DISCLAIMER: The following story may contain disturbing images. If you are offended by stork bites, Mongolian blue spots, strawberry marks, café au lait spots, congenital melanocytic nevi and/or port-wine stains, please proceed with caution.
Just above my left ankle sits a large, pinkish-red birthmark (or, as Wikipedia calls it, a “nevus flammeus”).
It’s roughly around the same size as a deck of cards, thus making it a handy reference tool when dining out. When the waiter arrives with my order, I simply spear the piece of meat with my fork and measure it against my leg, just so I don’t eat more than the recommended serving size.
This mark of mine is also a few degrees warmer than the rest of my body, which is why, I am told, mosquitoes flock to it every summer.
“Where’s Becky?” someone will ask, only to be directed to the enormous black cloud hovering in the distance.
When I was young, my Mom said this birthmark meant I was unique. “God put it there because you’re special,” she said. “And he wanted everyone else to know it, too.”
It wasn’t until recently–while at her house for dinner one night–that she pointed to the special marking God gave me and said, “You know, they do have lasers now that’ll get rid of that thing.”
Growing up, this mark was my pride and joy. I wore it like a badge of honor, dressing only in mini-skirts and velour short-ensembles so that my classmates would have no other choice but to notice.
“What’s that stain on your leg?” They would ask.
“Oh, you mean this?” I’d say, casually glancing at the area surrounded in pointed arrows and five-sided stars using a permanent jiffy marker.
“It’s just something God puts on all his favorite kids. No big deal, really.”
It wasn’t until the sixth grade, when Katey Palmer–aka. the most loathsome girl in school–took notice, that I started to see this mark for what it really was: A giant, red, aesthetically-unpleasing blob.
“What the hell is that thing, anyway?”
It wasn’t so much what she said (though I admit the “hell” part did throw me off a little), but rather the way she said it, her facial expression being one of complete and utter pre-pubescent disgust.
“Er, It’s a burn,” I replied, wishing I had listened to my mother and worn pants on this, a minus thirty five degree day in mid-December.
That’s when I realized that just because God thought I was special, it didn’t mean everyone else did.
By the end of the day, the entire school believed that not only had I burnt myself on the stove top element, I also was the proud owner of an experimental prosthetic butt cheek, thanks to the seventeen skin grafts following the devastating accident.
Classmate: So, why were you sitting cross-legged on the stove, anyway?
Me: Er, how should I know? I was only a baby.
Classmate: Oh. –Well, how come your Mom didn’t tell you before you sat down?
In order to draw attention away from my disfigurement, I began exaggerating the severity of whatever other conditions happened to fall upon me.
When I came down with the flu I told everyone I had a tapeworm. Strep throat became Mononucleosis. Bad mood? Early Menopause. Even if people didn’t ask what was wrong, still I would make up some ridiculous story, pointing to the rash on my face and saying I suffered from a life-threatening case of Rosacea, or, after missing two days of school thanks to an unforgiving bladder infection, telling everyone that I was having problems with my prostate again.
“It was a close call, but thankfully the Doctors were able to save it.”
While I didn’t mind being known as the kid with Chlamydia, or Hepatitis’ A through Q, I did mind having visible defects, conditions not listed in the “Medical Encyclopedia of Extremely Infectious Diseases”.
As I grew, my birthmark began to fade and the less mortified I was about its presence.
But still, that didn’t stop me from wearing a full length unitard to the beach every summer, or arguing with the clerk at the DMV when, after finally getting my driver’s license, I was refused a handicapped parking sticker.
“Why did you give him one, then?” I asked, pointing to the amputee dejectedly rolling his wheelchair out the door, brand-new issued permit in lap.
“It’s not like his condition is life threatening. The longer I spend outside, the more chance I have of catching the West Nile virus. If I die, bet your stupid sticker that you’ll be hearing from my lawyer!”
Shortly before my twenty-sixth birthday, I was vacationing in Mazatlan with my friend Lily when we walked by a small tattoo parlor, roughly two blocks away from our no-frills budget hotel.
“We should get matching tattoos,” Lily said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this dilapidated hole-in-the-wall with the tin roof and missing front door had Hepatitis written all over it.
Naturally, I was leery. But seeing as it was only noon and we still had a few hours to kill before happy hour, I agreed.
After flipping through pages of various Day of the Dead skulls and Mexican gang symbols, we both settled on an inking of our astrological signs written in Hebrew.
Neither of us knew anything about the Hebrew language, or where Hebrew was, for that matter. But seeing as Lily was Asian and I was a Scottish/English/Hungarian medley, it only made sense for us to get our astrological signs written in Jewish script by shady looking Mexicans.
Lily wanted her tattoo to be placed on her left shoulder blade to cover a scar that, while invisible to the human eye, she believed was the only thing stopping her from leading a normal life.
“Do you see that?” she’d ask, whenever a guy would smile at her–something that because of her exotic features happened often, yet she only ever noticed when wearing a tank-top. “He was looking at me like I’m a Chinese Edward Scissorhands or something. What a prick. ”
Not that I was in any position to judge. I wanted mine above my right ankle, thinking it would distract people from the eyesore on the left.
Rather than be known as the chick who may or may not be related to Mikhail Gorbachev, I would be the chick with the really cool Aries tattoo, written in that “Even Cooler” foreign language.
The non-English speaking tattoo artists took us to separate rooms and got to work.
Once the painful inking process was over they bandaged us up, then took our pesos and pushed us out the door before we had a chance to check out their handiwork.
It wasn’t until we got back to our hotel that we understood why.
Sadly, they were nothing like how we imagined they would be. While Lily’s tattoo looked like a four-year old had taken a jiffy marker to her back, at least it wasn’t legible.
After removing my bandage, I walked over to the full-length mirror.
“Who’s Jason?” Lily asked.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Permanently inked on my leg, in what looked like some type of fancy handwriting font, was the unmistakable name of some guy.