Thursday, January 17, 2008
Autobiography of My Face
Geography of a Battlefield
of a War With Myself
From the top:
I have been at war with my hair for as long as I remember. I spent years dying it different shades of brown and black because I didn't want blond hair. I didn't realize that I'd won this battle until recently when people started asking where our kids get their blond hair from and I looked in the mirror and saw a (dye-free) brown-haired man staring back. I'm never happy with a hairstyle for more than a few months, so I cycle between combed parts, spiky messes, and the occasional shaved baldness. My hair naturally parts on the right but for some reason I've always wanted it to part on the left--most likely because all the best-looking superheroes part on the left. I've recently forced a victory in this battle, too, mostly in order to cover up the scars I'm collecting on the right side of my forehead.
You can't see them very well in the photo, but the scars are fairly visible in real life. There's a tiny one toward the middle of my forehead, where we caught the lesion in time for the dermatologist to freeze it off. Next to that is a larger red spot that we didn't catch so early. The first six months of this delay is due to my own lazy negligence; the next four is how long it took to get an appointment with the dermatologist, and one more after that to see the dermatological surgeon for a consultation. In a week and a half this red spot of basal cell carcinoma will be removed, leaving a bloody crater that will eventually heal into a white scar like the one just below it, now three years old. Basal cell carcinoma is generally not lethal, thank goodness, but every dermatologist I've seen has been shocked that I've had a single lesion, let alone four, show up before I'm thirty. This means I'm likely to spend the rest of my life freezing lesions off or, if I'm not diligent enough, cutting them out. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it, because the damage was done more than a decade ago by the series of sunburns I got while growing up in Hawai'i. I understand now, to a small degree, the despair many people with more deadly forms of cancer feel at the realization that their body is betraying them.
My eyes have been a source of grief for me since middle school. In elementary school I'd actually wanted glasses and was happy to get them, but by eighth grade I was ready for contacts. The problem is my eyes weren't. I blinked through gas permeable lenses for a few years before settling into slightly less discomfort with soft lenses. The lenses I have now are the best I've ever worn, but still my chronically dry eyes don't handle them well for more than a couple hours at a time. Discomfort and laziness prescribe glasses; vanity demands contacts.
One of the boys who delighted in tormenting me in tenth-grade P.E. asked once whether my nose was stuffed or my voice was just nasal like that. I answered, honestly, that my nose was stuffed and that it was always stuffed. I have always been a mouth-breather because I simply didn't have any other option. A couple years ago I finally got a prescription for a nasal inhaler that mostly clears things up, but I still default back to mouth-breathing once I fall asleep.
On the right side of my nostril is the small scar from the fourth lesion, hardly visible. The red spot you see in the photo is just a zit. At this point in my life I only get those once in a while and they don't concern me. Except when they're inside my nostril, which is just painful.
I'm fairly certain my crooked smile is genetic, as it matches perfectly my dad's and my brother's, but I've always associated it with a time in elementary school when I had one side of my face numbed for dental work. I smiled at myself in the mirror, amused at how one side of my mouth refused to lift. The thing is, it still refuses twenty years later.
The scar under my chin is older than my memory. I assume it was some chin-splitting fall I had as a toddler, the first shot fired in a lifelong battle between my face and me.
The nice thing about waging a war with yourself is that either way, you win. But then, of course, either way you also lose.