The Peeling Problem

The sun and my skin have a fraught, storied past. It seems that no matter how much sunscreen I apply or what SPF I use, at least one part of my body turns out to be a bright, cherry red. 

My first memory of sunburn happened at age eleven. I was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta with my family, and after one day on the beach, my back and shoulders were completely fried. In the words of my mother, when she first examined the damage, “I’m sure it’s not that bad—oh, shit.” 

Given that we had five more days of nothing but laying in the sun ahead of us, my mom procured a “swim shirt” for me that was approximately six sizes too big because it was actually an adult men’s surfing shirt. I protested, saying that I looked like a fool and would be happy to watch Disney Channel in the hotel room all week if someone was willing to periodically bring me virgin pina coladas from the swim-up bar, but my mom insisted that I mustn’t miss out on any family time. So I sipped virgin pina coladas under an umbrella and waited for my burns to heal… aka peel. 

If you’ve never experienced a peeling sunburn, let me tell you that it’s not the cutest thing in the world. It’s less than ideal—especially, if you are, say, going on a second date with a guy you really like. 

Sam and I met on Tinder. His smile made me smile, our senses of humor meshed, and he told great stories. He kissed me at the end of our first date, and it had left me feeling light, giddy, and eager to see him again. 

Unfortunately, too many hours at a friends’ pool left me with a nasty sunburn a few days before our date. I really didn’t want to cancel, so although I knew it wouldn’t be totally gone, I hoped that it would be less sore, less red, and not yet peeling. 

When the day of our date arrived, I was feeling good. Things were exactly as I’d hoped—I wasn’t a tomato nor was I a spitting image of the dead, peeling skin on the bottom of my foot. Our date was at 5:00, so around 3:00 I went for a run to clear my head. 

This is where things started to go terribly, terribly wrong. 

When I went to jump in the shower, I looked in the mirror and assumed that the little, translucent bumps on my shoulders were beads of sweat. But as I wiped them away with my hand, I realized that they weren’t—they were little mounds of bubbling dead skin. Horrified, I looked down at my hand and saw the remnants of those bubbles, which had now all burst, and were beginning to peel outward. I turned around and discovered that the same thing was happening on every inch of my back and thighs. 

Like I said: not super cute.

I didn’t have time to try and remedy the situation, but I also don’t know what I would’ve done. My back went from looking a little pink to like Charlotte’s Web in a manner of minutes. All I could do was hope for the best, and at this point, I wasn’t even sure what that was: only watching a few dead skin flakes drift onto the table during dinner, perhaps?  

And what if we ended up back at his place—how would I explain the snowglobe sensation happening when he took off my shirt? All the little pieces of my skin softly floating through the air? Would I say that I am currently shedding an entire layer of my epidermis, and I’m sorry if it makes a mess? 

These were all great questions, and when we arrived at Sam’s apartment after dinner, I still didn’t have any answers. He gave me a tour, and when we got to his bedroom, what I saw sent a chill down my spine: navy blue bedding. If l laid down, there would be no hiding my condition, even if we turned the lights off. When they inevitably came back on, it would look like his duvet was covered in powdered sugar. Or pecorino romano.

“I think the rest of the tour can wait,” Sam said, as he put one hand on my waist and threaded the other through my hair. 

Soon we were on his bed. He took my jean jacket off, and although the dozens of little white flakes lining the inside gave me pause, we carried on, and my worries fell away.

And then, when we were done, they immediately came back. 

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “I could make waffles.”

“That sounds amazing.”

“Okay, you stay here.”

When he closed the door, I rejoiced inside. For one thing, I’d never had a man offer to make me waffles before, and at a minimum, the toasting process would take 4-5 minutes. 

Frantically, I looked around the room, though for what I wasn’t exactly sure. A Dison? A fresh pair of sheets? Then I remembered that, by some miracle, I had a lint roller in my purse. I sprung up, tore across the room, dug through my purse, grabbed it, and went to town on the bed. I wanted to believe it was helping, but it seemed to mostly just be moving the skin flakes around. 

“Shit, shit, shit,” I said, not even realizing that I was jogging in my place. “Okay… okay…”

Not knowing what else to do, I smacked the bed as hard as I could with my palms in an effort to bounce the flakes off the bed. When I heard the toaster ding, I brushed off as much as I could, threw on one of his t-shirts, and hopped back under the covers. 

“Alright, who wants waffles,” Sam said as he opened the door. 

The waffles are 97% of the reason why I still think about Sam sometimes. ❏

Shannon Cron lives in Minneapolis and is trying very hard to stop drinking three LaCroixs a day.

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