I’ve been marked. Literally.
By fate, by God, you decide. But the truth is there is a large, splotchy brown birthmark covering most of the left side of my neck. The type I have is called a cafe-au-lait birthmark, because it looks like spilled coffee. Needless to say, it’s quite visible to the rest of the world, unless I’ve chosen to wear a turtleneck that day. A babysitter once scraped my neck raw with a washcloth thinking it was dirt and she could wash it off. I don’t know whether it occurred to me to tell her it was permanent and she was wasting her time.
As a teenager growing up in rural Nova Scotia, this aberration irritated me to no end. I realized that people were struggling with much greater problems in the world than an innocent birthmark but to me, it felt like a big deal. I looked different from everyone else and when you’re a teenager, being different is not good. Your adolescent years are all about fitting in and sameness.
And I wanted to fit in.
I wanted to be the same.
I got teased about it some (kids called me dirty) but my worst bully was myself. I hadn’t asked for this stain and I didn’t want it. No one on TV or in magazines had a big birthmark on their neck. I thought of it as separate from me, something that I had been burdened with enduring for all time. Naturally, I started asking my parents if I could either cover it up or get rid of it. My mother could see that it bothered me so she indulged me a little bit. We tried a couple different types of makeup but nothing really did a very good job of hiding it. And removal seemed out of the question.
One day my uncle Chappy was visiting during one of my tirades. I don’t remember if I was asking for a new kind of makeup or some procedure I’d heard about that could laser off birthmarks but I was definitely making my distaste for my ‘mark’ known.
My uncle just looked at me and said, “Why would you want to cover it up? It’s part of you”.
I was stunned into silence.
From that moment on, I stopped asking for makeup or laser treatments. I realized Chappy was right and the birthmark was part of me, whether I had asked for it or not. I’m not going to say I got over it completely right away. I was still self-conscious about it sometimes but I never tried to cover it again. After a while, I kind of forgot it was even there.
And the strange thing is that once it stopped being a big deal to me, it stopped being a big deal to everyone else too. Occasionally I still got asked about it but that was rare and usually a new acquaintance. One thing I’ve found is that people pick up on our insecurities about our so-called faults much more than our actual faults themselves. And in kind, people are often much more willing to overlook our ‘faults’ than we are ourselves.
My uncle probably doesn’t even remember our conversation that day but I will be forever grateful to him. He said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. It was not THE birthmark, it was MY birthmark.
A part of me.
Not something to be looked at as a burden but as a single puzzle piece in a much larger picture. And now, with the benefit of 36 years of self-reflection, I’ve come to think of my birthmark not as a blemish but as a symbol of what’s unique about me. I’m not like everyone else. And that’s a good thing.
Just as we celebrate what is unique about the Maritimes here, we must also celebrate what is unique about each other. Our differences define us. They don’t make us better or worse, just individual. Sometimes we need someone to tell us when we can’t see it – like I did. In case you are struggling with a similar issue and don’t have your own Uncle Chappy to tell you, please allow me to pay it forward: some of the things that you might dislike most about yourself now is what makes you, you. It’s part of you. Embrace it, celebrate it, learn to love it. You’ll be happier for it, I promise.
It’s true, I’ve been marked.
By fate, by God, I’ll let you be the judge.
But I’ve been marked. And I like it.