Once upon a time there was a woman, a vain and ginger woman. Who was so pale and had such fair eyelashes and eyebrows that without mascara or make up, her eyebrows and eyelashes were invisible.
And her naked face looked a big boiled egg. Void of definition or features.
An egg, With 2 tiny blinking dots in the middle.
She liked to paint her face because by painting her face she created definition and she made features. She liked to experiment with coloured eye shadows and lipsticks and her face became an art. And a mask. She loved the transformation the make up would magic and she liked the admiring glances and the compliments.
She felt safe.
It was war paint and she never left the house without her war mask. She only ever trusted those within in her camp to see her naked and exposed and natural and boiled egg-like.
She had a problem. A slave to her hormones, The Woman was always under imminent attack of the hormonal bitch of a spot that forms on the chin each month. She fought a good fight for many years but slowly, unexpectedly and (she stamped her foot) unfairly for a woman in her 30's, that spot army grew and grew. And grew stronger. And fiercer. Until it was a formidable force and a constant threat to her defences. It barked at the door over the winter months, until at Christmas aided by stress and weather and worries it broke through the weakened defences and laid claim to her face. She had lost the battle.
For weeks on end she refused to believe that she had been defeated and she hid under scarves and hats. She used disguises and lies and made up excuses not to see friends. She sheltered under make up and convinced herself if would all get better if she just hoped and hoped...After all, no one else had mentioned that she'd failed, had they? They'd have said...So she hid. And pretended.
On her journey she fought foes and faced challenges. Her face became of field of boils. Large enough that like icebergs in the sea, another person would be able to see the stretched skin, an inch thick and raised and angry and smooth and mean on the face but could not see that underneath the surface it touched painful nerves 3 inches away. It became so sore that in the end, it hurt to even smile. Or speak. So she stopped doing either. The mask of make up and the mask of falsified emotions that she hid behind became solid and real. What was there to smile about anyway? She'd wake at night feeling the attack physically creeping up her face. Breeding. Growing stronger hour by hour. Every morning she awoke with utter, stomach churning dread about what would face her in the mirror. It was everywhere. From chin through cheeks to forehead and angry and red. A face of boils. Like a witch in a children's fairy tale. She stopped going swimming with her kids. She didn't let even her husband see her without make up on.
Was this her punishment, she thought, in that time in the night where nothing makes any sense and time has no real presence. Perhaps she was being punished for being so vain. Light became an enemy, if it didn't lay a blinding beam on what she had become then it only provided shadows that highlighted her flaws.
And then people stopped being silent and they started speaking up. As if...as if it had been such a constant for so long that people had embraced this abnormality as normal and like the weather, deemed it fine to discuss in passing. Honesty body slammed politeness, pushing her aside and stepping into the light. The innocence of youth can't be helped and it hurts more for it and her little boy, one night, at bedtime, asked her very politely not to kiss him anymore because he didn't like the feel of her skin.
A friend, after a few wines, likened The Woman's face to a bootbrush. Because it had so many lumps and bumps you see? It would be good for getting the mud off of shoes.
So that was that.
But on the way she also met allies and mentors. Those challenges and foes and rejected kisses and stabbing comments were a big mirror to her and when she stopped crying and realised that she had lost her grip on slippery walls and had actually, finally landed in a heap at rock bottom, she felt grateful in a weird and sick kind of way. This was it. This was it. And what now?
The Woman went to the doctor. And she cried. A lot. She expected to be patted on the head and sent on her way (Still even at this point, desperately hoping that her problem was a passing phase and a blip, nothing more) but she left with a lot of support and well, a big fucking dose of big fucking antibiotics that she'll probably be on for a very fucking long time. Possibly forever. She'll need more tests because what she ended up with was not normal for a 33 year old woman. It's hormones. It's bad luck. It's, well, we are not 100% sure.
But it's not the end of the world.
That's what she learnt. Of course, now things are (slowly, very slowly) improving and the attack is receding it's easy to say that - it's not the end of the world. And, supposes The Woman, that's the luxury of hindsight and recovery.
She learnt to talk to people. Don't close ranks and don't batten down the hatches. If you can and feel able to, that is, and it's not easy to do. By talking to people she got medicine and help. By talking to people she freed herself of the shame she felt that she had gotten to such a terrible and hideous point. By talking to people she found out that she was not alone and that other people she knew had experienced similar. So by talking, she found she had a little army of people around her.
And in the end, it's improving. Slowly. Very slowly. The boils have given way to smaller boils and they are turning and dieing and becoming scars. The Woman has a lot of scars on her face. As the boils died they left behind angry red marks from chin to eyebrows. But in the end, what has surprised The Woman the most is that she doesn't care. She is actually, surprisingly and shockingly, to her vain self, proud of them, because they are The Before and what she sees in the mirror is The After.
And for the first time in 6 months, just this morning, The Woman said to her husband;
"Touch my face. Isn't it smooth?"