Almost every stupid thing I’ve ever done in my life can be traced back to my stubbornness. I come by it honestly, even genetically — I’m five-eighths Irish, one-quarter German, and one-eighth mule, I think. And this year’s colossally stupid act was no different.
Every year here in Saint Paul, they hold Irish Fair on Harriet Island, which sits in the Mississippi River adjacent to the downtown. It’s around the second or third weekend of August typically, and it’s totally free (well, the entertainment’s free, but they get you coming and going on the food and drink). Of course, there’s music and dancing, but there’s also hurling, wolfhounds, arts and crafts, and lectures on a wide variety of subjects. It’s no Milwaukee Irish Fest, but it’s really quite nice.
We didn’t go in 2010, our first summer here. As a matter of fact, I watched little color pieces about it on the local news from the fifth floor of St. Joseph’s Hospital, which sits within spitting distance of Harriet Island. I was in the hospital because, the previous Thursday, I had emerged from our apartment bedroom and informed my Darling Husband that I had thought of nothing all day but how to kill myself. This certainly wasn’t the first time that summer I’d contemplated means and method, but it was the first day I couldn’t remember thinking anything other than suicide.
This scared the tiny part of my brain that wasn’t yet consumed by the howling storm of depression. The onslaught had begun shortly after we moved to the Cities, and the doctor I’d found before we arrived turned out to have a “policy” about not writing any prescriptions without seeing medical records. The stupidest thing I had done that year, and perhaps in my life, was not come with hard copy in hand, but there was no way I could’ve anticipated the three weeks it took for my doctor’s office just one state away to furnish them. In the meantime, I tapered the doses of my fibromyalgia maintenance medication, my narcotic pain reliever, and my anti-depressant as much as I could, but there came a day when I was off, and I had to stay off for a long time. I finally went to the ER at the end of July, but by that time, the tailspin was irrevocable, compounded by the pain and insomnia that cascaded out of the cover of management, and the loneliness and isolation of being in a completely new, unfamiliar city with no job and few friends, in a brutally hot summer. If there’s a definition of “working without a net,” I’m pretty sure this fits.
So this year, when Irish Fair came around, I was determined to be there, if only to defiantly demonstrate that I wasn’t where I had been a year ago. My dear friend Alan was in town, and he was keen to see the fantastic band The High Kings, scheduled at noon; I had my eye on Altan at 5. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm in a way completely at odds with the celebration of all things Irish, but perfect for an outdoor festival.
The problems began on the car ride there, as my boys announced that they were already tired of this outing. Before we even got there. Clearly, this didn’t bode well. They remained whiny, but more or less compliant for the first hour. The seating for the main stage was smack in the middle of the field, not a gasp of shade for 200 yards, but I was so distracted by my efforts to keep calm and not focus on the kids or the past that I completely miscalculated my need for sunscreen. Even the poor guys in the band appealed to the crowd for “some Factor 15,” after Alan and I had been watching them redden appreciably for the first hour.
My sunburns develop like Polaroids, and I was already in the shade by the time the extent of my scorching became apparent. Meanwhile, the boys’ patience had expired before the High Kings’ set had even finished, and even the dogs and hurley could only distract them for so long. Both my burn (ultimately 2nd degree) and my temper bloomed brighter by the minute, but I was so determined to be there and be having fun (dammit) that I forced everyone to stick it out much longer than any of us were enjoying ourselves. We were exhausted and cranky and sunsick by the time we gave up and left at 4, an hour shy of the concert I’d wanted most to see.
The square tanlines from my sundress, still remarkably clear even now on December 2, remind me that, if I’m going to be stupid and stubborn, I should at least put on another round of sunscreen.