Farmland elementary school. Named for the vast and plentiful fields they bulldozed to build my neighborhood. Me: eleven years old, sixth grade. My class produced a play—a scene from an Arthurian Court. My role was the Court Page. My single line: “Ho, the royal nurse!” which I couldn’t say properly. I couldn’t pronounce the letter R. On a warm and sunny fall day, we practiced our performance outdoors on the recess field.
Our student teacher, blonde, thin, twenty-one, got my full attention. Awaiting my turn to recite my one line, sitting on the bleachers by the baseball field, the student teacher massaged my shoulders and neck. My summer skin—three months of tan and grime from beaches and bicycling through the woods—peeled off in her hands like pieces of dried mud. “Eww, don’t you ever use a washcloth?” All heads turned towards me.
No, I didn’t. Today, the back of my neck is a deep brown stain. I have bad posture, short hair. The dark skin is the result of a lifetime of sun (and possibly poor hygiene). A few years ago, I tried to rejuvenate my neck. I tried to bring the tone in line with the rest of my skin. I applied a product from the Walmart beauty section every morning. A chemical soaked round pad, similar to the ones I used as a teen to cleanse my face, the medicine I used to minimize zits. It kind of hurt—the stuff for my neck. I envisioned an acid burning away my old leather shell. Creating space for new pink skin. I never finished the pack.
Liver. Growing up I associated this word with old people. Post-menopausal women, my grandmother included, ate liver. And my grandfather, he had liver spots on his hands and arms. I’m not sure if the expression liver spot is still in use. I remember it from my childhood, the sixties. I think the accepted term now is age spots, although when I googled it, one of the synonyms was senile freckles.
As a child, I thought age spots were only on old people. What seems old to a six-year-old? I’m not talking old people like the ones who have kids. I’m talking about people whose kids have kids. When I was a kid, my grandparents were in their sixties. You know, old.
This morning, typing on my computer, I noticed the prevalence of age spots on my hands. My hands are not beautiful. They’re wrinkly. I have tufts of hair on each finger just above my knuckles. Scars show from ancient self-harm. Moles sprout thick white hairs. Veins and tendons bulge from my skin and squirm like worms when I move my fingers. And then there are the age spots. I suppose they’ve been there for a while. Maybe I’ve even noticed them before, but I never associated them with oldness.
I know they’re caused by the sun, and I’ve spent infinite hours running and bicycling outside. And weeks at the beach in the sixties and seventies—a time when sunblock was called suntan lotion. People wore SPF 4 or nothing. I should wear my age spots with the pride of an active life. But today for some reason, I just think they make me look old. The stain I wrote about earlier wraps around each side of my neck to the base of my jaw. Faint spots are visible on my temples and cheeks. Look at me, my skin is damaged.
I know there are procedures to rejuvenate skin. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion are two recommended for the discolorations I’m so concerned about today. With a chemical peel, an acid solution eats away at the skin. Dermabrasion seems more natural; the doctor just sands away the outer layers.
I’m sort of shocked to find myself writing about this. Historically I haven’t cared much about my looks. I’ve been more focused on my health, which with the exception of my eyes and ears (and I guess my skin) has been excellent. I’m guessing this vanity will pass. I spent a good bit of yesterday contemplating my age in an essay I wrote about mountain biking. I think I have a writing hangover. But more frequently, I’m encountering my mortal self. I’m looking for external validation that the aging process hasn’t yet hit me. But look at my skin, it has.