My entire life, it’s been a source of embarrassment. When I was a kid, I would make up stories to explain. I’d pretend I’d fallen off my bike – skinned my knees and landed on my elbows. I’d say it was a ‘gymnastics thing’ – ya know, from the bars. I’d bandage my knees to hide them.
As I got older, it got worse. And it was no longer confined to my elbows and knees.
I’d wear long sleeves and jeans in the middle of the summer to hide my skin. I preferred to sweat than explain.
I used steroid creams for years. Then I stopped when I realized that my girls were constantly touching my skin. They didn’t really work anyway.
Three years ago, I found a treatment that did work. A super-charged and highly focused phototherapy. Sort of like a tanning booth on steroids. The sessions were a minute long, but the equipment only existed at one hospital. That one minute session took an hour out of my day. Eventually I had to stop going.
There are drugs. The side effects are not remotely acceptable – particularly when weighed against vanity.
Stress exacerbates it. It’s probably the worst it’s ever been.
Brooke has stripped down and is getting into the tub. I am sitting on the floor in the bathroom. Katie walks in and surveys the scene, then smiles at her sister. “Brooke, you are one brown little bean,” she says. Indeed she is. No matter how much we slather the kid in sunscreen, she soaks in the rays and turns into a rich, buttery little caramel.
“Katie,” I say, “you’re pretty brown yourself, Chiquita.”
She looks down at her arm and shrugs. “Put it next to your sister’s,” I say. “You’ll see.”
She walks over to Brooke and compares. “Hmm,” she says, “I guess it’s pretty close.” Then to her sister she adds, “Your skin is a really pretty color, Brooke.”
“It is?” she asks. It’s not an invitation to continue the conversation.
My eye is drawn to the scars and scabs all over Brooke’s little body – anxiety as a verb. I cringe. It kills me that her beautiful, perfect skin in marred by anything no less her own hand.
She settles into the tub and all but disappears in the bubbles.
Katie turns to me. “You have really pretty skin too, Mama,” she says.
I try not to grimace.
“Mama, I know this is going to sound a little weird to you, but I like your psoriasis.”
I have no idea what to say.
“It’s part of you, Mama. It makes cool patterns on your skin, ya know? And most of all, it makes you you. So I like it.”
I try to process it, but I can’t. I feel ridiculous.
Years of shame drown in a tsunami of my little girl’s love and all that has just come with it. I love you, she said. All of you. Not despite the parts you’d rather leave behind. No, I love those too, because they are you.
I have no idea what to say. The implications are too big for the room.
I hug my girl. I thank her. And I pray that someday I can grow up to be just like her.