Marks On My Body

Nonfiction

Olivia Ayes


When the nurse told my mother that her child had a large birthmark, she gasped and asked if it covered my face.

“It was red like your brother’s,” my mother recalled.

My brother’s port wine birthmark is on his hands, but mine—now a smoky, gray-blue shade with traces of brown along its inexact edges—wraps around the front and left side of my midsection, between the bottom of my ribcage and my hipbone, and spans larger than my opened hands with the fingers stretched out. My mother often points to a possible culprit:  craving bags and bags of roasted watermelon seeds, black with brown tint in the center, during her pregnancy. 

Besides the dark color, my birthmark also has a constellation of moles that advances it from hugely irregular to hideously strange. It looks somewhat like the dirt-flecked skin of a warthog, but my family members romanticized the moles as the numerous islands of the Philippines. The largest of the moles, they told me, was the country of Saudi Arabia where my mother worked as a nurse. I did not contest this story, despite the gap in logic, as to why my birthmark would only have two countries on it. 

They would also say that it was God’s way of marking me so that I could always be found. I remember clear nights during my childhood in the Philippines, when I sat in the terrace, looking up at the stars. I thought about how my moles were similarly scattered, innumerable, spectacular; I could almost believe that it was God’s work, almost ignore the moles’ dullness. I believed this for many years, allowing me to move about with some notion of pride, even strut in my underwear along the beach near our house. This sense would be muddled, though, by my older siblings who taunted me about how my mother failed at aborting me with some chemical concoction, resulting in my bizarre birthmark. Compounded with this idea of rejection, was my mother’s absence, her unavailability for rebuttal and comfort. It surely did not help when my siblings, as well as other family members, would lift up my dress to strangers, exposing undergarments and all, while saying, “You’ve got to see this!” The astonished strangers poked at my birthmark to feel its texture, inadvertently tickling me there and then laughing at how my belly recoiled, shrinking away from touch. I would run away from them, feeling ridiculed and isolated. My birthmark wasn’t special in the better sense. It was unusual—a limitation—something to hide from the world. 

 

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