Put it on a Leaf

Jul 16, 2013 by

          I fried my skin by the pool on Sunday. The guilt has been trailing me for two days. Between the ages of 15 and 19, I spent summers baking in my parents’ backyard. (I also regretfully admit to purchasing two month-long tanning bed packages somewhere within that timeframe.) Despite my fair skin, I had gratefully inherited the Italian ability to absorb the sun until it turned my skin a deep shade of brown. Foolishly, I showed off my colour each summer, shocking people with what my high school friends called a transformation into another race, as my skin quickly turned from porcelain to dark bronze with the change of season. I loved the compliments and the mature appearance that I had earned after hours of daily UV exposure. My tan, combined with my glasses, was undoubtedly a vital factor in my success at passing for age 22 to get into clubs when I was 18. I now know that the mature look that I coveted will likely show itself in the form of premature wrinkles. Be careful what you wish for stupid Past Maria. (Note: I fortunately do not have wrinkles yet. However, I have seen girls only a year or two my senior who do and I’m scared of becoming them. I’ve looked younger than I am my entire life. My genes better not fail me now that I actually appreciate it. Dear Aging Gods, I’m sorry for being a dumb sunbather. Please maintain my youthful appearance well into my 70s.)

          By 20, I smartened up/got scared. I read an article in Cosmo about a healthy girl with one guilty pleasure: the sun. She began tanning at 17 and noticed a mole within months. She immediately went to the doctor to have it assessed. The doctor didn’t think anything of it. The girl, now frightened, stopped tanning. Five years later, at 22, she was at the gym when she noticed a golf ball sized bump on her lower abdomen, right where the mole had been. That mole, the one that her doctor thought was harmless, was actually undiagnosed melanoma that had been given years to spread as it went untreated. She died at age 26.

          From the day I read about this girl’s story, my glowing skin dropped down my priority list by a million points. While I hated my naturally pale complexion, I would take that over my brown body in a coffin. I refrained from tanning, which wasn’t difficult, because I worked whenever I wasn’t sleeping. I sometimes can be caught with an ironic healthy glow in the summer or following a vacation, as I do allow myself to sit in the sun once in a while. I figure that I do other unhealthy things in moderation (eat junk food and drink), so a little sun is okay if I protect my skin. The problem is that I rarely wear sunscreen. I convince myself that I’ll be fine because I don’t often burn. I fail to forget that my skin used to be an olive tone in the summers, which is why I didn’t have to worry about burning. I am now extremely fair and burn easily. I have to be careful. On Sunday, I put sunscreen on my face and neck for fear of aging, but didn’t lather it on the rest of me. By the time I noticed that I was roasting and rushed for the sunscreen, the damage was done. When I got home, I found my skin to be a bright shade of tomato everywhere that my bathing suit didn’t cover, except for my face and neck. In the past, I would have nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders if I burned, happy that I’d be tan in a few days. Much less of a dumbass now (which is debatable, since I’m the smartass that didn’t put on sunscreen), I was bitter. I’ve been embracing my fair skin tone lately. While I will always look better with a tan, it’s not worth upping my chances of both cancer and wrinkles. I basically just offered myself up to an incurable disease on a platter. Awesome. Can I please be fair again and a little less of a walking cancer poster girl, like I was on Saturday?

          I don’t know if I’ve ever been this badly burnt. The most severe consequences I’ve experienced from sunburns are the unflattering red colour of seared skin and radiating body heat. This is something different. I’ve been feverish since Sunday night, flipping between scolding hot flashes and chills. My clothes feel like scalpels slicing into my skin as I slowly slide them on. Worst of all, my skin is so tight that I can’t sleep. Instead of healing, I’m pretty sure the burn is more severely punishing my stupidity with time. I was in so much pain by today that I had to skip the gym. I haven’t skipped the gym once since April. What’s more annoying is that I wanted to go. I was wide awake and ready to take on the day, beginning with my workout. Trust me; I’m not one to princess out of the gym. I’ll go despite menstrual cramps (the most pathetic female excuse to not go to the gym if there ever was one), I’ll go following weeknight drunkenness, and I’ll go when I feel like the walking dead after writing into the early hours of the morning. I even suffered through the gym with my sunburn yesterday, trying to ignore the scraping pain every time my back hit the matt between sit-ups. Today, it was just too much, and my guilt instantly doubled with the additional unhealthiness that came with a cardio-free weekday morning.

          To combat my guilt, I tried to put it on a leaf. A few weeks ago, I was told of an anti-anxiety exercise. You’re supposed to imagine yourself by the water, where you pick up a leaf, put whatever is stressing you out on the leaf, and release it. As you watch it blow away over the soft waves of your mind, you should feel relief at the symbolism of the problem disappearing into the wind. When the exercise was first explained to me, before I jumped to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work (a difficult thing to do, especially now that I’m describing it in writing and noticing that it sounds even more ridiculous than it did aloud), I tried it. I put my single status on a leaf, and I felt calm when I let the leaf go (but I was already calm at the time). Since then, I haven’t used this exercise often, because it doesn’t typically relax me, hence the persistent two-day guilt trip that I’ve been on. I’d love to just put my sunburn guilt and skipped gym guilt on a leaf, coat it with some sunscreen, and watch it blow away, but that damn leaf keeps boomeranging back toward me. Maybe I’m accidently throwing it against the wind.

          I’m a realist, so my mind doesn’t typically entertain metaphors. I respond much better to logic. (For example, I don’t have to feel guilty about skipping the gym this morning because it’s a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, this has been countered by the equally logical response that I should feel guilty about not going to the gym; because, had I worn sunscreen, I wouldn’t have a burn to excuse me from working out. Thus, my gym-less morning is my own fault.) Regardless, I’m sharing this with you because maybe putting your stressors on imaginary leaves and watching them blow away will ease some of your own anxieties. If you notice any efficient ways to keep those leaves blowing in the opposite direction of you, please enlighten me. I’m going on over 48 hours of guilt.

          P.S. While reaching for nuts in an upper cupboard, I noticed in the kitchen’s mirror backsplash that I’ve begun to develop the teardrop-shaped shoulder muscles that I’ve been working toward. Gym, I am even sorrier that I missed you today!

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