This is how I sunbathe as a teenager: reluctantly.
The only reason I ever go outside in the summer is because my older sisters force me to. It's 1976, I'm sixteen and, after all, I’m too white to live, or something like that, and a tan is necessary for many things. It will make me sexy and popular, give a healthy glow to my body, and will stop me from being an embarrassment to them. My sisters seem to consider my paleness a matter of great urgency and, although I don’t agree with them, I do consider the misery I get from them a matter of great urgency. So, like a nut, I join them outside - in Arizona, in July, where it’s about one thousand degrees.
It’s like some of the neurons in my brain don’t connect – the tanning neurons – and I will never understand what’s so desirable about a tan or what’s so wrong with my natural skin color. Without being a white supremacist about it, why can’t I be allowed the shade of beige I was born?
At sixteen, and because I have really crappy genetics, I can separate the unsightly parts of me into three categories: there’s the jiggly unsightly, the hairy unsightly, and the veiny unsightly, all rolled into one person, right when I’m supposed to be in my prime teen years. I’m not. I’m hoping I’ll be a late bloomer because I’m definitely not blooming now. So I come outside – jiggling, my spider veins showing, hairy like a bear, and, on top of it, I am pale. I sit down on a cracked, nearly broken lounge chair and join them at the pool.
My older sister Sandy is lying next to me like a corpse at a crime scene, her face smashed into the strappy bottom of her lounger, her swimsuit top undone. Apparently she will lie here until her meat timer goes off. Everyone out here is of one mind, of singular purpose; no talking mars this activity.
But this is what happens to me: I sit down, I slather cocoa butter tanning lotion on most of my body, but I put baby oil on the areas with spider veins. I need them obscured fast. And then I sit. For one minute, two minutes. I pick up the book I’ve brought out with me, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, since I consider myself quite an intellectual, but I find that I can’t read in the 115-degree sunshine. I put it down, sit immobile again. Three minutes. Four minutes. Then I try to be like my sisters; I try to quiet my mind and enjoy the burning warmth, but it’s no use. I don’t actually have an “off” button. When my mouth shuts up, my brain keeps going.
I last five shuffling, adjusting, fidgeting, bitching and moaning minutes out there on the lounge chair before, overheated and seeing spots, I flee inside.
I stand up slowly, trying not to alert Sandy, but she catches me anyway. She asks me where I think I’m going since I just got out there. I tell her that I forgot something in the house, which I think sounds pretty believable, until she looks at me with scorn, and says, “Yeah, right, Linda” and puts her face back down.
There’s part of me that wants to prove her wrong, to go in the house and actually come back out again with this pretend something in my hands. But I guess I don’t care enough because, instead, I just glare impotently at her. I go inside where my cocoa-buttered body – jiggly, hairy, veiny and pale - slips all over my mother’s Naugahyde couch as I read in the dim family room.
Yet somehow, even though I was only out there five minutes, the next day I wake up different: sunburned.