It was sometime in October during Freshman year and I had just started talking to Natalie on the phone. I’d talk to girls on the phone before, so it wasn’t anything new. I had pretend type of girl friends in the past where I made sure to call her everyday. It was a forced and meaningless routine, but it was what you were inclined to do as a kid.
Calling Natalie was similar in some ways. I did want to talk to her, but I was a nervous wreck every time I did. I even questioned whether or not she actually wanted to talk to me. I doubted myself constantly. A lot of it had to do with my escalating acne situation. It didn’t help that she always seemed to be busy or with a friend. I called her, albeit reluctantly.
On one occasion, I had friends over and she actually wanted to join us. She was going to bring her friend. I held the phone in my hands as I squeezed it while trying to decide on what to do. I would’ve loved for her to come, but my father was in the kitchen with a hoard of friends. They were all involved in an intense conversation filled with loud boisterous laughter. I couldn’t invite her over. What if my Dad came downstairs? He loved to embarrass me. I told her I couldn’t and hung up.
Later on in school, I would always see her while walking to an art class I was taking. It was almost a daily routine. I rarely would miss her. When I did, it was usually because I avoided her. The acne situation was really undermining my confidence. I refused to let her see me as the blemishes began to spread from my chin and up towards my cheeks. I made sure to walk slower on those days.
I didn’t walk slow enough on one occasion. I had a few large blemishes surrounding my mouth. They were the type that hurt. They were the ones that lingered for days. I had managed to avoid her for a few days and she must have noticed. She was waiting for me. I heard her call out my name as I ignored her, opened the door, and sneaked into my class.
I stood in front of a door that led to darkroom as she called out my name again. She either had the door open or was inside the room with me. I panicked. I refused to let her see my face. I pretended not to hear her as another classmate stood by me, admiring the artwork on the wall. I pretended to be just as enthralled with the artwork until Natalie had no other option than to leave. She later told me she was actually right behind me. I feigned ignorance.
Things like that occurred regularly. If it wasn’t the acne, then it was my hair. I was never good enough for her. I usually stopped at bathroom and waited for her to pass by. Then there were the days I actually wanted to see her. Those were the ones I felt some semblance of confidence.
I loved running into her then. Usually we would stop in front of my art class and she would wave to me and say, “Hi.” Other times we stopped to embrace each other and talk a bit. I would then twirl her around and she would keep walking to her class. Her smile meant everything to me. I’d have done anything to be able to see her everyday. I just hope she never thought I was truly avoiding her. Even though those moments sometimes lasted a few seconds, they always stayed with me for the rest of the day. Those moments were what gave me enough courage to type in her number. To this day, I still remember it.
I was 18 when things started to finally come together. I was just beginning to get over the horrible acne situation I’d been suffering through for years. My skin was finally cleaning up. I had spent what amounted to a quarter of my life fanatically doing everything I could to get my face back. At last, I began to feel like a human being again.
It had originally started lightly when I was beginning my teenage years. Then, right when I began high school, it took over my life. I remember going to school enthusiastically ready to exploit the hell out of the experience. There were so many people to meet. I was already making a good impression. I was oblivious towards the attention girls were showing me. Alas, it wouldn’t last long. If only it had.
As time wore on, the disease spread throughout my face like a plague. I took showers twice a day. I went to the bathroom between every class period to wash my face or pat it dry with paper towels. There wasn’t a mirror or reflection I would not look into. I blamed everything.
The plague took over my life. There was not a single moment throughout the day that I didn’t think about it. It made me desperate. It emphasized all my insecurities. It started with frustration. Eventually, it led to a pure form of hatred. It was completely directed towards myself.
I unleashed my hate throughout sports. I vented by hitting the football practice sled as hard as I could. I remember the coaches applauding the big guy on the team. They’d talk about how hard he was hitting the sled while overlooking me as I gave it my all. I never said a word as I silently attacked the bags as if they were the answer to all my problems.
Eventually, it made me a horrific hitter. I had the perfect form. The ferocity was unmatched. After practice, I would take off my pads and discover massive bruises surrounding my shoulders. I hit so hard that I hurt myself. It made sense that opposing high school players left games injured when they faced me. Even if they didn’t, we would soon erupt into fights simply because the malevolence of each hit seemed to express some form of ill will or unsportsmanlike play. I was far from dirty though. I was simply driven by anger.
During lacrosse practice, that same big kid and I would go at it. I remember him looking at me in shock as I knocked him off his feet. After a few violent games, the coach even stopped practice to compare me to the big guy. The coach pointed out that I was both small and thin. Sure, I worked out daily, but he explained how I couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. He then directed the team’s attention to the big guy, who was several feet taller and weighing in at least 60 pounds more. He talked about the size of the fight in me versus my actual size. He neglected to explain what it was that fueled me though. That was something that most people overlooked. It was my secret.
During class, I was usually reserved. In others, I was the clown. I must have been trying to get whatever attention I could. I’d later realize that I was definitely looking for attention, but in all the wrong ways. I took self deprecating humor to the next level. It wasn’t the best way to go about high school. My self-esteem was one of the first things to go.
The plague heartlessly tore through my confidence. It’s what made me run away from Natalie. It’s what made me question every chance I had at kissing a girl. It took every doubt I had and amplified it to the extreme. I never stood a chance.
The most brutal stretch was my Junior year. I was emotionally scarred. I second guessed myself at every turn. It made sense that I would develop a stutter. I turned to it out of desperation. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but my body, my confidence, they were reflected through the way that I spoke. I remember stammering in front of girls as they awkwardly looked at each other. It wasn’t a true speech impediment, I simply felt dehumanized. I was essentially repeating words mid sentence. The stammering was completely unnatural. It’s what made it so odd.
The funny thing is, it’s when you stop looking for answers that you find them. It was Senior year when I began to go to tanning salons. I thought that at the very least, it would make the plague less visible. It seemed to work. As a result, I started to worry less. As the stress dissipated, so did my need to pay attention to my face. With that, my face inevitably cleaned up.
The answer that seemed to elude me for so long was stress. I worried non-stop. I worried about what other people thought. I worried about how badly I looked in front of girls. I even worried about being the only one with the issue. I thought I was alone.
I wish I could go back and talk to myself in those days. I’d tell that poor kid to stop. I’d tell him to never touch his face again. I’d explain that everything he did was contributing to his issue. It was his own fault. He was constantly touching his face. He was looking for answers when it was always inside him. I’d tell him, don’t worry what other people think. I’d say, “The only thing that matters is what you think of yourself.”
As I look back, the experience I went through may have been for the best. I can’t imagine the type of guy I would have been had I not been so sincerely humbled. I went through hell, sure, but it made me appreciate the situation. It helped me understand what a lot of people go through. I could easily relate.
As a result, I don’t consider myself a true asshole. I like to think that I don’t value women solely on their looks. It’s why I’ll sleep with a woman twice my age. It’s why I’ll take a girl to the bathroom who had a bit of a tummy and was bad at kissing. Some of the girls I’m friends with will call it low standards. I don’t see it that way.
I look for one good quality in any woman I talk to. Almost everyone has one. The only real thing that turns me off is unfriendliness. It’s when someone thinks they’re better than the other person. It the kind of person who won’t give someone the time of day. That’s more unattractive than being unable to fit through a door.
So I appreciate the humbling experience for what it was. I can’t imagine being one of those guys who would treat women as if they were invisible. I hate to think that I could have been the type to go for the most superficial of girls. The five years I suffered were worth it. It was far better than spending a lifetime chasing faces.