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Art by Jae Liu Wubao

Eczema.

I’ve always had a problem with dry, itchy skin growing up. Even as I type this, there is an annoying itch bubbling underneath the skin in the crook of my arm. I should probably stop scratching it.

Anyway, I’ve always had a problem with my skin. It’s another problem that I was born with, and it’s something that my parents sigh over and apologize to me for.

“Ah, not only do you have so many allergies, but even your skin is...”

“You can’t eat as many yummy things as your sisters, you’re always so itchy, you━ah, stop scratching!”

Okay, okay. I know my life sucks, but it’s not so bad. Stop feeling so bad for me!

It’s really not so bad. Even if it was uncomfortable in my younger years, I got used to it. I know how to deal with it better, like how I know now that I always, always have to apply lotion after a shower━especially in places where my skin seems perpetually dry. Even if it’s somewhat of a pain to do, it’s really not as bad as it could get.

Like when it suddenly got worse in 5th grade.

It started off small. I remember that I had sticky elbows at that time, but I had no idea why the heck it was like that. Looking back at it now, it was very obvious it was because I scratched them too much, so it began leaking some odd clear liquid. I hid my arms with long sleeves, hoping that no one would notice. Of course, it was probably painfully obvious something was off because I continued to wear long sleeves even in warm weather.

It got worse from there. Suddenly, the problem that seemed to only afflict my elbows spread to the rest of my body. My skin was dry, yet it was so itchy to the point that it was soon leaking clear liquid with how much I scratched away at it. It grew rougher and bumpier, and layers of skin was scratched away to reveal raw, pink flesh. It was everywhere. My arms, my stomach, my neck, my legs, my feet, my hands━

I hated it. I hated my skin, my body, my life.

I should’ve talked to my parents about it, but I stubbornly continued to hide my body away in hopes that it would resolve itself before anyone would take notice and confront me about it. But it did not.

So I continued on with my life, with my sticky elbows and shredded skin, with leaking gashes and bumpy limbs.

I was so uncomfortable in my body. Sometimes shower time was the only time I felt relatively normal, even if my body was exposed and revealed all its disgusting glory. The water washed away all the accumulated clear liquid that clung to my scratches, all the flaky skin that dusted my limbs in pale powder, all the self-directed disgust and hate.

But sometimes I hated showering, simply because it forced me to see my problems, when I pretended I could not feel the stretching and pull of my dry skin. It was visual proof I was not normal, that I was not born normal, and that I likely would not be normal.

Because it got so bad that it felt like it would forever be like that: skin that felt more like plastic wrap than flesh, skin that was more mottled than those camo-patterned pants you see sometimes, skin that had cracks and gashes and lint sticking to the crevices.

It was one of my worst years, I think. It felt the absolute worst when my family decided to confront me about it.

I guess they got tired of waiting for me to speak up about it━or they realized that I never would talk the initiative? In any case, I was exposed (haha). That day… I was careless. Too relaxed. I think I was sitting in a chair in the living room, scratching away at my skin like always. Except the sunlight lit up the living room very well, so the mesmerizing dance of my skin drifting down onto the wooden floor was a show anyone could see. My mom walked in.

I stopped scratching, but there was no need. She could see the evidence piled up next to me, near the chair’s legs. Inwardly, I was panicking. I did not want her to know. I did not want to talk about it. I did not want to be in that situation. In a pathetic attempt to make things seem normal, I fled walked upstairs after deflecting her inquiries with the skills of a ninja with broken arms. And legs, for that matter.

Of course, my mom wouldn’t let the matter rest. Maybe seeing all that skin covering the floor like snow made her realize that it was a bigger problem than previously thought. She followed me upstairs, eventually. I was sitting on my rolly chair, probably hoping that my mom would just ignore it━but alas! She did not.

She came in my room, knelt in front of me, and said, “You need to show me your skin.” I was backed in a corner. I had no choice, really. I showed her my skin. Clearly, it was far worse than what she expected. I’ve mentioned the state of my skin before. It was in tatters; it was disgusting. I needed a doctor, obviously.

Haha, did I mention how I hated hospitals and doctors?

I don’t hate them as much now, but I definitely had a fear of them back then. Hearing her gasp and tut and mutter, “We need to go to the hospital...” was unbelievably scary. My heart felt like it was strangled by icy hands, and that chill raked down from my neck to my back.

It’s not that bad. We don’t need to go to the hospital. Please, I don’t want to go. But when I tried protesting, she only yelled at me.

My fate was sealed.

You know, it wasn’t actually that bad━the confrontation, I mean. It was almost relieving. I didn’t have to hide it anymore. I didn’t have to bear the knowledge of the state of my skin alone anymore. I didn’t have to try to heal it on my own anymore. Even if I had to go to the doctor, at least I didn’t have to deal with it on my own anymore.

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