New memoir Tuesday! This week our challenge was: Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them. For example: a ruby, a tomato, fire, blood.
“Promise me that you’ll keep your tee-shirt on Jenny, it’s very important.”
I agree anxious to join my friends on the bus. Adam is signing me from the window telling me to hurry up. It’s a big day for us summer day campers, we are heading to the beach where the waters of the Pacific ocean will cool us from the desert heat that Riverside California normally offers up.
“Jenny, I’m serious.” She bends down and puts her face a little closer than the other mother’s because her sight has already begun to fade. Still it makes me uncomfortable. It is our first summer together, and we stumble together over this new terrain.
“Geez, I know, mom.”
My baby fine copper hair is paired with translucent skin, peppered with golden brown flecks that appear and spread anywhere the sun touches. These things make me vulnerable and I have learned to play in the shade of trees, venturing out into the rays only long enough to keep my body summer warmed. My mother has slathered me head –to-toe in the strongest sunscreen she could find and the tee-shirt she is insisting that I wear at all times is sticking to my shoulders. Finally, she stands, releasing me and I dash to sit with Adam, who has been my best friend all summer. He is deaf and teaches me to talk with my hands. I wave to my mother and when she doesn’t wave back I wonder if she can see me at all.
The bus is brimming with the energy of 30 eight year olds that pours out the double folding doors of the bus as our anxious feet hit the burning sand. We race towards the water carelessly shedding our shoes, clothes and backpacks. Hurling ourselves to meet the waves. The water keeps my skin cool and not once do I seek the refuge of shade.
We stop our assault on the ocean only for snack time and as I’m sucking the juice from a quarter of an orange, one of the camp counselors says, “Jenny! Where is your tee-shirt?” I freeze and then shrug, honestly having no idea. He touches my shoulders and back and his hand cool against my skin. He hurries off returning with a camp tee-shirt so big it falls to my knees. The cotton makes my skin itch and I want it off of me.
“Jenny, you have to wear this. I will make you sit with me unless you promise to keep this on. Do you promise?” Even though I feel singled out, punished, the price of wearing the tee-shirt is affordable.
Eventually, the time comes for us to head away from the water and back to the desert sand. We pile back on the bus, eyelids weighted by summertime. The bus pulls up in front of my mother’s apartment building, a counselor walks me to the door. I stumble and fight sleep. Through my fog I hear, “I’m so sorry Mrs. Dillon. She did get her tee-shirt off at some point we caught it, but she did burn.” My mother’s hands reach for me and I feel her fingers against my hair as she guides me to her white leather couch.
“Wait here Jenny.” She moves off to the bathroom returning with towels, a blue and white jar of Noxzema, and two white pills. She lays the towel down on the couch, peels the tee shirt from my sticky body. Examining the damage, over my shoulder she hands me the pills and a glass of water. I swallow them, trusting and lay on my stomach. She moves off to the kitchen fetching warm water to gently wipe away sand and sunscreen. The sharp scent of camphor fills the air and not until her deftly light touch begins soothing my skin do I feel fire smoldering from my scalp to the middle of my thighs. The white pills send me to dream land wrapped in the healing touch of a mother who sees me with more than just her eyes.