I am in an abusive relationship, and I need it to stop.
We’ve been together for a long time. It showed up when I was about twelve, all excited about life and ready to start my teenagerdom, which I would, without a doubt, totally win. I was very much looking forward to this new adventure, which, I was sure, would bring a boyfriend, and the ability to fill out a tank top like no one’s business, and a new cutting-edge teenage attitude.
However, I woke up one morning with a huge red swelling to the right of my mouth. I’m not talking about some cute little blemish. No, sir! Not me! Everything about me has always been very go-big-or-go-home. So I’m talking about – well, have you seen those photoshopped photos, the “before” photos in the late-night acne product commercials? I mean, you can tell they’re photoshopped. The eyes always look like they’re on the wrong level, and the acne looks cartoonish. Well, I looked like one of the cartoonish acne before-photos on late-night television.
Mom and Dad were all “uh-oh, sorry for the genetics, kiddo” because there are very few photos of them from high school, but the ones there are show a couple of pretty miserable teenagers with really rocky complexions.
Well! This was not acne’s only appearance. Oh, no! It decided once it arrived, it’d set up shop. It was like those disgusting phlegm-monsters in that cough medicine commercial that makes me disgusted. It packed little greasy suitcases and moved on in. My face was its resort town, and it decided to live it on up. No part of my face was exempt, either! Forehead and nose and chin and cheeks! Once, close enough to my lip so it swelled up as if I’d been stung by a bee! Sometimes, right on TOP of each other, like it was living in little apartment buildings! Sometimes? In my ears, so my ears would swell up like a boxer’s! And sometimes it’d take little vacations and move onto my back or chest! And it HURT. Imagine huge swellings on your face and back and chest, sometimes more than one in the same place, as if you’ve been stung by a number of angry wasps. OUCH.
It got so bad at one point, someone stopped me in the hallway at school and asked me what had happened. “With what?” I asked. “Were you in a fire?” he asked, in a hushed tone. In a fire! Well. Isn’t that nice! YOU MADE ME LOOK LIKE A THIRD-DEGREE BURN VICTIM, ACNE. What the hell did I ever do to you?
My parents, who’d suffered through the same thing, finally were grossed out enough that they brought me to a dermatologist, who visibly recoiled when I walked through the door. Nothing ups the self-esteem like having a doctor who DEALS with such things for a LIVING recoil as if you’re Frankenstein’s MONSTER.
Back in the late 80s, if you had terrible skin, they prescribed you Retin-A. I don’t know if they still do such a thing. (Apparently they do, but don’t have babies while using it, or their skulls will be too soft, and I assume babies with Play-Doh skulls are bad. Also don’t get waxed, or it will PULL YOUR TOP LAYER OF SKIN OFF. Good grief.) I also got this…I don’t know, alcohol solution I had to dab onto my face. These things had to happen every morning and every night after I washed my face. Also, I wasn’t allowed to go out in the sun, or if I HAD to go out in the sun, I had to wear like SPF 1,000 sunscreen. (Retin-A thins the top layer of your skin. Somehow this stops your acne. I am not a doctor. I don’t know how that works. But this skin-thinning thing also makes you burn in the sun, and you can’t get waxed, and your face gets really, really red when you first start using it.)
I was somewhat skeptical, but at that point, I would pretty much try anything.
Well! Come to find out, RETIN-A WAS MADE OF MAGIC. I don’t remember how long it took, but one day I woke up and although my face was a little red (and I had to hide in the shadows like a vampire-person) I HAD NO ACNE. All the acne had taken off for sunnier climes. I LOOKED LIKE A HUMAN AGAIN. At one point, I even got a – GASP! – BOYFRIEND. (A few of them, actually. Well, not at the same TIME, I wasn’t a teenage WHORE. They were nothing to write home about, in retrospect, but at the time I felt like this was the BEST THING EVER.) One of my mom’s friends, when she and my mom were talking about my skin problems one day, said, “Amy has skin problems? You’d never know! I was just saying to my husband the other day she has just the most beautiful complexion!”
I HAD WON! I HAD BEATEN ACNE!
I stopped using the medication in college – my doctor didn’t think I needed it anymore, and it was very expensive on our prescription plan – and all was well for quite some time.
Until probably four or five years ago.
Acne! YOU TRICKED ME! What IS this shit?
Apparently, what this shit is, is ADULT acne. It is ACNE that appears when you are an ADULT. It is the ghost of terrible complexions past COMING BACK TO HAUNT YOU.
It’s not as bad as it was when I was younger – oh, thank goodness – but it’s very hard to be almost 40 years old and have the occasional breakouts of a teenage face. It’s very embarrassing. I mean, yes. Odds are good that people aren’t going to make fun of you now (what kind of asshole mocks you for breakouts when you’re an adult? we know better now) and you know (hopefully, at least, if you’re female, although I’m sure men can use cover stick if they want to) tricks with makeup to downplay the fact you’ve got a gigantic blemish on your chin or your cheek or whatever.
And NOW, adult acne, you complete wanker, you have decided to pop up OVER ONE OF MY EYES and I’m waking up with ONE EYE SWOLLEN SHUT EVERY MORNING BECAUSE OF YOU and it takes like TWO HOURS for that swelling to go down and I LOOK LIKE SOMEONE BEAT ME UP or maybe THE ELEPHANT MAN. Dude, I have to go out in PUBLIC like this. SOMEONE IS GOING TO ASK ME WHAT IS WRONG. “Oh, just a gigantic pimple above my eye, like normal almost-middle-aged women get all the time,” is a thing I will not love to say at all.
My mother’s still getting you adult acne. SHE IS IN HER 60s. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. Somehow, my dad avoided this and his torment ended when he was in his late teens, but me and my mom? We’re still sporting the skin of teens. Sad, sad teens who don’t get asked to the prom.
Acne, you’re going to have to take a hike. I think I’m too old for Retin-A (and at this point in my life, if I don’t get waxed, I’d have a whole other problem to deal with, called My Eyebrows Have a Mind of Their Own and Would Make Me Look Like a Yeti) but there must be another solution. And I’m calling a dermatologist. Tomorrow.
You don’t get to win, bub. I have an excellent prescription plan this time, and I’m a lot angrier than I was when I was a teenager. If you’re not going to leave, I’m going to kick you out. I’m changing the damn LOCKS this time, acne! I am not going to my grave with you still in my life!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out the best eyeshadow to go with one normal eye, and one eye swollen 3/4 of the way shut. I’m thinking a kicky bejeweled eyepatch. Arr, matey. Walk the plank.