“No, it’s not leprosy,” I said to the teenager who kept sneaking horrified glances at my bare arms while she was ringing up my groceries. “It’s poison ivy rash.”
Last weekend, I wore the blue dress I wear to every wedding because the swirly skirt is great for dancing. The short sleeves showed off the oozing, bumpy rash on my legs and arms. I kept the itching at bay with my secret strategy: I periodically went into the restroom and ran hot water over my limbs. The hot water made my skin itch intensely, but then the nerves would go numb for an hour or so.
Artist Friend, who was sitting next to me, observed the rash with interest and began to reminisce about the bad cases of poison ivy he’s gotten over his lifetime. We both like shady places near rivers and streams, or the edges of the woods where just a little sunlight filters in. So does poison ivy.
“I don’t get it as often as I used to,” Artist Friend said.
That made me think. The same thing is true of me. But it doesn’t quite make sense. Humans don’t build up a tolerance for poison ivy. In fact, the reverse is true. The more you get it, the worse your next case will be.
Perhaps it’s that my habits have changed as I’ve gotten older. I tend to sit in chairs instead of sprawling on the ground. I’m more careful as I hike, and I watch where I’m going instead of just running recklessly through the woods. I spend more time inside on the computer during the summer than I used to. I rarely play hide-and-seek in the dark, or stumble through the underbrush while chasing friends. It’s not that often that I flop to the ground without looking first to see what’s there.
When I was a kid, I can remember looking down at my legs in the bathtub after returning from a camping trip. Once the dirt was washed away, I saw bruises, scabs, mosquito bites, and patches of poison ivy rash. Usually, the more beat-up my legs looked, the more fun I'd had that week.
So this summer, I'm making a resolution. I'm going to try to get poison ivy more often.