Valerie lives in Boston (which she loves) and crunches numbers by day (which she tolerates). She is always searching for a creative outlet, which has led to some dabbling in learning Spanish, ballroom dancing, trying new recipes, sewing, making crafts with her nieces and nephews, and writing. When she wrote this a few years ago, she imagined someday publishing it with a bio that showed some resolution to the story, but that’s still a work in process.
“Why do you have a hole on your face?”
“What?” I am sitting in my cousin’s living room, casually skimming through a magazine. I look up, taken by surprise.
“Why do you have a hole on your face?” three-year-old Ellie repeats. I must not be understanding her correctly. Maybe she forgot the word for mole? I have plenty of those.
“Why, Valerie?” she asks.
“Okay, where is the hole?”
The little girl stands up from the mounds of books that surround her and reaches her little arm across my lap. She points her finger and touches my right cheek, just below my glasses. “There. That hole.”
“Ooooh.”Of course, I should have known. “That’s my chicken pox scar. When I was a little girl—just a little younger than you—I got sick with something called the chicken pox. It makes you get little red spots all over your body.” I tap my fingers from Ellie’s shoulder down to her wrist in demonstration. “And the spots itch, but you’re not supposed to scratch them. But I was so little, I didn’t know not to scratch, so it left a scar. That’s why it looks like I have a hole on my face.”
Satisfied, Ellie joins her books back on the floor. I look to my right and try to see my reflection in the piano. No luck. I look to my left toward the sliding glass doors that open up to the deck. Too much of an angle.
Not quite satisfied, I stand up, walk down the hall to the bathroom, and lean my face in close to the mirror to inspect the hole on my face. Most of the scars from my childhood adorn my elbows and knees with raised flesh and discoloration, serving as evidence of the joys of childhood. Riding bikes, rolling down grassy hills, climbing through the passenger window of the family Suburban. But the scar on my face is different. It is an indentation—a hole, if you will—serving as evidence of the ills of mortality. Sickness and pain and imperfection.
The last time my chicken pox scar came up in conversation was when I, as a young girl, asked my mom a similar question to the one just posed by Ellie. My mom related the story of how my oldest brother’s best friend Jacob had gotten the chicken pox right at the beginning of the summer. Those were the days before the chicken pox vaccine, and my mom decided she would rather have all four children sick for the same few weeks than spoil the whole summer with each of us inevitably contracting the chicken pox one after another. So one afternoon we headed over to Jacob’s house, where the red-spotted boy thoroughly licked four lollipops and my mom redistributed the disease-laced candy. Within two weeks it was clear my mom’s plan had worked.
I was the youngest in my family, barely two years old at the time, and so my innocent scratching left that indelible scar. When I first noticed it as a young girl, my mom pointed out that my cute freckles disguised the scar to the point that no one would ever notice the lentil-sized mark.
And no one did. Until today, that is (ah, the raw honesty of children!). I lean back from the mirror. The signature freckles of my childhood are fading and the scar is more visible than ever before. My thoughts turn to the other scars I bear—emotional scars that I once thought were invisible, but now appear similarly as evidence of mortality and imperfection.
Like the scar from growing up in a family that, despite all the love we felt, never said “I love you.” In the months since my grandpa’s recent passing, my mom has started ending all our phone conversations with a clear and deliberate “I love you.” But after twenty-something years of living without it, the phrase feels jarring and unnatural. I usually respond with silence and then hang up. And now I have a good man in my life who loves me and wants me to love him back. And even though I feel it in my heart and sometimes I even open my mouth ready to form those three little words, sometimes the words just won’t come out. Whatever camouflage I thought would hide this scar from the world is fading, and my imperfections seem visible to everyone around me. I can only hope that those I care about most know to look beyond the holes and listen beyond the silence.