It was a beautiful, sunny, summer Sunday. I was up at sunrise and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee as I looked out at the lake. For a while I sat at the keyboard working on my novel without distractions of any kind. I had the day all to myself. The solitary time ahead of me felt almost infinite. It was a good feeling. There is nothing more relaxing than having a day without pressures or obligations of any kind. If I wanted to work around the house and do some cleaning or mow the lawn I could, but I didn’t have to. “This is going to be the best day I’ve had in a long time,” I thought to myself. As I sat there reveling in the possibilities of such a glorious day, I could not have imagined that 16 hours in the future this beautiful day would end in horror for me.
I was at the lake, and few things in the world help me unwind more than listening to the waves, watching the boats go by, or when I’m in the mood, to be out on the water myself. I decided to start the day by taking my kayak out.
As so often happens, the sun rose in the East on this day, and since I couldn’t find my sunglasses I decided to paddle with the sun to my back. This, of course, was a brilliant strategy for half of the trip. Being a fair-skinned lad of Irish descent I smartly applied a generous layer of sunscreen, knowing that it was not only the sunshine I had to worry about, but the sun reflected upward from the water as well. The first half of my trip was, as I said, westward, towards Canada in fact. The lake was not too choppy, but the wind and waves were against me, making it enjoyably challenging. The feeling of battling the elements. Man against nature. On this day man won the battle as I reached my goal, turned and headed homeward. The wind and waves, now defeated, were now on my side and helped me make quick work of the trip back. I was tired and invigorated at the same time. The hot sun, now higher in the sky, was beaming down as I pulled my kayak ashore and headed inside to shower the sweat off.
After a quick shower and brunch I felt refreshed again. I decided to tackle the overgrown lawn which had been taunting me all weekend. Again I applied sunscreen, especially thoroughly to my face, before going out. Believe me, I need to do this. If anyone is the textbook candidate for skin cancer it’s me. As a child I once missed an entire week of school due to sunburn. I’m not sure why anyone didn’t call Child Protective Services over the fact that my parents let me get that burned. I think that due to countless childhood sunburns my skin is so sensitive to the sun now that if I were to get in a tanning bed there would probably be a quick, bright flash of flame and just a pile of ashes would be all that was left of me.
Some of you may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s the mental illness where some people’s body chemistry, their brain, is so acutely sensitive to sunlight that they become overwhelmingly depressed during the short, dark days of winter. By contrast, some people become energized by the sunshine, almost manic perhaps. I remember an episode of the show Northern Exposure where the main character, Joel, who was relatively new to living in Alaska, became uncontrollably hyperactive during the summer solstice when there is nearly 24 hours straight of sunshine. I think I’m like that. On a beautiful, sunny, summer day I can’t stop myself from just going non-stop. I took care of the yard and went on to finish some other outdoor chores I had been putting off. All in all, it was a very productive day.
Finally the sun did set and the warm, summer night arrived. It was the end of a long, perfect day, but as I said earlier, I had no idea of the catastrophic horror that was about to alter my life. I was exhausted, but in that good way where you know you’ve worked yourself hard all day and your muscles are feeling heavy and relaxed. Despite my best efforts with the sunscreen I had gotten quite tan and I could feel the warmth radiating off my body. As I prepared for bed I brushed my teeth. When I was about to spit I glanced at myself in the mirror. “Wait, what was that?” I thought. I did a double take. I spit out my toothpaste and looked up again, afraid of what I would see. Was it a trick of the light, or am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing?
I looked up at the light and then back to the mirror again. I leaned in closer, closer still. It was still there. I reached up and touched the corner of my eye tentatively, still not sure it could be real. It was real alright.
At the corner of my left eye, plain as day, was a thin, white line extending about an inch outward towards my temple. A wrinkle! Oh the horror. Apparently spending the day outdoors in bright sunshine had caused me to spend a lot of time squinting and when you squint your skin wrinkles up and the sun doesn’t get into the little cracks where your skin bunches up against itself. I swear to God that if that wrinkle isn’t gone when my tan fades I’m getting botox.