Tan Lines

I’m a fair skinned redhead so it’s easy to see my blue veins and every irritation that crosses my skin.  And rather than bronzing in the summer sun, I get what I like to call my Irish tan in which more and more freckles give the appearance of darkening skin.  Even with sunblock over 50 spf, I still get freckled.  Just try to imagine the fun if I forget to reapply or miss a spot.  I’ve peeled more bright red, blistered skin off my body than I can recall.  I’ve gotten to know the different types of blisters and the spectrum of burn color from pink to purple to gauge just how forgetful I was that day.  The rest of me, the parts that remained covered and protected from the sun, stays white.  Bright, blinding, and starkly contrasting to my arms and legs and face.

Because of all this I’ve never been a huge fan of sitting on the beach all day.  As much as I love reading a book outside, and I do, I don’t need to provide myself as an offering to Apollo for every waking minute of the day.  Yet my job requires being outside and so I instead have been spending eight to ten hour days watching high school kids play lacrosse in an effort to recruit and build my team.  I may not be wearing a bathing suit or fruitlessly wiping sand from my sticky skin, but I’m worshipping the rays all the same.

I’ve tried a few different methods of keeping my color under control.  I use the hourly change of games to (try to) remember to reapply sunscreen.  I wear a hat.  I bring spf in cream and spray to (try to) cover every last bit of skin.  I stand barefoot in the grass to lessen the flip flop line.  I’ve taken to securing my watch around a belt loop so my arms at least look consistent from shoulder to fingertip.  Some of these attempts are more successful than others.  The one thing I don’t have to worry about anymore is monitoring the pruned ring lines on my fingers.

If you’ve ever worn a ring for an extended period of time, you know what happens to your finger and the skin real estate the jewelry occupies.  A seemingly permanent indentation develops.  The cells become flat and shiny and light, very light.  The mark presents as a band, even when the metal has been removed.

I used to have two of these, one on each ring finger.  On my left hand I wore my wedding band and often my engagement ring.  The width of the mark varied since I didn’t always wear both.  But unless I was showering or swimming or just plain about to get my hands dirty, I was wearing something.  On my right hand I wore a ring that he gave me almost a year into dating.  We were getting pretty serious, even though I was only 19, and I actually wondered if the small Tiffany’s bag represented a bigger step (you know, THE big step).  Instead, it was just a band with three of those silly hearts.  I wouldn’t have picked it myself, but he had given it to me so I wore it.  With my two puckered ring fingers, I represented my commitment even when I was jewelry free.  For the first time the other day I noticed the lines are just about gone.

What a relief now to no longer see the reminders of that attachment.  To be free of the metal and the superficial branding on my skin.  Both grew to stand for something that now makes my skin crawl and that has even made me question what exactly our bond had been.  Case in point, a couple years ago he decided it would be a good story to tell me how he had acquired that first significant token on my hand.  When his parents’ deck began to rot, they had workmen come to the house to rip up the wood and put down a new version.  It was there in the dirt that he found this little piece of silver that must have fallen off someone else’s finger.  So where I once wondered if this same ring might have been a diamond, it turned out that it actually contained no thought whatsoever.  And I wore that stupid thing every day.

The freckles that have since appeared in these particular spaces are welcome additions.  They fill the gaps and make the divorce look a little less recent.  I know the oddities are still there.  I’m pretty sure I can see where the skin is not yet recovered.  But no one else can.  No one else would know what used to be there.

The beauty and the shame of tan lines is that they fade.  As we move into fall and winter, we lament how pale we become as the world turns to grey.  Sometimes they are our last vestiges of all of the amazing elements of summer – the weather, the barbecues, the time outside, the relaxation.  On the other hand, when they go they take with them the memories and the pain.  The burns are gone, the overwhelming heat from days in the sun, the reminders of what we were wearing or who we were in those months.  Some tan lines will keep coming back year after year.  I know that I’ll never fully master the art of sunblock and that wearing flip flops is a summer necessity.  But it’s nice to know that every summer I’ll get to start fresh and build a new story in my freckles.