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I Was a Pre-Teen Thing

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I never thought about my skin. It was just there. I splashed cold water on my face every morning, and that was it. Everything was fine until fifth grade. I can’t remember if I’d gotten my period yet or not, but it was right about that time. I’m sure I’d started having sexual fantasies and getting crushes on a couple of boys in my class.

It was about this time that my face started coming off. The whole process started innocuously; little places on my body would itch, and I would scratch them. The itching and scratching continued, pretty soon around the clock. But I still didn’t think anything of it. I had bigger things to worry about, like if my tits would ever start growing.

This was a devastating time of life, when things that were supposed to grow didn’t and things that weren’t, did. The itchy places on my body grew into little red that became dry and inflamed. As I continued scratching, the red areas got larger. They were all over my body now: on my face, on my legs, my arms, my back.

At first I successfully hid the red, dry areas with baggy clothing that covered every inch of my body, or by keeping my head down and my hair forward. In some ways my thick glasses saved me: I was faceless, and no one wanted to look at what wasn’t there. I was invisible.

But my strategies couldn’t win the war. The red, itchy areas got larger. Then the larger areas became very dry and started flaking. The dryness spread until it felt like my whole body was desiccated and peeling. My skin was also starting to crack all over; the worst areas were painful to the touch. The Invisible Girl was morphing into Lizard Girl.

Eventually my mom noticed her daughter was becoming a reptile. She went through her dusty medicine cabinet and dug out whatever leftover tubes of skin ointments she had. My mom didn’t believe in doctors. Unless you were really sick. (I’m not sure what that meant, but I think you had to be almost dying.) Doctors were expensive. So my mom used whatever she had at hand to try to help. I think we started with Vaseline, which made me feel greasy, but still dry—sort of like an old, tough chicken that’s been baked until it’s dried out, and then basted with butter. We tried various skin moisturizers and lotions, including calamine and Noxzema. Nothing helped. Finally all we had left to try was the old tube of Desenex my mom dug out of one of her drawers. The tube said “medicated,” so it had to have something good in it.

The Desenex regimen went on for a few months. My mom would call me into the bathroom and I would go, whimpering like a dog that knows it’s about to go to the vet. I would take off all my clothes and Mom would rub Desenex all over my body. Wherever she put it, my skin would start to burn. I would start to hop up and down in agony, and when she finished the last patch of skin I would run screaming down the hall naked, my body on fire.

My skin didn’t get better. It did get redder and more inflamed. I had become the Thing from the Fantastic Four, right down to the orange color. One day I went to school and asked the student teacher (who was such a nice pushover that he spent most of the time trying to calm the chaos that erupted every time the regular teacher left the room) about an assignment. He looked down at me, took my face in both hands (which felt strange because no one did that) and said, “Oh my God! You’re cracking up!” He sent me to the nurse, who called my mother. Now that there was a recognized public problem, my mom had to take me to a dermatologist, who was very expensive. When we told him about our treatment regimen, he involuntarily exclaimed, “On no! That’s the worst possible thing to put on it!” My mom and I just looked at him as if he didn’t speak English.

The doctor gave me prescriptions for two creams, one with cortisone, and one with urea in it. It was like a miracle, how quickly my skin got better. The eczema (my Thing condition now had a name) disappeared, almost overnight.

Today people tell me I have great skin, and aren’t I lucky to have been born with such great skin. They’re right; it is nice—finally. I will have to buy and use the Aquaphilic 10% urea cream every day for the rest of my life. But that seems a small price to pay for keeping the Thing at bay.

I never got acne, thank God.

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