“In a strange way, I had fallen in love with my depression.” ~Elizabeth Wurtze
Bumpy. Every time I touch my face—rolling hills of inflamed pores across my cheeks and scattered ice pick scars along my forehead. The colors of every stage of skin damage: blood reds, soft mauves, and vibrant purples. It ruins the kitten-soft skin I had before puberty. Everyone can see that I’m broken, but no one wants to help fix me.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Days until the dance: 109
Dr. Chopra said she’s never seen a case of cystic nodular acne in a patient as young as me, even during her cosmetic dermatology residency. She wrote me a prescription for minocycline, because she thinks I have too much bacteria living on my skin. As she swirled the black ink on the signature line of the notepad on the exam room computer desk, she said it also might be hormonal, so she gave me another script for ortho tri cyclen (I hope it isn’t against Catholicism to go on birth control, even though I’m not having sex). I kicked my size nine Sperrys back and forth on the exam table in the corner of the room. As the thin table paper crunched underneath me, I asked her if she thought my skin could be totally clear in time for the seventh grade dance at the end of January. She said she thinks she’s finally got the right combination!
We drove to Harris Teeter to fill it. Dad said he knew a shortcut, but we ended up driving an extra twenty minutes through a valley of North Carolina loblolly pines in the fresh October air. The grass was still parakeet green and I could smell settling rain on the damp earth. It’s been stormy here for weeks now.
I watched the raindrops spontaneously connect on the windshield while I tapped my pencil against my agenda. Shoppers dashed past with heavy carts, soaking wet clothes, and black umbrellas. The parking lot was filled with Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes. Elementary school kids rejoiced in the rain on the new concrete sidewalk in hunter green school uniforms just like mine. The Harris Teeter we went to was the one that’s five minutes away from school. It’s the one that only spells “Harri Teet” in white, Comic Sans font, because some of the letters are still burned out from when Hurricane Hanna hit us in September. All the boys laugh about that at school. I don’t know why.
Dad always lets me sit in the front seat, even though I’m not twelve yet. I feel like an adult, being able to see all of the F150s zoom past our little, silver Sienna. The only part I don’t like about being up front is the vanity mirrors. I hate what I see in them.
While I waited for him to come out of Harris Teeter, I tried to work on my prealgebra homework. Chapter six is the slope of a line.
I almost forgot! Something really funny happened today! Whenever we talk too much in class, Mrs. Jacobs tries to get control of us by yelling “Okay, kids! Give me the equation for the slope of a line.” Only some of the kids yell back “y equals m times x plus b!” (But never Katie Tart or Chelsea Underwood… they think they’re too cool for pre-algebra. Actually, they probably think they’re too cool for a lot of things. They always roll their skorts up on their uniforms so the beige fabric barely covers their thighs.) But today, when we were all talking loudly, Mrs. Jacobs called on Gabe Levi instead of asking the class.
“Gabe, equation of a line,” she demanded as she stuck her hip out to the side and held the teal whiteboard marker in her hand. We had the windows open to let the cooler air in, and the humidity made her platinum blonde hair puff out like a ticked off cat.
“Mrs. Jacobs, you think I know that? You might as well give me the F now,” Gabe said before he got back to his conversation with Noah Williams about Fergie’s butt or something in the very back row by the graded homework box.
Mrs. Jacobs’s eyes got really wide and everyone started laughing like crazy. Even though I’m in the front, I tried to laugh a little longer so Gabe would notice me. Kristen started staring at me once I was the only one still laughing.
“He’s a little out of your league. I mean, baseball team? Come on, Jess. Why don’t you go for Josh Baker?”
I looked over at Josh. He had Elmer’s glue in his mouth, and it was all over the wooden desk. Even though he has a buzzcut, I’m sure I saw some of it in his hair, too.
I don’t care if Gabe’s “out of my league.” He’s so cute, and he has these pinewood brown eyes that make my stomach jump up and down whenever I see him! I think he has a really deep voice for a seventh grader, and he even has biceps. When my skin clears up from the medications, and I get him to dance with me at the dance in a couple months, then he’ll like me too.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Days until the dance: seventy nine
“Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
It’s like those words were imprinted onto my brain stem today. We were talking about it in Religion class today, the golden rule. We had this big discussion about how we need to focus on building up others, even those who aren’t Catholic. As soon as Mrs. Lawrence asked the class about the last time we helped someone, everyone’s hands shot up like spikes on a porcupine.
“Last night, when my mom picked me up from pre collegiate fencing,” Chelsea began as she folded her skirt just a little higher, “a woman forgot her diamonds in the changing room, so I took them to the front desk.” Katie jumped in after Chelsea without even raising her hand.
“Well, when my nana took me out for brunch at the country club last weekend, I made sure to ask how her miniature Shih Tzu’s hip dysplasia is doing.”
Katie lifted her shoulder almost all the way up to her oversized pearl earrings and half smiled, like she instantly won that battle against Chelsea.
One thing I don’t like about Catholic school is that they make us tell people about the good things we do. I don’t tell anyone about good things I do, even you. It makes me feel like I have a secret with the person I helped if I don’t tell anyone. And I want people to be able to trust me with secrets. Whenever Mrs. Lawrence asks us how we did good this week, I feel like it just gives everyone the chance to brag about what Samaritans they are, even when they go and bully someone like me afterwards.
But, that happened in the afternoon…this morning, Mom told me she was talking to her hairdresser about me last night when she got highlights. He thinks I have a good facial structure, and I’m really tall for my age. He said Mom should think about getting me into commercials, because that’s what his daughter did and she makes a lot of money from it. While she was under the dryer, he gave her the number for the Raleigh Barbizon School of Modeling. While I was eating breakfast in the kitchen before school, she slipped the sturdy business card across the kitchen’s oak table, right past Chase’s bowl of Frosted Flakes. I stared at her, trying not to focus on the pastel table fruit wallpaper of our 90s style room.
“Why does she get a present,” he asked Mom as skim milk dripped from his wobbly bottom lip. He angrily looked outside the nook’s picture window and into the yard. The concrete sidewalk was still decorated with pink chalk from when Kristen came over to play cardio-hopscotch last Saturday. I can’t remember if I’ve already talked about it, but it’s basically when we play “4 Minutes” by Hard Candy and hopscotch at double speed to burn more calories. The grass looked crunchy… like a bunch of green onion rings. The pigeon gray skies made me dread going outside—in North Carolina, anything other than powder blue means either chilly or humid air.
Mom stared back at me, her new, blonder hair resting on her hospital nursing badge. She pressed her hospital blue, polyester uniform out with her manicured fingers.
“Jessica,” she said, “I got this from Jarod the other day. If you want, I figured we could stop by the Barbizon School and sign you up for modeling classes. I’ve always wanted to say I have a model as a daughter. That would make one of the women I play tennis with really jealous.”
I remember trying to give her the most believably genuine smile possible as I put my Oneida fork through the syrup-less Eggo waffles, clanking the white, “Watson” engraved china in the process. Mom raised her eyebrows at me, probably because the plates are new and usually used only when she’s trying to impress her country club friends. We only ate off them today because the dishwasher is still broken, and we ran out of paper dishes last night.
“Sure! I’ll look at it online after school today.”
But I knew that wouldn’t happen. Doing something like that actually scared me. I could already picture it: I’m standing in a line with a bunch of other girls in some kind of ballet studio with white walls and dark wood floors. Girls with perfect skin and really straight teeth, unlike mine, would be stretching their lean legs on the ballet bar in front of ceiling-length mirrors, and a woman would walk in and stare at each of us. She’d look Mediterranean and wear a Lily Pulitzer shift dress. I’d be one of the later ones to be critiqued, and the first thing she’d say to me would be that “the most important thing you need to learn is how to wash your face.” She’d say it with a Louisianan accent, so it’d sound sweet to my ears, but no less harsh to my heart. Then, she’d run her French manicured fingers across my cystic cheeks, and she’d have to rub off all the grease on the paisley dress.
“I’ve tried everything, Madam,” I’d plead as I’d wipe my eyes with my uniform hoodie. “I’ve tried showering twice a day and antibiotics and birth control and not eating dairy and standing in the sun for an hour at a time so the UV light can kill the bacteria on my skin, but nothing works!”
“Well, in that case… yeah, there’s nothing I can work with here,” she’d say as tears would start to stream down my nose, while I looked down at my shoes in embarrassment. Some of the girls would laugh—their petal-soft skin would crinkle into perfect dimples, and the woman would compliment them on their smiles. I’d run out of the studio crying, and Mom and I wouldn’t talk the entire ride home, because she’d be angry at me for not being pretty enough to impress her friends.
Saturday, December 12, 2008
Days until the dance: forty nine
It’s been about two months, and the medications aren’t working like Dr. Chopra said they would. I still have cysts and hyperpigmentation, so today, I made a Powerpoint to show my parents. My mission? To convince them to let me wear makeup to school.
“No,” Dad said right away as he crossed his arms. Him towering over me made me feel smaller than I already felt at the moment. Mom was more quiet over on the wine leather couch—she just sat there with her eyes fixed on her patients’ case write ups. I couldn’t tell if she was even listening.
“Why not?” I asked, trying to restrain tears as the elevator music on the presentation continued to play in the background on the plasma screen TV. I gripped my toes into the plush carpet in anger, hoping they wouldn’t notice me losing emotional control.
“It’ll clog your pores. Once you get your skin cleared, then you can wear makeup.” The purple veins on his nose throbbed as his beer belly moved in and out.
“Come on, Dad, please. I promise I’ll wash it all off as soon as I get home! I just want to even out my skin for school.”
I didn’t want to tell him it was so I won’t get bullied. It’s humiliating—he doesn’t need to know. Even if I told him, I could already hear him telling me that bullying builds character. Or I need to learn how to fight back. But, I’m not a fighter. I’m timid and shy and afraid to defend myself.
I didn’t mention it was partly for Gabe, either. I just want him to like me, and I know he will if my skin looks nice.
“I said no,” he said as he walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, leaving Mom and me alone.
“Please?” I asked her, looking around at the cherry wood, shut blinds that covered an entire wall of the family room. I closed them before I started the presentation so the neighborhood joggers couldn’t see the makeup-less picture of me.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Once it gets better, then you can wear makeup,” she said as she took her papers off the ottoman and out onto the porch.
I tried ordering the makeup off Sephora tonight anyways, but I don’t know Dad or Mom’s credit card numbers to pay for it. I wish you could pay for online stuff with cash.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Days until the dance: eight
I hate boys.
I AIMed Kristen last night for about four hours. She said in seventh period science class today, they started on the endocrine system of the anatomy unit.
“Oh man, then Jessica Watson is definitely going through puberty!” Danny Warton, who sits next to Kristen, suddenly yelled to the class. Kristen said that everyone started laughing and Mrs. Holtzmann had to ring the school bell she only uses when the class is really out of control.
I’ll bet Kristen thought it was wrong of him to say that. I’ll bet she even thought about telling him to stop. But, she’s been telling me for weeks that she has the biggest crush on Danny, so I’ll bet she laughed at what he said and maybe even told him how right he is.
Sometimes, I don’t know why I’m friends with Kristen. Sometimes, I feel like she isn’t on my side… she’ll use me to get close to a boy or belittle me or let me know that I’m her sidekick. But, I don’t have many other friends I can talk to. I think people are afraid to associate with me, because I’m ugly.
Friday, January 20, 2009
Mom finally let me wear makeup for the dance today. I gave it almost three months, but neither of my skin medications worked. We spent two hours in her rose gold painted bathroom brushing Bare Minerals on my face with a special kabuki brush. I stood on the ceramic tile floor on top of the bath mat as she told me how pretty I’d be once my skin cleared up.
I wanted to ask her why she doesn’t think I’m pretty now, but we were having so much fun playing with the makeup that I didn’t want to ruin it.
She said that, once I’m older, the brand she uses might work for me too, because it’s noncomedogenic. Later, I sat on top of the marble sink, and she even gave me a smokey eye and curled my hair into ringlets. I thought I really looked pretty. My face looked pore-less and my hair looked like a brunette Shirley Temple’s.
By seven at night, we were driving in the car with Chase in the backseat on the way to pick up Kristen. We drove along a stretch of tobacco fields for at least five miles until we hit a huge, brightly lit resort-like building. I could hear waterfalls that gently flowed into swimming pools, and I saw golf carts that scurried up and down man-made, freshly sodded hills. Street lights beamed along sidewalks engraved with pebbles, and we crossed over a maplewood bridge with swans underneath.
“This is where Kristen lives? At The Bluffs?” Mom asked as she pursed her mulberry rose lips together out of jealousy.
As we stopped at the red light, Mom adjusted the rearview mirror, so she could see Chase’s carseat.
“So, Chase, doesn’t your sister look pretty tonight?” she asked him.
“Dominick Dawson said she’s ugly,” he replied while he spun a Rubik’s cube around in his little hands in the back of the Sienna.
My mom slowly glanced at me, probably to see how I’d taken it. Either that, or she wanted another view of the tennis courts. I stared out the window, concentrating on the faint bubbling of the waterfall into turquoise blue ponds.
“Well, not everyone finds everyone good looking,” she said in a Southern twang with a shrugging shoulder. I don’t know if that was supposed to be comforting to me or her.
Let’s fast forward to the dance. Once Kristen and I gave our tickets to one of the parent chaperones at the doors, the first thing we saw was Gabe, dressed in a blue polo and khaki cargos. My stomach cartwheeled as we walked over towards the cotton candy machine, on the opposite side of the cafeteria. We needed a game plan to get me to dance with him. He was over by the Doritos over near the bathrooms talking to a few other boys on the varsity baseball team.
“Here, Jess, I’m going to go see if he’ll dance with you,” Kristen said as she pushed her shoulders back, exposing the silver, diamond-encrusted cross necklace that perched on her rose body-con dress and strutted over. I stood next to the rainbow bundles of cotton candy, right where Gabe could see me. I tried to read Gabe’s response to Kristen’s question. But, before I knew it, he was putting his hands on her chubby waist and they were swaying back and forth to “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis.
The lilac cotton candy in my hand fell to the orange tile, cafeteria floor when I realized that Kristen stole Gabe from me. She knows I like him, and she said she likes Danny Warton anyways!! What the hell is she doing dancing with Gabe?!?!
When she came back with this smug smile on her fake-tanned face, I asked her what the hell had just happened. “He says you’re not his type, but… I am,” Kristen replied as she pulled out her
black cherry Razor to text one of her other friends, probably Kayla Michaelson, about who she’d just danced with.
“You’re lying! There’s no way he said that,” I told her as I tried to pick up the cotton candy off the floor.
She stomped on the airy food, smashing the glob into the pores of the tiles.
“Yeah, he did say that. And you know what? He’s right. Why would he like you? You’re not half as pretty as me. Everyone knows how much you hate your life. You try and hide it, but we can all tell. No one wants to date you, Jessica, not even Josh Baker. So why don’t you just go home and forget about Gabe ever liking you, because it’s not gonna happen.”
I called Mom on Mrs. Holtzmann’s phone. I sat outside near the basketball court in the parking lot until she picked me up. I made sure I was away from Gabe and Kristen and Mrs. Holtzmann and anyone else who could see my hideous face. I could see the strobe lights from the cafeteria windows that glowed into the black, starless winter sky. Shadows of happy people danced and laughed while I sat there alone. Teachers didn’t even realize I’d left. Didn’t anyone hear what Kristen had said? Wasn’t anyone going to do anything? Or is it because she wore a cross around her neck that
she gets a free pass to bully me?
I wanted Gabe to realize that Kristen didn’t make a good dance partner. I wanted him to tell his baseball friends that he needed a break from the chaos. I wanted him to walk outside, into the cool, January air, and see me sitting all alone near the basketball courts. I wanted him to walk over to me and make me laugh so that I stopped crying. I wanted him to tell me that the whole world is wrong—that I’m beautiful, and he feels the same way I do about him. I wanted him to take my hand and dance with me in the parking lot to “Bleeding Love.”
But that didn’t happen. Gabe was dancing with Kristen, I just knew it.
When Mom picked me up, she asked why I’d been sitting on the black-top pavement. I told her I needed to think about things.
“Isn’t Kristen coming with us?” Mom asked as she filed her nails in the driver’s seat.
Well, if she likes Gabe so much, why doesn’t she ask him for a ride home, I thought. Didn’t say it, though. Didn’t even respond.
I sat in the back seat so she couldn’t see the cascades of mascara running down my eroded face. Whenever I sniffled, I told her I thought I was getting sick—flu season, you know? She told me to make sure I Lysoled everything I’d touched when I got back.
When we got home, I went straight to my room and sat on my made bed. I cried because I know I’m not pretty like my friends, kids are afraid of me, and no one can explain what’s wrong with me. I’m twelve years old and I have the face of a burn victim. I’m twelve and my face is destroyed. I’m twelve and my life is over. No amount of makeup can make me beautiful. I’ll never find a boy to love me. Everyone can see that I’m broken, but no one wants to help fix me.
I stared at the antique mirror. I could Windex that thing fifty times and it’d still have streaks in it. Mirrors are so cruel, aren’t they? They take pleasure in mocking every little thing that’s wrong with you. My breathing started to shallow as I tried to keep myself from ripping my own curly hair out. I screamed as I took my metal jewelry box filled with rosaries and threw it at the mirror. The glass shattered into big, sharp fragments on the beige carpet. I took one of the biggest pieces and serrated my face at every angle. My chin was stinging from the open cuts, and my cheeks were sore from
bursting cysts that were buried under at least three layers of skin. As I got angrier that I was ruining myself even more, my scrapes became deeper, and I moved lower towards my neck. All of a sudden, I heard a popping noise. I think I fell, but I couldn’t really feel anything. I heard the door open and a voice. It was Mom’s.
“I heard a crash from downstairs, are you o—oh no, my carpets! What have you done to them?” she screamed at my limp, mangled body.