Purple Legs
—an essay by Sarah Newton

I always hated the smell of sunscreen, and the horrible feeling it left on my skin. The sticky yet oily feeling grossed me out to the extent that even when I knew I would be in the sun for hours, I would wear long sleeves. To avoid wearing sunscreen. This approach worked until one summer day when I went kayaking with my family.

            The sky was the type of grey, overcast sky that fakes you out. It makes you believe that the sun isn’t there. It is. The sun is right there. You just can’t see it. That day, I put on my knee length capris. Sturdy. But capris. Half my leg was exposed. My father told me to wear my hiking pants. I said it was too hot for hiking pants. That I would be fine. He rolled his eyes and said, “Suit yourself.” 

            Our expedition started out well. I was in a double kayak with my dad. We made an excellent team. Or he made an excellent kayaker. I just fumbled along. My sister was in her own single kayak, fumbling along far behind; without the power of my dad to propel her forward. By lunch time, my dad and I were sufficiently far ahead, so we pulled into a small nook to wait for her. I watched as she approached. Closer and closer. Closer and closer. And then a strong current came by and swept her out of her kayak. In a blink and you miss it moment, she was out of her kayak and in the water. The kayak was upside down.

            I looked on, shocked. And then promptly burst out laughing. My dad gave me a stern and concerned look. Somehow, my sister ended up back in her kayak. No harm done. Her clothes were soaked. But she paddled up to us smiling. Dad looked relieved.

            We eventually banked, and set out a beautiful picnic. Despite my sister’s topple, everything was going well. I was happy. I hadn’t worked too hard. The scenery was beautiful. And then the pain started. The slight tingling of doom. The start of a sunburn. My legs were bright pink. I knew I was in for a bad burn. It normally took a few hours for a burn to set in. This took 45 minutes from landing. This one was going to hurt. But denial was easy in that moment, and as I could still walk, I said nothing. Eventually, we returned to our cabin.

            My legs were decidedly more red. A deep red. The deep red that causes your father to look worried. And to mutter, “I told you so.” The type of red that indicates you are going to go through hell. The kind of red that involves blood rushing down and making your legs swell. I popped a tylenol. Took a nap. Hoping the pain wouldn’t get worse.

            I woke up to agony and purple legs. The type of purple where you want to dunk your legs in ice water. So that you can feel them again. The type of purple that demands that you stay in bed for the next eternity. That makes you cry just from moving.

            Dad announced we were going to the movie theatre. I was determined to hide my pain. To make up for the fact that I had told my dad that I would be fine. That my legs would not get burned. He knew the second he saw me walk. Or waddle. It was more of a waddle. I told him that it wasn’t that bad. A lie that even he could see through. I walked in second position lumbering backwards and forwards, trying to soothe the pain. But there was no soothing. There was nothing to be done. I was stuck with purple legs.

Sarah is a writer/designer/actress living in New York. She writes personal essays, plays, screenplays or anything that fits her flights of fancy. She is a crochet designer with her own crochet line, Puzzled Heart Designs. Follow her everyday thoughts on her blog.