WINTER PARK, Fla.—It was the first day of Freshman Week. Crimson Key members, dripping with enthusiasm, and FOP’ers, dripping with sweat, crowded the yard. Standing in line to receive my room key, I eagerly started up a conversation with a fellow first-year. I have long since forgotten his name, which part of upstate New York he called home and to which dorm he had been assigned. I do, however, remember divulging to him that I was from Florida. “Cool,” he replied. I began beaming, excited to engage in my first highly intellectual interaction at Harvard.
Then he added, “So where’s your tan?” My face fell.
“I don't tan. I burn.” And so began my search to find my identity at Harvard. And my dorm.
I am a pale person from Florida. Shocking, yes. Coming from a family with few traditions, I cling to my paleness as my only link with my Irish heritage. During high school, I was comfortable enough with my complexion to wear shorts every day (except for those few weeks in January when the temperature plummeted into the frigid 50s). But now, as a Cantabridgian, I spend eight months of the year hibernating inside a wardrobe consisting only of pants and parkas. And as a result, I find myself growing more self-conscious each time I return home to Orlando.
I am convinced that I have managed to turn a deeper shade of pale. I now pause before putting on shorts, and I usually grab a light sweater—no matter the sweltering heat—to cover my white shoulders when I don a sleeveless dress. I thought it would be easy to come back, but everywhere I turn I am reminded of those beautifully bronzed Floridians that have come to characterize the state: surfers, sunbathers and Mandy Moore. I feel a closer connection with another group of people, a group that I, an avid Disney-goer since birth, can easily spot: British tourists. Crayola Crayons have yet to create the appropriate colors for these Brits. I would call them “Pasty Translucent” and “Lobster Red.” My skin tone runs this gamut.
Despite this disability, bike riding remains my favorite pastime at home. Frightened by the brick streets and motorists of Cambridge, I indulge in the bike path near my house that peacefully slices through suburbia. My accessories, however, are not restricted to my Walkman. I also sport sunglasses, a large Red Sox cap and a layer of Coppertone (SPF 300) whose thickness Exxon would envy. (Only recently did I ponder the irony inherent in a name like Coppertone.) Other bikers notice the baseball cap and shake their heads with pity at this displaced northerner.
I suppose it doesn’t help my case that my best friend, her skin now a succulent honey color, works as a lifeguard at the YMCA, while I work a 9-to-5 summer job at the local public library. I am a doubly cursed pale nerd for being both a Harvard student and a librarian. But I thoroughly enjoy researching local history in the reference department and helping with the summer reading program in the children’s department. My work provides me with a warm, inner glow, and the modest fluorescent light bulbs and the wavering computer screens bathe me in a skin-cancer-free luminosity.
A fellow librarian, who often boasts aloha shirts and a deep tan, recently shared with me his adventures as a surfer dude. Inspired by such revels, I ventured to Clearwater Beach with my boyfriend in tow. My boyfriend understands my pale plight, as he hails from Ohio, a state of indie rockers and rednecks. After emerging from the changing rooms at the beach, we smothered ourselves with sunscreen, from the tips of our ears to the tips of our toes. We sauntered down to the water, our fair figures hardly discernable from the surrounding sands. Splashing about in the ocean, I did my best to keep my body hidden beneath the surface. Later, we adjourned to the shore, weary from our frolicking. Like children building a fort in the family den, we huddled beneath a damp towel and looked out at the Pamela Andersons and David Hasselhoffs of the world. Like vampires, we sucked our Pepsi contentedly from our lair and cautiously applied a second layer of Coppertone. I felt compelled to shout out something in a British accent to the nearby tourists who were ogling us in order to justify my alien behavior.
I wasn’t any closer to discovering the location of my elusive tan there on Clearwater Beach, but I think for now I am happy basking in the glow of a Harvard education and a good book.
Kristin E. Kitchen ’03, a Crimson editor, is a history of art and architecture concentrator in Winthrop House. She is working at the Winter Park Public Library this summer, where she is catching up on Harry Potter.