written by Laura Romain | illustrated by Christopher Park
This is how everyone else looks, I tell myself. Why not me?
With my fingertips I pull the skin under my eyes taut, so the snaked veins and dark circles disappear, so the carved-out hollows aren’t quite so stark.
I lean toward the mirror, studying. Maybe I’d be beautiful, if I looked like this. Maybe my life would be better.
I was twelve when I first tugged at the shadows beneath my eyes. If only they went away, I thought, boys would ask me to dance and girls would invite me to parties and I’d spend less time on my own, reading in bed or staring into the mirror, wishing.
Shouldn’t I know better by now?
* * *
A nurse comes in, finally. I’ve been waiting an hour, shivering, crinkling the sheet of paper between me and the exam table.
She snaps on a pair of gloves. “So you’re getting Botox.”
Is she saying I should get Botox? Should I get Botox?
“Um.” My voice is barely audible. “I have a consultation.”
The nurse stares. Earlier, I wiped away my makeup, so I know how I must look to her: hideous.
Once she realizes she’s grabbed the wrong file, she tells me the doctor will come shortly.
I wait another hour, working up the nerve to leave. To tell the gorgeous receptionist I need to get back to my office, which is true.
But this doctor could solve all of my problems. So I wait, and I think about Botox.
I’m twenty-three years old.
* * *
“Oh, wow.” The doctor traces my face with gloved fingertips. “That’s quite an orbital bone.”
According to Allure magazine, she’s a top cosmetic dermatologist, so I nod.
Unlike my mom, who’s always telling me I’m beautiful, the doctor diagnoses my flaws as readily as I do: acne, flaking skin, dark caverns under my eyes. She recommends fillers and laser treatments. The fillers aren’t approved for under-eye use because if she hits the wrong artery I’ll go blind, but she’s never had that happen. The laser will leave bloody bruises that last a week.
“I’m serious about this,” I say. “Tell me everything I need to work on. Be honest.”
Afterward, reapplying my makeup, I cry.
* * *
“You have to stop flinching.” The doctor tosses one of the metal disks back onto the tray.
To protect my eyes, I need to wear thick steel contact lenses, but I blink and recoil whenever a cold edge hits my eyeball.
“I’m sorry.” My hands tremble. I can’t let her give up. “I’m trying.”
Finally, the lenses go in and the world is black. The laser hums: an icy rubber band snapping my face, over and over. Purple lightning sparks across my vision.
I tell the doctor to turn it up to high.
“The bruising will be worse,” she tells me.
* * *
It’s been five years. The capillaries grew back, a maze of blue cracks in the skin around my eyes.
What would that doctor say if she saw me now? More lasers, chemical peels, a needle of hyaluronic acid in the darkness under my eye.
I haven’t gone back. Because if I did, I’d believe her. I’d ask again: Tell me everything I need to work on. Be honest.
Every hollow filled, every shadow brightened. And nothing would change.
About the artists:
Christopher Park is a multi-media, interactive illustrator living in Los Angeles. While classically trained in traditional illustration, his combined knowledge of art and front-end code have breathed life and movement into his work and allowed it to become unique, interactive and dynamic.
Laura Romain is a writer and editor, and she is currently finishing her first novel. She lives in New Jersey with several houseplants and a 40-string harp, and she blogs about creativity.