“You grew up here. You played tennis.” She says it both as a statement and a question.
The new dermatologist looks over my body like a surveyor. From mid thigh to ankle the spots loom. Upper chest. Arms. The rest is pristine having lived beneath clothes sheltered from the skin-damaging sun. We didn’t know. We thought tans looked healthy. We liked how we looked when we edged to darker shades. We still do.
But now. Thirty years later. The glow is remembered in sunspots. In damage. Call them freckles, call them aging, they are the map to where we lived, to how we lived. The other skin, the skin rarely on display, is smooth and beautiful. It hints to me of what could have been. I look at my stomach to feel young. Evenly hued, soft. No blemishes, no scarring. It invites touch. It’s ready for its close up. The legs look battered, warriors of service. Speckled white, speckled brown, the dueling effects of five to eight hours a day under Southern California sun.
“I can recognize all of you. Your skin all looks this way,” the dermatologist says.
I’m part of a group, a class. The label makes me sound like a survivor. We pursued our sport for fun, for camaraderie, for achievement and ambition. We thought to the future but were also very in the moment, refining our motions and our focus and our competitiveness. We took breaks on the hottest of days and stripped off our shoes to dip our feet in the pool, the glaring tan lines revealing our dedication. When I dressed for nice occasions out with the family and slipped into sandals, I looked a joke, as if I were still wearing socks. A trip to the drugstore to acquire rub-on color turned my feet a more acceptable shade of orange-tinted tan. It was the best available.
I am mostly one color now excluding the spots of history. Though they tell where I’ve been I do wish I could erase them. I don’t like how they reveal the decay of my skin. I don’t like how they make me feel older than my spirit. I don’t like that I notice them or that I care about them because they link me to vanity I seldom feel.
I look to my son’s fresh skin and I remind him of sunscreen, telling him he doesn’t want to end up looking like I do. And sometimes he listens and sometimes he doesn’t. And I am reminded of all the warnings I ignored and all the ones I still do. I think ahead to when I will think back, to when I will wish I would have taken better care of my body. But we live as we live, and we can’t always aim to prevent, for the burden would be heavy with caution. Joy would succumb to weight. The years on the tennis court gave me much – identity, structure, perseverance, dreams. If only they hadn’t given me spots.