“What is this?” he asked, looking at my arms. I breathed deeply. The tension began to strike.
I stared at him uncertain whether I would reveal to him the truth or tell him white lies. If he were not to poke my arms then surely he would not see anything, would not see any white spots on my skin.
My dad used to tease me when I was a child. “Your husband will be surprised with your first night together.” He laughed. It was a joke. But it bothered me whenever I thought of Lee. What if my dad’s joke would turn into reality?
It scared me, knowing that maybe Lee would be the same as my high school friends.
“Psoriasis! Psoriasis!” They kept shouting even after the class had long been dismissed. It was on the day when my report on our biology class was about the skin as a part of the integumentary system, the organ system that protects the body from various kinds of damage.
I was ashamed of what they did. I could not move my entire body and could not stop from crying. Nobody cared to ask me why I was crying.
“Wala, wala,” I said. “There is something in my eyes.” That was only alibi that I could think of.
I treated them as my “barkada,” but they never went back to the classroom for me. They never even asked me why or what happened. In the first place, they never even knew how painful it was to reveal the entrusted secrets I tried to bury. For three years of being with them, I kept those hard feelings. It was just that I never wanted to destroy the friendship that we have made, friendship that left scars.
Staring other ladies’ skin reminded me of how unlucky I was. It distracted me from appreciating the good things that I had had. I thought of ways on how Lee would not see my arms. I just did not want him to be turned off by sight of them. When we were together, I did not spend my time beside him. I spent the hours behind him.
“Why are you always on my back?” he asked. I only smiled.
Did I always need to pretend? To do that all the time when I was with him?
There was one time when a boy asked me about the white spots on my arms. “Connect the dots.” He laughed as he said that he was only joking.
When people asked me about my skin I could think of a hundred ways to tell white lies.
Having psoriasis had been a burden all my life.
There was an episode of “Salamat, Dok,” a Sunday health care morning show, where a woman in her teenage years was wearing sweaters, looking out the window of their house. She was depressed and in the dumps, being imprisoned in her own house for years because of her skin illness. Being paranoid, I called my sister and asked her if the girl on the television had the same skin problem as I had. My sister, acting like a doctor, said, “Look! You had the same skin as her.”
I talked to my mother regarding this. We decided to see a dermatologist and let an expert check my skin.
When I was at the hospital, everything seemed at ease. The air inside was never too hot, never too cold, never too wet, or never too dry, the kind of atmosphere that makes one wants to dwell in peace and in harmony.
As my mother and I waited for my turn, we took a seat and made ourselves comfortable. To keep myself calm, I pretended to watch the television that was positioned on the left side corner front from where I was seated. Somehow, the humming noise brought by the television helped improve the calmness and alleviate the stress of waiting.
When it was my turn, every beat of my pulse went up almost the same time with the sound of my footsteps as we draw near the hospital door. The white washed walls in the room revealed not a spot of dirt, not even a spot on the table.
A short-haired doctor approached us with a smile—a gesture of hospitability and the willingness to answer any inquiries. While she read all my basic information, I enjoyed myself looking at the organized stuffed toys arranged in a hospital bed three meters away from her table. She began to ask questions.
I tried to be comfortable as possible, letting my legs sway as my feet touched the floor. After checking my skin, there was silence in the room.
“Ma’am, I have to be honest,” the doctor explained. “Your daughter is indeed suffering from psoriasis. It is a chronic (long-term) skin problem that causes skin cells to grow too rapidly, resulting in thick, white, silvery, or red patches of skin. Normally, skin cells grow gradually and flake off about every four weeks. New skin cells grow to replace the outer layers of the skin as they shed. But in psoriasis, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks. There is no cure for the meantime. But, it could be prevented with ointments and lots of food supplements. Things that can cause these flare-ups include a cold and dry climate, infections, stress, and dry skin.”
“Then, I cannot be a lawyer, mom,” I said, “because I will be stressed.”
My mother did not respond. She always wanted me to become a lawyer and become a judge, following the footsteps of my lolo.
I lost lots of opportunities from the life that had I wanted because of my psoriasis. I should have been an accountant by now, because I wanted it to. I should have been the team captain of our swimming team, but I gave up swimming because my recurring illness. I should have been wearing chic dresses by now, becoming the lady that I always aspired to be. I should have been acting in theater groups by now had it not been for the too much stress in my parts.
I should have been Lee’s flawless lover by now.
Flawless like Lee: the way his chiseled cheeks were finely carved like those of Michelangelo’s statues, his nose that was perfect in symmetry, his lips that were slightly full—the kind that end in a little smirk at the corners—and the rays of sun that highlighted the dimples on his cheeks and chin. If he loved me then I had to tell the truth.
I eventually told him about my illness.
“It is a complete turn-off, right?” I asked him.
“Listen,” was the only respond I heard from him.
Lee was a man of few words. He gave me a kiss while the lyrics kept on playing in his laptop:
You never love yourself half as much as I love you
You’ll never treat yourself right darling but I want you to
If I let you know, I’m here for you
Maybe you’ll love yourself like I love you oh and
I’ve just let these little things slips out of my mouth
‘Cause it’s you, oh it’s you, it’s you they add up to
And I’m in love with you (and all these little things)
I went back to the hospital again this year and found out that my doctor was not available. They recommended us to go to another doctor who specializes in my illness.
With my new doctor, his clinic now served as my other home. I did not know if he intentionally planned the colors. The walls were painted with green, making the surrounding more pleasant. The main door on the right opened to a spacious sala. On the left was the information desk, where the attending nurses were hospitable and welcoming. The chandelier that hung from the ceiling gave a cheery atmosphere and a comfortable feeling of being able to adapt to a place where everyone accepts you as you are.
It was in the hospital that I learned about my illness. It was in this clinic where I learned not to dwell on my past experiences. And it was Lee who kissed my scars.
Toni Rose J. Sualan is an English teacher at the Kong Hua School, Cagayan de Oro City.