Knelt at my locker and swapping out my books for my next class, I glanced up to see a friend staring at me. He looked curious. “Why don’t you wash your face?” he asked. My cheeks grew hot.
Earlier that morning I had scrubbed with a sulfacetamide wash and applied a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide after gently patting dry with a towel.
But I wasn’t about to tell him any of that.
I stood up, eyes glued to my shoes. “I do. It’s just — not the same… Bye!”
So, not a great day.
Honestly, it didn’t even crack my list of Top 5,000 Days, which meant it fell behind even November 3rd of 2007, the day I asked out a girl on crutches only to watch her limp away up a nearby ramp.
I caught up (of course) but she insisted on keeping that “no.”
I’ve ranked that day Number 4,900, The 4,900’th Best Day Of My Life, to frame it optimistically. Or, The 2,799th Worst Day Of My Life, which isn’t horrible either.
But even after all these years, I still haven’t forgotten about you, Elizabeth. I hope you’re still out there somewhere, and that you’re still on crutches you cruel heartless bitch.
“Why don’t you wash your face?” he asked me.
Let’s call this day Number 5,001, the day I learned the meaning of the phrase “pointed question”, “passive aggression”, and “epic poem”. (I still had class that day, remember, and The Oddysey stops for no one!)
This day, The 5,001’st Best Day, was one of the biggest downers of 6th-12th grade because it explicitly addressed the anxiety that lurked behind every social interaction I had.
Acne was kind of my thing in high school. Everyone needs a thing, and acne was mine. John could ride a unicycle, Aaron was Jewish, and I had acne.
So while John was juggling hoops and Aaron fulfilling his stereotype, I was hugging the wall, wondering how young was too young for plastic surgery. For most of my formative years, it felt like my personality was being held hostage by a gang of overactive glands. The Gland Gang. The Glang.
Except they didn’t really have a goal, this gang. It just seemed like one afternoon in ’06 they decided to hole up in a bank and shoot out all the windows. They weren’t there for the money, they just wanted to hang. So the glang bangers stayed in my bank (face), for about eight years.
For weeks at a time they’d rumble under the surface of my skin like a chain of undersea volcanoes, churning up material without my consent. For days I’d dodge eye contact and favor the right, or left, side of the classroom, depending.
Deprived, in my estimation, of any face value (he-llo!) I found myself desperate to relate to people in a way that bypassed physical appearance.
So, I became the “funny guy” — which I understand is the least convincing way a “funny guy” can self-identify — tossing in lines from the back of the room to see them land from a distance.
Sometimes they would flop, and everyone would look at me, which went against everything I ever wanted. Attempting the role of funny guy while also having acne is a bit like playing with fire, and your face is the sticks. It was fun to see my classmates light up at something I’d said, but others found it more fun to see me light up at regretting something I’d said. High-risk, medium-reward, kids. Roll the dice.
Looking back, I like to think that having acne gave me a personality. In fact, it’s what I’ve chosen to think. It’s the only way I can explain the justice behind not being a total hunk from ’07-2012. Those were some prime years, hormonally speaking. Years when I felt rampant desire for anything that wasn’t dead. Oh the frustration and overlong showers it took to allay that shit…
“But my insecurities made me a more fun guy,” I tell myself. “The funny guy! Look at me! Wait, don’t! Stop! Turn away! I’m leaving goodbye!”
Whether that self-psychoanalysis — that acne made me “funny” — is objectively true or not doesn’t actually matter, because my subconscious is pretttyy convincing.
I now look back on my acne with a fondness that borders on nostalgia. It’s pride, I think. A sense of accomplishment that I could withstand three whiteheads on picture-day and not set fire to the cameraman.
It’s a romantic concept, but is it actually true?
Can pain really lead to character growth?
Are these questions just a weak-ass segue into the next section?
You bet your weak ass they are!
Follow the link to continue my pimple-studded saga and watch me answer this question using Bambi, Batman, and a 2007 edition of Microsoft Excel: Pain as a Function of Building Character. Or just scroll down.