically, the uber-rugged island of Kythira, which probably hasn’t changed much since Odysseus stepped foot on it. Yes, they have what you might call “roads,” in the loosest sense of the term, but these are better suited for goats to travel. What’s worse, the steep inclines make for some harrowing adventures straight out of Indiana Jones. Want railings? Greece is a fantasy setting, apparently, where safety measures are as out of place as they would be in the Mines of Moria. All I have to do is blow a tire or have a nervous twitch and down we go. Crash and burn.
To be fair, not every road in Kythira makes you rethink your stance on religion. Choosing the riskiest of routes, and putting my family in danger, is largely my fault, my stubborn need to seek the most secluded beaches so I can drop my pesky bathing suit. See, I fell in love with nudism on the Greek island of Eos as a teen, where naked people frollicked without a care within a stone’s throw of our hotel. But that was back in the 80s and 90s. Since then, American-tourists, probably a lot of moms named Karen, complained about the nudity, forcing the locals to put up “No Nudism” signs. I find this infuriating, especially since public nudity has been a part of our heritage for thousands of years. It would be like some tourist complaining that the Scots wear kilts, even though the kilt has only been around since the 1600s, and the Greeks have been letting it all hang since before Jesus. So now, I have to venture down Death Avenue to find a remote enough niche where no Karens will complain.
When we finally get to the bottom, I thank God for my life, look around the tiny, pristine beach, and find only a handful of beachgoers. Are they naked? Of course not. Nudism is no longer a thing, apparently.
My biggest fear on all of these trips is that I’ll find some naked paradise, and my wife will complain that it’s either too windy, too rocky, too dirty, or too something else. “Why can’t we just go to a normal beach,” she’ll say, “with all the other people?” Now, it isn’t as if she objects to nudity per se, she’s fairly easy-going, in fact, but she isn’t about to tear up her soles on some rocky, reefy shore, just so I can feel the breeze on my testes. Once, a piece of shell got wedged in her big toe while we were out looking for a secluded spot, and I had to run to buy tweezers to pry it loose. The first time we hit Haulover in Miami, she found a tampon floating in the water and vowed never to go back. Years later, I convinced her to give it another go. “What are the chances,” I asked her, “that the same thing will happen again?” Well, guess what? She found another friggin’ tampon! In other words, her experience on these kinds of beaches has never been great.
Back to Kythira: I eventually whip out my iPhone, browsing a Greek tourist site to find a fairly long stretch of sand known for the occasional gathering of nudists. Getting there is like riding a wooden roller coaster, and the whole time I’m hoping that a) I’ll find my suit-free peeps or b) The beach will be large enough and empty enough that nobody will bother us, and if my wife hates it, or finds a tampon, at least I’ll get to experience a day of bliss. Turns out, the beach is far from civilization, with only a few tourists spread here and there, so I feel confident in my birthday suit. But here’s the best part: the family, wife included, loves it! For her sake, we drive around, exploring more of the island, only to discover that the “nude” beach is our favorite. The sand, the water, the seclusion . . . all of it is heavenly, and we even got to snorkel (without needing snorkels) around the reefs near the shoreline, where a variety of colorful fish liked to gather.
Still, I hate being the only naked guy on the beach. Despite a lifetime of advocating for clothes-free living, it still makes me feel awkward, like I am committing some serious taboo, even in a country traditionally known for nudity. If any of my family members were to join me, I know I’d feel better, because crazy loves company, and with enough company crazy becomes common. But my wife has never been interested in nudism and won’t even remove her top.
Now here’s where the story gets weird. Yes, this is the part you’ve been wondering about, the dog part. My youngest, I believe, takes after me. She hates wearing shoes, hates uncomfortable clothing, and often complains about how irritating a piece of fabric makes her feel. I call her my Spartan. So, we’re in the water, looking at all the fish, and she starts freaking out about her top. It’s itchy! Soooo itchy! And she never lets up in letting us know about it. “Well, why don’t you just take it off?” my wife suggests, but my youngest, despite my being bare-ass naked the entire day, looks at her aghast, and refuses. This is when we hear a woman call out, “Bruno! Come back, Bruno!”
Bruno is a rather large dog who loves to swim, and the woman who owns him is both topless and bottomless, as is her husband. So here we are, swimming around with a strange dog, a naked stranger, and a naked me, with my youngest acting as if someone stuck spurs in her bathing suit. The woman apologized to us for her dog repeatedly, but we enjoyed the unexpected, albeit bizarre encounter, and the woman’s brazenness, her utter disregard for being the only female in sight without a stitch on, inspired my wife to strip off also, and my youngest to do the same with her itchy top.
Shame can make us feel awkward, uncertain, or just plain uncomfortable. But it’s all an illusion, one that goes away the moment we are inspired to take that first step, to dress in the way that reflects who we are inside, or to simply live in the skin we are born into. It’s OK to be comfortable, to be you, and sometimes all we need is for someone to show us the way. Or in this case, a dog, a dog named Bruno.