Oops. I did it again.
This happens to me more than to most normal people. I'm just not very good at applying sunscreen, I guess. Every summer, there's the one trip to the pool where not only do I sunburn, but I sunburn in some really unusual place or pattern because of sloppy sunscreen application. This time, it's my left thigh. There's an area at the top of my left leg, about the size of a dinner plate, where my skin is beet red. This is not much of an exaggeration. Nowhere else is burned. It looks like someone hauled off and slapped me. Hard.
"It's not as bad as the stripes," said Jason, reminding me of the worst sunburn I ever had, both in terms of pain and in terms of lasting humiliation and embarrassment. When we went to Florida with my family about a month before we got married, I spent the one sunny day we had the entire vacation trying to get my pale self tan for that white wedding dress. The plastic slats of the lounge chair I spent the day in rubbed my SPF 30 off the backs of my legs, and when I flipped to get sun on my back, it left me with red, blistered stripes from ankle to thigh. Because it was such a bad burn, it left the stripes (which eventually turned from red to brown) on my legs the entire rest of the summer. There's a less-than-flattering picture of me on our honeymoon that Jason took from behind as I was observing the beauty of the Tennessee mountains; it looks like I'm wearing some sort of freaky novelty pantyhose.
You would think I'd learn. I'm careful in most other aspects of my life; I wear a seat belt, I don't speed (anymore), I don't smoke, I get enough fiber. But when it comes to the sun, I turn stupid. I can't help it. I love to tan.
I'm not nearly as bad as the Spanish teacher I had in high school who went to the tanning bed every day and who would not have looked Caucasian had she not been a bleached blonde. She admitted to me once that she probably was addicted to tanning (sadly, this is not the craziest thing I'll remember about her.) But something happens to me when I hit a reclining pool chair on a pretty summer day. The sun zaps me and turns me into a contended, relaxed puddle of a person who doesn't worry about pesky little things like reapplying sunscreen, cancerous moles, or premature skin aging. All I can think about is how to best position the straps on my tankini so my tan lines don't jump out from my favorite summer sundress.
"You two should really use sunscreen," my ENT offered to Ainsley and me when I saw him after our Hilton Head vacation. I know doctors are supposed to say stuff like that, but I came this close to telling him to stop being such a buzzkill. Besides, we DO wear sunscreen. A 50, even.
I'm just maybe not so good at actually getting it everywhere.
I know that too much sun is bad for you. I've had a couple of pre-cancerous moles taken off of previously-burned areas of my torso. I know better. But sunning is one of the great pleasures of my life. Even though I slather myself in sunscreen now to varying degrees of success (I shudder to think of my early teens when baby oil was our tanning ointment of choice) I love the feel of sunlight of my skin.
When I was taking classes to become Catholic many years ago, the nun leading the classes asked us to talk about the times we most felt God's presence in our lives. Some people said they heard God in the rain, some said they felt His presence most in rare times of silence. Some said they saw God in the trees, or in children's faces, or in a beautiful work of art.
"Sunlight," I remember saying. "When I feel sunlight on my face, I think of God." And that's true. When I turn my face to the summer sun, the warmth and the light I can see and feel even through closed eyelids makes me feel like I'm in the presence of the infinite. Like God is saying, "Here I am." It makes complete sense to me that so many cultures have worshipped a sun god.
After my current sunscreen faux pas heals, I will be right back out there in the sun celebrating the last two weeks of my summer break. Don't worry, I'll be wearing sunscreen more judiciously. You can call it an addiction, you can call it bad for my health and my skin, you can call it slothfulness. For me, though, it's almost a spiritual experience.
Albeit one that requires Solarcaine.