I Will Take "Things That Remind Me of Tanning" for $200, Alex!

They say the sense of smell is the one most closely tied to memory. I believed that before I ever heard anyone say it. The distinct and comforting smell of the pages of a brand new paperback can send me right back to the mall bookstore browsing through Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Even the hint of warm pie crust makes me think of my grandmother. The smell of tools and motor oil always transports me to a tall, vinyl-topped stool at the local parts store I used to visit with my dad. Most of the time smells bring me to a positive mental space. Then, there are those other times.

A history of tanning

I was a tanner. From February to October every year, you could find me in a tanning salon or lying in the sun, soaking in as many UV rays as my skin could stand. At the time, I was dedicated to darkening my fair skin at any cost. The cost I ultimately paid was skin cancer, multiple types , sizes, and treatments. I'm still paying.

The nose knows

There are some smells that never fail to take me back to those days, days I would do over in a heartbeat.


Any kind of coconut. Air fresheners, coconut cake, body lotion. You name it. Virtually every self-tanner I ever tried had a tropical fragrance that contained some amount of coconut.

One little whiff and I am back in the tanning bed slathered in fruity goodness and soaking up the radiation.

Lemon juice

Yep. I was one of those 80's girls who put lemon juice in her hair in an attempt to get natural highlights from the sun. Every time I add a little lemon juice to a recipe, I think about lying on an old bath towel in my backyard with my hair combed into wet lemony strings.

Floral arrangements

I know. I lost you, huh? The tanning salon I used most often was located inside a florist’s shop. Each time I visited, I passed through the front of the store and inhaled the unmistakable mixture of both fresh and artificial flowers, finishing sprays, and scented candles. There is always a weird part of my brain that tries to make me look for the path to the tanning bed when I am near a floral arrangement.

Dr. Pepper

Dr. Pepper in a can, that is. This is slowly getting more strange. Of this, I am totally aware. Dr. Pepper was my go-to thirst quencher after a tanning bed visit. Luckily, there was a conveniently placed vending machine right outside the tanning salon’s front door. That first little burst of sweet, almost medicinal aroma from a canned Dr. Pepper reminds me of hot, sticky, summer days leaving a hot, sticky tanning session.

Tanning is an addiction

There are no two ways about it. I have spent many years being reminded of how much I loved the feel of the sun on my skin and how proud I was to be even a little bit darker than the day before. Even today, I still push down those familiar feelings when I catch a hint of one of my trigger smells.

I still have the urge

I am sure I will always fight the desire to tan. All of these smells remind me of my tanning days, but they also remind me of my skin cancer diagnosis that ended them. Lucky, that.

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