I didn’t have bad skin as a teenager. By some genetic fluke, I remained nearly blemish free throughout nature’s most awkward years. On the flip side of that coin was a penchant for twelve foot bangs, multi-colored braces and tapered leg jeans. The universe made sure to punish me.
Admittedly, there was this one time in ninth grade when I woke up with a wee little dot on my chin. It was the day before chearleading tryouts and I was in a panic, convinced that my entire social career depended upon my pom pom performance and my pom pom performance was entirely dependant upon the eradication of the the angry nodule of bacterium. So I convinced my mother to drive me to Eckerd’s, which was the Walgreens of the south before Walgreens was even a glint in nation’s pharmaceutical eye. The Piggly Wiggly to your Costco.
In the skin cream aisle I was confronted with a whole list of products that had previously never crossed my radar. Wrinkle cream, exfoliants, face masks that promised to devoid you of puffy eyes, the whole lot. I bypassed them all, looking for something, anything that promised to scoop out the byproduct of my teenage hormones.
That night I placed a dot of Oxy-10 on my chin. And then I kind of smeared it around, thinking that if one pore had instigated a riot, it was possible that others might join in the fray. Then I squeezed out a quarter sized amount and rubbed it all over my t-zone, a facial area that my new Seventeen magazine claimed was “prone to breakouts.” I remember this moment succinctly because I had been annoyed with Seventeen for calling it the t-zone when cleary it was more like an inflated I-zone.
In the morning I woke up with a fluttery stomach (cheerleading! tryouts! today!) and an itchy face. I had prepared for the fluttery stomach but not for the itchy face. The bathroom mirror provided a glimpse into my worst teenage nightmare- splotchy red patches all over my chin, my forehead, the inner edges of my cheeks. The zit was gone, but so was the top layer of my skin. It was peeling and flaking and nowhere near the ninth grade perfection I had demanded of it on this one day, this one social career-defining day.
It took nearly a week for the angry red skin to subside and just in case you were curious, no, I did not make the cheerleading squad. I was relegated back to the band field in my hot polyester uniform and squeaky clarinet, somewhat relieved that I wouldn’t have to flash my navy blue bloomers to the whole of the student body come football season.
Which brings us to nearly two weeks ago, when I woke up with a little malfunction at the junction of Skin and Pore Streets. I wouldn’t have paid it much attention, but it was the day before I was to leave for a job interview in Vermont. My to-do list had said nothing about an angry adult zit, so I was wholly unprepared. That day at work I did a little internet reading about homeopathic remedies and came to the conclusion that putting toothpaste on my face was just a poor decision. So I stoped by the grocery on my way home and picked up a tube of goop that promised to clear up my skin in a snap.
You see where this is going.
Before bed I put just a wee dot of the clear gel on my cheek, right over the tiny little red dot. I didn’t smear it around, just kind of dabbed it into position. I brushed my teeth, pulled up my hair and put my suitcase beside the door. I laid out my airplane clothes and packed my purse with essential reading material. Then I crawled into bed and turned out the light.
At 3:27am I woke up from a dream where someone was dropping lighter fluid on my face while I tried to light an outdoor grill. It took me a minute to realize that the lighter fluid was code for HOLY BALLS MY FACE IS ON FIRE. In the bathroom I grabbed a hand towel, shoved it under the cold faucet and pressed it against the side of my face, only to watch a perfectly circular swatch of skin be wiped away, little red dots of blood welling up in the wake of the hand towel.
It took me nearly half an hour to get my cheek to stop bleeding. Another fifteen minutes before I had calmed down enough to go back to bed. The scene wasn’t any better in the morning, either. The nickel-sized ulceration had spent the rest of my slumber scabbing over, something near impossible to cover without industrial strength makeup and a healthy dose of Photoshop.
Without enough time to drive across town to the supercenter, I resigned myself to dabbing layers of loose powder over my cheek. I figured it was early and one of the four airports I would be in that day would surely have some liquid heavy duty makeup.
Not so much. So I got to introduce myself to everyone with an icky spot on my face that looked like someone had put out a cigar on my cheek. With every new introduction I wanted to explain that the scabby looking monstrosity was not an indication of my usual appearance and to please forgive me for looking like I just took up a meth habit.