It is really just a tube of leftovers, about four years old at this point, of aloe ointment that was produced, marketed and sold by the New Zealand Cancer Society. A society of cancerous people? A society against cancers? I can only assume Kiwi naming conventions are just slightly to the left of the English I consider normal.
I needed the aloe. We grabbed it at a Kiwi type of Walmart after a particularly blistering day in the sun. I used that tube religiously while in that country, roasting my arms and legs after days at vineyards or on paddle boards or kayaks. By the time we landed back in the states most of my skin was coming off in fluffs of white flake. Now, the bottle sits in our bathroom with an unprinted, unspoken label: for emergency use only.
Maybe I’m expecting more emergencies, the leftover tube has been traveling with me more. Thrown into the bag with a higher priority than deodorant or toothpaste or even sunscreen. Travel invites conditions that are more expected. Waking up in a strange bed in a zip code you’ve never heard of might mean unexpected hours in the sun. I’ve grown up with an entire life of scrutiny from the sun. The red hair and light skin meant parents were always on hand with oversized hats and sunscreen applied like paint. I was always lectured with tales of my grandfather routinely baking himself on the back porch only to have a wealth of tissues cut from his skin when he was older. At 12 I walked around without shoes at a day-long BBQ and burned the ever-living Christ out of the tops of my feet and have had a healthy fear of repeating that failure again. Today, I will sometimes ONLY apply to the tops of my feet. I can handle the rest.
A few years back, there was a scare with a dark patch on my leg. Now it’s just a thing that shows up every spring.
This weekend was spent in a hot spring, in the sun, with a large hat and consideration (but never enough) of sunscreen.
Through all the fears of burns and cancers and leathery looking skin – why does the sun always feel so good? Perhaps getting an intentional overdose, the burn, the sweat, is the last ad-hoc access we have to staying in touch with being human. The flagellation and an understanding that while it may hurt, hurting is a reminder that we are alive. Hurting is a reminder that humans can always tolerate significantly more than they think.