Imagine waking up innocently one morning and finding Orion’s belt lighting up the night sky which is your abnormally large five-head. Each constellation, a tiny ruby emerging from under the ground. The jewels sparkle as they catch the sunlight, and your mouth is wide open, gaping. You can’t look away, transfixed by the deep crimson color. You reach for them with the tip of your pointer finger. You press deeply, slowly counting to five, gently stroking the stones. Then you let go, shocked to find that what you once thought was precious has now turned to pus: the ash is spreading like poisonous oil all over your face. You cannot leave the house. You cannot leave your room. You can’t even walk away from the mirror. Your reflection snickers with delight, for it has turned your skin into a pockmarked landscape. This is an accurate description of what it feels like to have acne.
First, you try a simple homeopathic remedy. You take a tube of toothpaste firmly in your right hand and squeeze a tiny droplet onto your little finger, massaging the mush into each of your pimples, hiding the monstrosities under an avalanche of gel. The chemicals have a cooling effect, sending a tingle through your dermis and, subsequently, down your spine. It stings.
Unfortunately, the drug quickly disintegrates into a clear lump of glue, and you’re forced to continually reapply, shoving handfuls of fluoride into your face. You wake up to find your sheets, pillowcase, mattress, walls and palms covered in Colgate Cavity Protection. Your face is a smudged abstract artwork from the Post-Impressionist era. When the water from the sink hits your skin, it cracks as each cell begins to tear apart.
The girls at school act like they’ve never seen a pimple in their entire lives. They giggle subtly during lunchtime, then fall silent when you look over your shoulder to give them your most menacing look. You laugh because it’s always better to laugh with them than to let them laugh at you. You even make the suggestion that your so-called friends start calling you Pep, short for pepperoni; at least it’s cute.
It’s getting easier and easier to isolate yourself. You turn off your phone and log out of your voicemail. But eventually you realize that your greatest judge and jury is in the hollow of your mind.
After searching everywhere and scouring the internet for a cure, you’ve finally made the decision to take Accutane (a prescription drug technically called “isotretinoin”) for the pimples that’s been plaguing you. Your mother is adamantly against all forms of vaccinations and pharmaceuticals. Knowing that she will vehemently disagree, you count down the days until your next medical exam. Then, when your pediatrician checks your ears with the otoscope, you lean slightly to the left and while maintaining a steady gaze, gently whisper your secret into her bosom.
She agrees to discuss it with your mother, but sternly states that you will have to take a pill every day for the next six months. It warns that your skin will be dry and itchy.
You start counting pills every day, week after week and month after month. You regularly honor the doctor’s office with your presence. Checkups are nothing compared to the psychological exams doctors perform to make sure the side effects you’ve been warned about haven’t crept into your brain. Your skin becomes dry and dry. Your pimples struggle to survive as they cross the desert that is now your front. You become chapped and itchy – and every time your body goes numb and your nerves take over, you can’t resist the urge to poke and push yourself, further irritating the red spots covering your eyelids like eyeshadow. Finally, the skin becomes thin and flaky, like the crust of an apple strudel, and immediately peels off. You start to dread taking showers as chunks of your thick black hair start falling out and flowing down the drain.