The summer between 7th and 8th grade was my best summer yet. Sandy and I were inseparable, when we weren’t scoring beer from skeezy 21-year-olds, we were hunting for boys. It was a haze of beer, pot, boys, generic cigarettes and Days.
Sandy’s big sister was a super tan high school Cheerleader and therefore the coolest person I’d ever met. I mean, Rah-Rah wore a toe ring, had bleached blonde hair, and went through boyfriends faster than Marty McFly’s DeLorean ripped through dimensions. She sported cool accessories like a huge personalized bottle-opener keychain and a pullout car stereo. The only time she ever spoke to me was when she ran out of smokes, which was why I totally spazzed out when she invited Sandy and me to the Lake with her.
It was the middle of August the summer between seventh and eighth grade. It was going to be one of the hottest days that summer and Rah-Rah only had two more weeks to work on her tan before school started again. She had the day off and since all of her friends were either working, smoking Meth, or fucking someone that day, Sandy and I lying around the house chain-smoking were two easy hostages.
As tan as Rah-Rah was, her little sister Sandy was equally white. I had olive skin because Bio Dad said that once and so I believed it to be true. In reality, I was fairly white as well, but not quite as white as Sandy.
She tossed Sandy, me, and a cooler full of beer into the back of her Chevy Citation and pushed her car stereo into its hole. The radar detector on the dash lit up and beeped. Just when it couldn’t get any better, the brand new tape “Look What the Cat Dragged In” came on full-blast.
I totally loved Poison. I saw their album cover for the first time at Wherehouse Tapes & Records when my mom pointed it out.
“I didn’t know The Bangles had a new album out!”
“Mom, those are boys.”
She picked up the album and held it out to look at it closer. For some reason, the older my mom got, the farther away she had to look at things to see them up close. It took me almost five minutes to prove to her that the four guys in Poison were not, indeed, The Bangles.
Sandy started to whine about having to sit in the backseat.
“I get carsick. Come on.”
And so on and so forth the sibling issues went on. I didn’t care. I was in heaven in the backseat, thoughts of radness swirling through my head.
So this is what a cheerleader’s car looks like. I bet she’s had sex back here. With boys. High school boys.
Maybe someone would see me on my way to the Lake with a high school cheerleader. I was tempted to sniff the cloth seats, but adjusted my fake Ray Bans instead.
Sandy started to turn green.
Three tape flips, four rewound extra plays of Talk Dirty to Me, and two Sandy puke stops later, the little Chevy sporting a FORD = FOUND ON ROAD DEAD bumper sticker rounded its last bend to Pyramid Lake.
At first look Pyramid Lake looked fake because it was literally in the middle of the desert and had big pyramid-shaped rock formations jutting out of it. The Lake was on a Native American Reservation and had tons of urban legend (if anyone ever considered Reno/Sparks urban) surrounding it.
My skin broke out in goose bumps with excitement, or perhaps foreboding. I was already practicing telling everyone at school about my bitchin’ summer as they all admired my deep, dark tan. I knew this was going to be the best day of my life so far.
Rah-Rah parked the car right in front of where the water started and the dirt stopped. Frequenters of the Lake called this a beach, although it resembled a real beach very little. She killed the engine, along with Brett Michael’s voice, and breathed in the atmosphere.
“There’s nowhere in the world you get a tan like at Pyramid.”
I started to understand. A tan wasn’t just a good look, it was a way-of-life, a religion. And I was about to become a card-carrying member.
Ten minutes later, the three of us were already a beer in each and sprawled out on oversized Budweiser beach towels. Our nubile bodies were slathered with Ban de Soliel Tanning Accelerator and Baby Oil. Rah-Rah told us which to put on first and why and how often to turn over. When we got too hot, we’d spritz our bodies with spray tanning enhancer and drink more beer.
She was mentoring us in the ways of the tan. These were her secrets, her traditions. Tanning was a sacred act. Unfortunately, she neglected to educate us on the importance or even the existence of a “base tan.”
Not for a moment did I think I might possibly be putting my life in danger, nor did Sandy. I truly thought I’d come home looking just like Rah-Rah and boys would immediately flock to me and I’d be instantly popular.
Three hours, all the beer, and two packs of generic cigarettes later, we piled back into the Citation and headed back to Sandy’s. I passed out the second the car started moving.
The next thing I remember is waking up and we were back. Then I did something really stupid; I tried to move. I could feel every crease in my cotton shorts and my bathing suit felt like it suddenly became three sizes too small because every strap was digging into my flesh with avengeance.
I probably looked like a gingerbread man walking up to the house, as I couldn’t bend any of my appendages without screaming in pain. It kind of felt like that time I burned the side of my neck with the curling iron, only that spot on my neck was all over every inch of my body. And somehow even on my scalp.
The second Sandy’s Mom saw us she started icing us down. That is, Sandy and I. Rah-Rah looked perfect, just even browner and prettier. I suddenly hated her.
Sandy’s mom ran an ice bath and put Sandy in first, while I lay on Sandy’s bed with frozen peas on my back. Her rare maternal reaction made us realize that we were really in bad shape. I started to cry. The hot tears stung running down my cheeks.
My bath was next. It was filled with cold water and ice cubes. I shuddered to think I could do it, but pain was an amazing motivator. Within minutes of my plunge, all the ice returned to its original liquid form. It was official; my skin had been replaced by molten lava.
Covered in aloe vera and the loosest clothing possible, Sandy and I passed out on a sheet in front of the TV just as the weatherman announced the highs of the day.
It was 102 degrees at Pyramid Lake.
By the time school started, the only proof I had left from that day was the sloughing chunks of my scalp that happened to look just like dandruff. This did not aid in my popularity.