Last year when I was in Aruba, I went windsurfing of all things.
It’s out of character for me to try sports, especially the ones that involve taking off your shirt in public. But I was on a travel-writing assignment, and when that’s the case I’m liable to do a lot of things I normally wouldn’t do, such as leave my apartment.
My natural inclination on a Caribbean beach is to flee the tropical sun and cower under a big umbrella planted in the sand. But evidently, editors are not interested in the insights gleaned from following that plan. So into the waves with my rented mast-and-board windsurfing contraption I went.
I was booked for a 90-minute group lesson. Our bronzed instructor demonstrated jumping up to a standing position on his board in one easy movement, grasping the mini sail with one hand, and harnessing the very air to go skimming across the sea while remaining upright, like a high-octane version of Jesus walking on the water.
Then it was time for my fellow students and me to try, and of course nothing was as easy as the instructor made it look. Getting to a standing position on the board took numerous attempts ending in spills into the ocean, and then when we finally got up there we looked like wobbly-kneed infants who hadn’t yet taken their first steps.
Struggling to maneuver my mast, I might have unintentionally caught a gust or two, but each time I’d soon lose my balance, fall, and end up with a nose full of saltwater. There was nothing graceful or thrilling about my performance. I certainly didn’t look like a rad update on our Savior gliding across the Sea of Galilee.
Plus, I got a terrible sunburn—much to the fascinated repugnance of my husband, who is Puerto Rican and therefore regards sunburns as one of the exotic mysteries of the Caucasian race, right up there with polka music and the Republican Party.
But actually, it was all his fault that I got the sunburn in the first place. He didn’t go with me to Aruba, you see, so he couldn’t slather sunscreen on my back, and I didn’t feel comfortable asking the windsurfing instructor to do it. Consequently, my skin’s hard-to-reach parts turned a vivid shade of red.
The burned area started in the center of my back and appeared to bloom toward my shoulders, contrasting with the well-sunscreened areas that had retained their customary pastiness. When I’d contort myself to get a glimpse in the mirror, it looked like I was sporting wings of fire.
Anyhow, that’s how it looked (and felt) to me. When I got back home, my spouse saw only the horrors of whiteness, as when Ishmael regards Moby Dick. Except that in my case, the whiteness was thrown into sharp relief by the redness.
The point is my sunburn was a Rorschach test for my marriage.
After that painful and protracted episode (the sunburn, not my marriage), I bought one of those long-sleeved sun shirts made of light, water-resistant fabric designed to protect the wearer from harmful UV rays. I now pair the shirt with my swim trunks whenever I go to a pool or beach.
Where, oh where were these garments during the phase in puberty when I insisted on wearing T-shirts into the pool so that no one would see my upper body? Ashamed, in that pre-Lizzo era, of my lingering baby fat and budding boy bosoms, I’d swim in regular ol’ cotton tees, which would get waterlogged and clingy, leaving nothing of my top half to any onlooker’s imagination.
I hope that recent advances in body-hiding technology do not go unappreciated by today’s self-loathing teens.