It’s amazing, the things you find yourself agreeing to when you don’t believe you’re worth more. More than the asshole you’re screwing, saying he won’t walk by your side in public. More than him throwing a dining room chair at your back, or slapping your face because you talked with some waiter outside the restaurant (which was really just to get him jealous). More than believing you’re not able to land that job, lose those extra pounds, or have the god-dammed life you’ve always wanted, but only thought was possible in the movies, or to anyone but YOU. But when you grow up not being witness to the very things that help you find your sense of self, in addition to being a card-carrying member of The Freak Show, there’s an emotional deficit that’s hard to measure.
I couldn’t even find the yardstick.
Nobody dreams of becoming a stripper. Little girls aren’t sitting around playing with Barbies sharing visions of clear heels. They don’t swing on the monkey bars thinking about the pole, and there certainly aren’t any high school career aptitude tests that prepare you for table dancing (if there are, I stand corrected, and await the reality show with breathless anticipation).
What I did dream about was having perfect, Brooke Shields-Cosmopolitan-cover-flawless-mannequin-like skin. And even though I wasn’t magically “cured” from my lovely deformity, when I walked on stage for the first time, that’s exactly what it felt like.
There’s no bigger validation than that which affirms the illusion of something real.
I don’t remember what life was like before having scars on my face. Their presence has been tattooed on my soul, far deeper than what my skin allows. The familiar grimace when greeting my reflection, the slight panic when my eyes lock with a child, the slick dinner candle maneuvers in placing them as far from under my chin as possible - it’s all autopilot defense in what personal history has taught me. The mirror will always be unfair. Children, in their innocent brutality of truth, will question why something looks different. And shadows, tucked inside my skin, will never, ever be my friend.
It’s hard to believe it all started with a pea-sized, piece of shit bump on the side of my face at fourteen. This wasn’t something I could pop, either. Much like my love for Chachi Arcola and Shaun Cassidy, this was substantial, and it was deep. And as if looking like I was shot with a BB gun wasn’t awesome enough, this thing hurt like a motherfucker. Imagine having a bruise, and every time you smiled or spoke, someone pressed it. You know, for fun. It’s enough to make you shut up and cry. Within days, the piece of shit bump filled up with blood, tripled in size and brought friends. I was baffled, not to mention irritated, as it was putting a major dent in my dream of becoming a Solid Gold dancer.
I totally get that most everyone on the planet (except, maybe Brooke) gets to live through the awesome coming-of-age adolescent meat grinder of fun by having acne (not to mention braces, mood swings, getting your period, and sprouting a mountain of pubes), but this was something completely different. My face was covered, and I mean covered with red and purple golf-ball sized pieces of shit that oozed with the touch of my finger. And as if I wasn’t blessed enough with this freak show facial, they started showing up on my neck, chest and back. It was like wearing my own, personal Halloween costume, except I could never take it off (and there wasn’t any bite-sized candy).
High school was a blast. There were the “Japs” (Asian brainacs), “Stoners” (surfer burn outs or Metallica Metalheads), The Jocks and Cheerleaders (the Barbie and Ken Dolls who held each other’s hair when they puked after one too many wine coolers), and me - Freddy Kruger, the lovable serial killer from A Nightmare on Elm Street look alike, whose face looked like Beef Carpaccio, dipped in hot wax. A fitting description for me at the time, actually. When you stretch your neck to one side, and your skin breaks open, dripping blood down your throat, who else could you be (no wonder I drank).
The years that crawled by were a blur of doctor visits (especially fun, when hordes of medical students stare at you with Dermalogical hard-ons), blood tests, cortisone shots, dry ice sticks, Tetracycline and Accutane doses, and even facial surgeries, which, in the 80s, consisted of blasting my skin with a wire brush under general anesthesia.
It makes perfect sense that at nineteen, when approached to enter a beauty contest (fine, wet t-shirt), I jumped at the chance (after picking my jaw from the floor). I welcomed the opportunity to at least pretend I was beautiful. Every dollar bill on stage was an automatic stamp of approval. And the applause? Absolute heaven to a girl whose only experience with public reaction to her looks was laughter, hidden behind verbal daggers from pubescent assholes in high school.
I wasn’t delusional, thinking I was the next Easy Breezy Cover Girl, but after winning that contest, my perky, g-stringed cellulite-free ass was firmly planted in the beauty bubble (even if it was filled with cigarette smoke and watered down draft beer).
I was home.