Features, Column

More Than Just Extra Melanin: My Life Through Freckles

If you told me to go left, chances are I might go right if I didn’t look at my hands. When I say this, I don’t mean I use that amateur trick I heard about around the monkey bars around fourth grade where you put both hands in front of your face and form “Ls” with your index finger and thumb—my parents never told me about that one. I mean that I have a freckle in the center of my knuckles on my right hand and a freckle on the right of my knuckles on my left hand. I used these two babies like sailors use the North Star and Boy Scouts use compasses—they’re my cheat sheet to navigation. I would be quite literally wandering directionless and lost without the freckles in my life.

The antique dresser that was handed down to me is freckled too—pallid-green, with unexplainable brown specks. I never wanted that dresser, and actually preferred the Ikea-like, more sleek models all my friends had—but no matter how many times I scoured Pottery Barn Teen for a desk-dresser-bed-kitchen combo complex, there the immovable giant sat, a nuisance in my room. In retrospect, the dresser is beautiful, elegant, and something I would love to carry with me wherever my next and next-next homes are. But back in the day, it was a clunky, unwanted, injury-steeped jungle gym. I used to open the drawers in strange patterns and climb all over it—tripping and stumbling through my unfolded clothes. One day, around a time I still had naps in school, I climbed up the dresser, looked into the mirror, and thought about how the skin below my eyes was unencumbered with extra colors—I wanted that sprawling sprinkle, those chaotic constellations. Since my mother and father didn’t gift any to me and the sun hadn’t made its mark on my cheeks yet, taking matters into my own hands seemed reasonable. Not having freckles wasn’t an ill that couldn’t be remedied. I found a skinny brown marker and dotted my face.  

I remember staring at myself in the mirror for a while and thinking about how ugly I looked with my homemade markings—I wanted them to look good so badly, but the mirror in front of me refused to lie about my appearance. But I thought that because other girls had them, so should I. So I kept them for a while and don’t remember anyone remarking on the change, although I looked like a Raggedy Ann doll that had been splattered with mud.

So some freckles have been beneficial to my being—the ones on my hands tell me where to go and when to turn, the fake freckles on my face taught me to be at peace with the way I look naturally, prematurely preventing me from a potential botched plastic surgery that my personality and the position of the stars on the day of my birth would lead one to believe is inevitable in my adult life.

But there is one freckle that I have a rollercoaster of a relationship with—the one on the side of my hip that I’ve sworn is cancerous since the first day I met it—even though I can’t remember ever not meeting it when my eyes turned to that side. Sometimes I think it’s cute—a freckle that only I have, and that no one else owns. Other times, when I’m lying by the pool and the sun hits it just right so that I can peer at the dead eye of it—I see cells mutating and misbehaving. Then I run to grab a towel, feet quick enough not to let the sun-baked pavement scorn me for standing up, and ask my mom to make me a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes she replies, “You’re too old to have your mother make doctor’s appointments for you, do it yourself.” But other times, she squeezes it in at an odd hour. The appointments she makes for me are never convenient—never when I’m on the couch with a bag of Lay’s chips, wishing lightning would strike the chair next to me out of boredom. They’re always when I’m running from lunch to work, or work to lunch.

Though I should be diagnosed with some sort of hyper-hypochondriac disorder, the dermatologist never diagnoses me with anything. I sit in the waiting room for 30 minutes, waiting for her to tell me something that legitimizes my visit to the office—without legitimizing my fear of dying without ever being on the cover of Forbes.

But every time, she measures my freckle and says it looks the same as it looked last time, no matter how much I swear to her it’s changed—to no avail, an old lover that came back and swore he would be malignant this time, but no matter how much he promises to change, he can’t. The visit always makes me wish for something serious but not too serious to be going on under my skin—a lie of convenience I tell myself.  At the end of the visit the dermatologist always sends me away with a mission that extends my apprehension: Keep watching that freckle for irregularities.

So next time I’m rushing through a shower and the powder-smelling soap bubbles clear themselves so that I can see a brown freckle sitting on my hip, the anonymity of the white square tiles around me fade from my focus, and I’m assured that this body I’m in is really mine—the freckle my carnal proof. The identity crises around me slow. Descartes screamed “I think therefore I am,” but in my shower I yell “Eureka!”… my freckle is still there therefore I am. The freckle proves this body I’m in is mine, as if it could’ve ever been anyone else’s. I haven’t been put into another carcass for the fun of the universe. Regularity still beats with the days.

But other times I’m climbing into bed after a particularly long day, and see that specific spot of darkness on my untanned skin—shoot. “Mom!”

Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor

September 23, 2018