The summer has arrived and the city begins to rejoice! We no longer have to wear coats!
We can wake up in the morning and casually stroll outside like it ain’t no thing because the cold times are gone, the darkness is behind us and ahead is only happiness and light.
Says everyone but me.
I was saying it, bright and early this morning as I strolled along and squinted in the light of the sun. I couldn’t bury my head in my phone because the glare meant that I couldn’t see the screen, so I was forced to look at the sun, the sky, the cherry blossoms and birds all whirling around in a light summer breeze that made me feel fine. And I hummed that song in my head, and then aloud, because I did feel indisputably fine.
On my lunch break, I mooched through the throngs of Verizon strikers on 42nd Street and strolled sweatily, but happily, through Bryant Park, becoming woozy with the overwhelming scent of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips that are splashing bright colors throughout Midtown. Everyone was smiling, beaming, elated.
I swanned back to my office and sleepily worked through the rest of my day in a state of pure bliss, blessed by the sun god and all the healthier for it.
By 5 p.m., the sharp, tight sting in my face was very real, and the bright ham-colored face staring back at me from the mirror confirmed my fear. A grand total of 20 minutes in the April sun, and I was burnt to a crisp.
Moments later, I began to sneeze – hysterically – as the allergies decided to make their timely presence known. Oh, happy days!
I had forgotten amidst all the bliss, how cruel the sun could be on an unsuspecting face that hasn’t had time to lash on layers of sunscreen. The harsh reality of summer for a stark-white girl like me is that being “pale and interesting” suddenly becomes being “burnt and horrifying.”
The struggle is real. Irish skin be cursed.
Growing up, my brother would relentlessly joke that I was adopted. The joke fell on deaf ears because in both anatomical structure and personality, I am a carbon copy of my parents – a total hybrid of their entire combined makeup – but it was founded entirely on my pasty pallor.
My brother, much like my mother and father, my aunts, uncles, and all of my cousins, is sallow skinned, brown-eyed and extremely dark-haired. They all boast variations of olive and honey skin that after a mere moment in the sun blooms into a sweet, supple glow. They all have hazel, wooded green or chocolate brown eyes and tumbling locks of mahogany or raven hair.
And then there is me.
I am pink and blue. In patches, I am purple. On bad days, certain other patches are green and grey. I am awash with colors that are not pretty skin colors.
My skin is so translucent that all of the bodily events taking place underneath said skin are exposed to the world. Veins track bright blue paths from head to toe, organs push bright pink and purple blossoms to the surface, blood pumps a throbbing, pulsating red to every available pore and any form of illness manages to make it’s presence known by creeping it’s murky greys into my complexion.
Next to my beautiful black Irish family with their ancient Spanish influence and their sun-kissed gorgeousness, I am a monster. A sickly, sticky pink thing that sticks out like a sore thumb in every daytime holiday photo and glows like a supernatural nightmare in every nighttime shot.
So what’s a girl to do?
For years as a teenager and young adult, I gave in to the powers of fake tan. I bought bottle after bottle, trying brand after brand, and doused myself in the orange lacquer that stank of curry and stained everything I touched.
Copper handprints were peppered across my bedroom, hallways and bathroom. Bronze smudges were littered across every garment, sheet and towel that my body encountered. The stains were often permanent, and were never EVER worth it. Because if the stains were copper and bronze, I certainly wasn’t -- I was orange.
Many a young Irish woman will come forward now, embracing her pale skin and finally abiding by her mother’s words that “pale is interesting,” and admit that the years of applying orange paint to our bodies was a huge error. Those same women will also admit that we felt we had no choice.
To be tanned was to be “hot” and to be “hot” was to have a boyfriend and to have a boyfriend was to be popular. Or something like that.
For years my friends laughed at my paleness. When we went on vacation, they got a huge kick out of my having to lather myself in factor 50, wear protective clothing to cover my face, neck, shoulders, and all other sensitive areas. I was opposed to wearing bikinis lest my extremely pale stomach burn.
My inability to go a day without breaking into a horrific state of panic-sweating, and the hours spent moisturizing my skin after a day in the sun just in case a sneaky spell of rays got past my extensive sun-blocking.
For years, it was a big joke, and for years, I wore fake tan and sunscreen and joined in on the joke. And then I moved to New York and everything changed.
The girls I met over here barely wore makeup, let alone fake tan. With such a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities, there’s not a hope in hell that everyone could look the same, so no one tries.
So now, when I see the sun, I grimace because it means months of sunscreen and lotion lathering, months of being grossly pale while others tan, but it also means wearing my Irish complexion with pride because at no other time of the year am I this distinguishably Irish.
Pale, burnt, and cranky in the sun because we are so entirely unused to it back home. Bring it on.