Quick, Tell Me: The Cruel Sun Edition

Quick Tell Me LogoMany years ago, I was in Puerto Rico as part of a web design team for the U.S. government (which is, in itself, a long story). I was due to fly back home in the early afternoon, and I had the morning to kill. I’d never prowled around the old town portion of San Juan, so I decided to use that morning to see the old historic forts on the oceanfront. And it was a beautiful, sunny day.

I arrived at Castillo de San Christobal right at the time they opened in the morning. It was a weekday and not quite the tourism high season, so I was one of only a few people there. I puttered around in the fort for about a half hour, and then chanced to see one of the fort’s staff, an older gentleman in the employ of the park service, walk out into the center court.

“If anyone wants a free tour around the old town, join me! It will take about an hour!”

Well, that sounded like a deal. A young couple and I joined him in the court. Soon after, the four of us started exploring the area around San Christobal while Mr. Park Service told us everything he knew about every rock, stone, and piece of grass. It was amazing; we heard about everything from the minute details of the fort’s history to the reason why a particular patch of road was eroding away.

It turned out that this was Mr. Park Service’s last day in Puerto Rico. He was being transferred to the Grand Canyon on the next day, so he decided to just suddenly give a grand personal tour to anyone lucky enough to hear his offer.

His impromptu tour ended sometime around 11:30 AM, when I was due to head to the airport. I thanked him and wished him well at the Grand Canyon.

I arrived at the airport without incident, and called home while I was waiting for the plane. During the call, I realized that all of my exposed skin hurt. It hurt a lot.

It then dawned on me that I’d really fried myself. I don’t get sunburned often; I’m rather dark-skinned for a white chick, and I tend to be mindful of the amount of sun I take in. I wasn’t worried that morning, because I spent maybe 90 minutes outdoors in the morning. I was wearing a cap-sleeved t-shirt and a hat. Yes, I was in Puerto Rico, where the sun is strong, but still…

Well, the long flight to Minnesota slowly became agonizing as blisters appeared on my arms and ears. The sunburn on the back of my neck was bad enough that I eventually had to cut the tags out of all my clothes so I could wear them while I healed over the next several weeks. You can still see faint scars on my skin, over ten years later.

Quick, tell me about a time the sun snuck up upon you.


  1. I was in Florida on a band trip in March, months before I’d start spending time outdoors back home. I applied sunscreen in the morning, I applied sunscreen after sweating a lot playing volleyball. I was ready to apply sunscreen after swimming in the ocean, but my towel was all sandy and I couldn’t get dry. As I waited for the air and sun to do their job, I fell asleep. Miraculously, the sunscreen I had applied earlier was still working. Unfortunately I hadn’t applied any between the bottom of my shorts and the bottom of my swimsuit.

    Fortunately for the chills and fever I had a few hours later, I had a pair of long pants with me on the bus. Unfortunately they were a fairly snug pair of non-stretch jeans. Not great for the blisters that were forming on my uppper thighs. The chaperones wouldn’t let me into my luggage to get my pyjamas and they wouldn’t give me any drugs to combat the pain, chills, or fever. At breakfast, I put my hands in my pockets to hold my pants away from my skin and wished we were somewhere I could buy some Advil.

  2. Just last May I finally arranged to be present for the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade. I have been a fan of puppetry my whole life and was amazed at photos I had seen of the giant-sized creations that the parade showcases. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to seeing the parade, other than the simple fact that I am just not the outdoorsy type. It’s been, oh, at least five, maybe six centimeters of receding hairline since the last time that I spent a long sunny afternoon outside. I have not heeded the common sense rules for spending a long day under a hot sun for many years; so obviously hurt and full of neglected resentment, when the consequences bit me–they bit HARD.

    My symptoms did not appear that afternoon or evening. At no point did anyone comment that I looked like had gotten too much sun. My long ride home was without incident. My dinner could have been featured in a Disney movie (lacking but a musical score and some animated animals), so carefree was I. And when I went to bed I slept the peaceful sleep of the Just.

    I did not need my alarm to wake me in the morning, however.

    My head HURT. From the top of my eyebrows to a line drawn from ear tip to ear tip my skin burned. It flamed. It broadcast a ray of pure energy in the agony band of the electromagnetic spectrum as of yet undiscovered by man. The lack of visitation of advanced alien races to this quadrant of the galaxy for the next few centuries is likely my fault. Some of them will no doubt assume that the terrible outpouring of energy from the local sector can only mean that our race has destroyed itself. Others possibly fear that any crazed survivors that managed to survive such an apocalyptic outpouring may work out an effective targeting system for it and be in the mood to share. I will forward an explanatory apology for CETI to foward if and when they can negotiate new funding.

    Needless to say, the experience of suffering is never so personal as when it is an inch from your brain. One may say “I have hurt my finger” or even “My leg hurts”, but when the sensation of transforming into a feverish leper is applied directly to your skull it becomes extremely difficult to distance or depersonalize it.

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