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This is it. It’s the beginning. This is how it starts.
And yet here you are in the middle of it, just stopped, holding your things: all the things you owned before, when you were a person who did things and bought things, and now all the additional things you own - your mom’s things - plus of course all the things your husband amassed at some point before you. You pick the things up, and as you feel them, you count that you have two citrus juicers, three sets of tongs, four colanders, five pepper grinders, six paring knives, seven spatulas, eight egg holders, and now you have wild turkeys outside too. The partridge for the rhyme.
And every time you turn the shower on you get the tap direction wrong, and you do think there should be a rule for this - some universal decree on whether a shower tap should be depressed or raised for the water to come out. Surely taps should not be allowed to make their users feel hapless.
You wonder, annoyed with yourself for wondering and for being so inept, if you will ever figure out the schedule of the face sunscreen. If you put it on to exercise outside in the morning, and then you shower and reapply, then you are applying it twice in one day just to sit at your computer for the remainder of the day. And then of course you also wash your face at night and anoint yourself with all the nighttime things. And you think that this is madness. That this is an exercise in aesthetic hysteria. Truly the height of some kind of dysmorphia. But the dermatologists have spoken, in their Tik Toks and in their Reels, and they have laid out a decree (unlike the taps) that SPF must be worn absolutely every second that one is outside, or near to outside, or even deep inside, during the hours of dawn to dusk - and probably during pre-dawn and post-dusk, to be sure - on any day in the calendar, in any country, in any time zone, anywhere under the umbrella of our dear, mottled atmosphere.
And you want to cry out “My god am I not a creature of this planet?! Can my skin not withstand the slightest dance with the sun? Not even for a bit? Was I not born to live in the elements, even just for five minutes?” And you know that your cry is childish, because even though all your peers tack on the line “plus it prevents skin cancer”, they’re really reading from the jacket of the book from which spills forth sheer, unbridled vanity, and in which there is no sentence reserved for child-like wonder or play. The goal is specific: to not age. The goal is precise: to not photo-age. It’s even what the epilogue will say, if you make it that far.
And so you consider shirking their dogma - throwing their caution to your wind - but then ah! You remember: Your Family History™. You mom died of skin cancer. And others in your family have / had it. And not in the small way, but in the big, big way. And so it’s not just a matter of rhetoric for you. You really do need to inculcate yourself with a fear of the sun, or at the very least, a practice that converts fear into a realistic ritual of protection. And isn’t that just all of it: converting our daily quotidian fears into a realistic ritual of protection. You can see yourself, just smearing the white paste into your limbs, and into the limbs of your children, and either going to bed sticky, or showering endlessly, until you all die anyway, of something. But whatever it is, it won’t matter, because there you will be: Gleaming. Photo-perfect. Cinderella’s slipper, in human form.
You listen to some Patsy Cline to feel like your mom is around, because she used to sway around the tiny kitchen to Patsy Cline, and would even sway into the living room, in her full apron, swinging her wooden stirring spoon, darting pasta water around the room, singing badly. Her voice was terrible. She would laugh about it. She still sang. And you remember that you owned two pairs of soft corduroy pants when she was in her Patsy Cline singing days. You were about 11 or 12, and your pants were relatively loose and soft, and you felt then that life would continue to be relatively loose and soft. But now here you are, staring at your 13 wooden stirring spoons, and there is nothing loose or soft. And you are wondering if maybe, you put on an apron, and sing badly, you could blur the edges of things, just a bit.
You go outside for walk. You have your sunscreen on, because you are in the cult of health and beauty. The former justifying the latter. A guy runs by you, uphill, moving you with his path to the side of the road, and you consequently find yourself walking straight into the path of a green caterpillar hanging on her string from the tree branches above. There’s no way to walk without your body interrupting her invisible string, so you anticipate that she’ll end up clinging onto your shirt, and you will let her tip toe onto your finger and you will put her down in the grass, like we do when we decide to trust that we are both creatures of this Earth who can engage, even just for a bit, with one another and with the elements. But you walk straight through what you believe to be the trajectory of her invisible lifeline, and she isn’t affected at all - not even moved or frightened. You stop and stare at her, watching as she twirls slowly, the rays of sun glinting on her sherbet green body. Why didn’t you break her lifeline string?
And then you realize: it’s the sunscreen. You’ve done it. You’ve smeared yourself into oblivion. You’ve become so insulated by your realistic ritual of protection that the Earth doesn’t even sense you anymore. And you, and your friends, and the gaggle of photo-perfect internet skinfluencers whose gospel you scroll in - you have all died already, your perfect faces radiating out from your Korean glass-skin coffins, the hinges smeared with Vaseline and the top of it covered in a thick layer of broad-spectrum SPF (remember, UVA rays pierce glass!).
The sun and the caterpillars and the wind don’t come to your funeral. They’ve long ago forsaken you for the pristine, hapless, swaying ghosts that you are.