It's impossible to justify a sunburn to your mother.
Even as I try to plead that it will fade into a nice tan the next day, she's rolling her eyes and insisting that even a tan is sun damage to your skin. She's got a point, as moms always tend to.
But I look down to the harshly contrasting pale lines decorating my feet from a summer of wearing my chacos, surrendering to the inevitability that a hundred days beneath the North Carolina sun promises to your skin. I remember my first real summer day, tightening the straps on my- then- barely used sandals, spraying sunscreen on my shoulders and rubbing some onto my cheeks, all to head out for a full day on the water of paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking in preparation for camp.
When I peeled off my shoes that day, there was already an array of pale lines on my feet. Sun damage starting even at the beginning of June, and I think they call that foreshadowing, seeing that by the time a few weeks had passed and camp started, my tan lines had been so seeped into my skin that even the sections where the straps crossed were well defined. I would show them to my campers as a novelty, to their delight and horror.
And it was in the course of sunburns, tan lines, hair growth, calluses on my hands, mileage on my old car, muscles building, skills learning, and the gratifying cycle of lessons learned one week at camp applied the next week, that my summer went by.
The first week of camp, my co-counselors and I had essentially no idea what we were doing. I was scared of driving the bus, couldn't tell you what shuttle was, the kids took advantage of our naivety and acted up, prompting our immediate, harsh responses. We were late to places, we had kids skip camp, and we spent an hour and a half gearing everyone up unsystematically before we got everyone on canoes in the river the first Friday.
Today, looking toward the eighth week of camp, I am only one week away from heading back to school. Already it feels like the reset period, wherein time is cyclical and the end of one circle is dedicated more to preparation for the next than closure on the last. My family bought me a new car. I'm ordering prescriptions and packing up my clothes into a suitcase larger than my dog. Textbooks buying. Scheduling a haircut.
The first week to the last week; nine weeks of the same thing over again. Yet if I lay time out flat in front of me, my summer is continuous rather than circular. And from here the self I am treads on in the new place, as summer turns to fall, as hair grows back, as tans fade, and I build new experiences atop old ones as a sophomore at university.
Measuring time is a difficult thing in general. We chop it up into time zones, and hours and years and semesters. In the summertime, though, we don't even know the day of the month a lot of the time. So we measure in weeks and weekends- the packed days of driving kids all over creation, putting them on bikes and canoes and saying "go"; or the slow days of tea drinking and journals, leisurely floating down the river in tubes with your family. Checking your watch at camp and realizing you still have an hour and a half to entertain 24 hyperactive campers, pulling your tube off the river, shocked that it's only 1:30.
On both weekdays and weekends, I come home with a fresh layer of tan.
And with each fresh layer of tan I get just a little bit wiser about what I am doing, with each river trip and bus ride and attempt at discipline, I learn how to lead kids. The last week, the first week of August, we got to camp the most right out of any other, not to mention that first one. But just today I received certification in the mail of that water training I got three months ago.
What I'm trying to verbalize here is that summer doesn't last forever, fall starts soon for me, and I'm going back to school after an adventure-packed three months.
But I find solace in the fact that the weather is still warm. Somehow I find solace in the fact that tans fade, but sun damage lasts. That hair grows back, that muscles need to be worked out, that sleep can be caught up on, that lessons learned can be carried back to college.
When time is a circle, I'm thankful that I can go back to the same place and be a better, stronger person each time the weekend turns into the week and the summer turns to the fall.
And when time is a straight line, I'm thankful that at this point in my life, I can get off the river and marvel that it's only 1:30. That I am only 19 and a whole life is ahead of me waiting to be explored and experienced.
And yet, I still wonder why the river or the summer thinks they have any business going as fast as they do.