I hate summer. Heat and humidity make me feel physically ill and I’d far rather shovel my way through a snow bank than feel as though I’m being roasted from the inside out. Pastel clothing is an abomination, and even at my skinniest I could never pull off sleeveless or crop tops. Don’t even get me started on mandals. Men, unless you’re going to invest time and money on regular pedicures, keep those toes out of sight.
But more than any other awful aspect of June, July and August, I loathe the sun. It’s just so bright. And hot.
It wasn’t always this way. Growing up, my family would spend a week or two in Wildwood, NJ, and at first I tried to embrace the sun, sand and sea. I’d dutifully slather on some Coppertone and spend the morning baking and then jumping in the Atlantic to cool off.
But my McHide wasn’t built for sun tanning and no matter how much sunscreen I’d use, I’d go from lightly freckled to giant sun blister within a couple hours. The closest I ever got to a traditional tan was an unattractive shade of yellow that looked more far more jaundiced than jaunty.
Luckily for me, punk rock came along when I was about 14 or 15 and I felt like I’d found my people. Pasty skin was no longer anything to be ashamed of. I stopped going to the beach and started hanging out at dark clubs instead. I even investigated Victorian skin-whitening methods — did you know ladies used to use arsenic for just that purpose way back when? (I never went that far.)
Though I grew out my mohawk long ago, and I’m just as likely to be listening to Everything But The Girl as I am Angry Samoans, I have always maintained my distaste for that glowing orb of fire. There was nothing to be gained from it except freckles, blistering, and, more recently, wrinkles.
But not everyone understands my aversion. Certain friends laughed at my insistence on a near burka and umbrella if I was expected to brave the beach, and my boyfriend has always hounded me to go on a sunny Caribbean vacation.
So three years ago I relented and we booked a trip to Puerto Rico. I carefully packed a selection of wide-brimmed hats, several caftans so loud Mrs. Roper would’ve been proud, along with enough sunscreen to protect an army of albinos.
The man friend is Mediterranean and therefore has no idea what it’s like to really burn. But he indulged me by waiting around while I made sure to cover every inch of my hide and checking my back to make sure I hadn’t missed a spot.
Much to my surprise, we had a good time. I liked splashing around the swim-up bar and I only got one bad burn — on the insides of my legs. By the time we made it back home, I was slightly freckled and my burn was almost entirely gone.
Then, about two or three weeks later, I noticed a little spot on my left inner ankle. It was about the size of a pinprick and at first I thought I’d cut myself shaving. But it didn’t go away in one week, or even two. Taking a closer look, I noticed it was shaped like a tiny fried egg, and when I looked on Web MD, I saw a photo of its twin (see slide two).
I immediately called my dermatologist and made an appointment. She agreed that it looked kind of sketchy and we’d biopsy it, just to make sure.
A couple days later I got a call from her office, telling me I needed to come see them ASAP. That afternoon, if possible. The receptionist refused to give me any more information, even as I screamed I KNOW I HAVE FUCKING CANCER into the receiver. I mean, Jesus. Every fan of hospital procedural dramas know that if they won’t give you the news over the phone, it’s bad. Really bad.
And my news was bad — melanoma. Which is the most deadly kind of skin cancer, though mine was small and I had caught it early. Naturally, I immediately blamed Puerto Rico and informed my boyfriend we’d only be vacationing in cloudy climes from now on. Seattle! London! Paris! Iceland!
Luckily, I didn’t need any follow-up radiation or chemo after surgery. I just need to be even more vigilant about sunscreen and go in for a screening every six months. My dermo swears I didn’t “catch” it on vacation — that it had been lurking for years. In fact, she even posited that the exposure to the sun may have possibly helped me notice it. (Nice try, doc.)
But screw that. I feel vindicated and will keep up my Campaign of Shade throughout these next few months. I’ll continue to turn down beach invites, wear giant shades, big hats, and invest in spendy sunscreen from Europe (the FDA really needs to step up its game.) I’ll look at Facebook pics of friends sunbathing on the Rockaways and try to resist the urge to type scolding Mother Hen comments about the dangers of sun worship.
But I’m not making any promises about that.