The legend goes something like this: My Grandfather, known equally for his thick accent, flirtatious personality, and mandolin skills, went out dancing one night at a bar in San Francisco. This was many years before I was born, but I like to picture him twirling two ladies at the same time, laughing and wiping sweat from his brow while Astaire plays in the background. One moment he is singing along with the music, and the next he is on the floor. He died instantly of a heart attack.
'That's how I want to go', I always have told myself. Dancing, singing, reading, I don't care. Doing anything other than thinking about how I'm about to die would be good enough for me.
You can imagine my shock when, on a three hour car ride from Beijing to Donglu (more on that later), my mother began talking about how her father died of cancer.
'Wait,' I said, confused. 'I thought he died of a heart attack on the dance floor.'
'Oh,' my Mom said. 'He did. But he'd been diagnosed with skin cancer months before. The doctors had only given him about six months to live. He was going to die anyway.'
I took this as a personal affront for two reasons. One, I don't like being lied to. Okay, this was more of a 'withholding the truth' lie, I don't like anything that makes me have to go back and reconstruct stories of my family's past. And two, I had gone my whole life believing that while I struggled with math, I wasn't so great at cooking, and I tend to have a real impatience for the elderly, I still had one skill I could hold on to: my ability to tan. With this new knowledge, my moles and freckles were less badges of merit and more badges of stupidity.
During my last physical, my doctor told me a woman in her thirties with my family history must see a dermatologist. 'You've done a lot of damage here,' she said while looking at my Dalmatian-like back. Not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.
I went to the dermatologist on Friday, a woman who looked me over in my birthday suit and said, 'Well, nothing is jumping out at me.' I laughed as though it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard-- anything to draw the attention away from my bare ass. 'But I'm going to recommend you see our photographer so he can document your skin so I can check next year to see if there are any changes.'
Two words bothered me: '"Document?" I asked. "As in, take pictures?"' My doctor nodded. "'He'? I croaked. "As in, 'he'?"
With that, I was whisked away to my photo shoot. The photographer was very professional, pointing out the poses (yes, poses) I would need to... well, strike. 'First you will stand like this, then I will get a close up of this, and then in the last photo you will straddle this chair so I can get the bottoms of your feet.'
I got that he needed to get pictures of me head to toe, but did he have to use the word 'straddle'?
A nurse came in to chaperon, which was awesome because really, when you are naked in front of a photographer, what could make the situation any more uncomfortable? Invite in a nurse, of course! She stood there and dutifully laughed at my jokes about my future career posing for Penthouse while I lifted my arms, lifted my legs, bent over, and prayed to God in heaven that it would be over soon.
When I got home, I told L what happened. His first words were, 'Well, at least you're hot,' and it took me a moment to realize that his initial sympathies were not with the photgraphee (me) but with the photographer who must have to 'document' a lot of nasty looking people all the time. Men.
And so, with a blush and a twenty dollar copay, my first naked photography session is complete. Now that it's over, I realize that there is something to be said for sunscreen. But I can't shake the feeling that my Grandfather is looking down on me right now, laughing and shaking his head.
'You're missing the point,' I can hear him saying. 'It's not about how I died. You should have seen how I lived!'