Pre-game prep

Emily W. Ray
Written March 2015
Revised March 2022
Skin-Deep

The woman daubed Pond’s Cold Cream on the cotton square, then gently wiped her forehead, cheeks, and nose. It was a ritual of more than 40 years of skin care since that fall in the late 1970s. It had been a season so full of promise, gaiety, and the conquering feeling of being young with dreams to come true. If only Amy had had an ounce of the wisdom back then that she had accumulated by 2022.

It had been gravely unfortunate that the pimple on the top of Amy’s nose appeared right before the Iron Bowl.

It had been gravely unfortunate that the pimple on the top of Amy’s nose appeared right before the Iron Bowl. She’d been asked to watch The Alabama Crimson Tide play football by the blonde half of the I-can’t-believe-it pair of men she had been seeing during her sophomore year. With Barry Manilow singing “Mandy” as the soundtrack to her life movie, she poured boiling water into the hot water bottle. The current literature on skin care said not to mash a pimple, but to instead apply warm washcloths to the affected area to draw out the oils. But Amy decided the pimple had to go. If warm water was good, she thought, wouldn’t extremely hot water be much more efficient and effective?

She only had two days to prepare. Her mother had just finished sewing the new corduroy dirndl skirt with the matching bolero jacket. What a smart outfit for what would surely be the best fall of her college years.  Her date was a senior and president of the advertising club. But his attention wasn’t the only thing that made Amy’s face flush these days.

She was equally impressed by the graduate student who had taken her out a couple of times–once to a state park for a picnic, and once to out to dinner. After a few years of fighting frizzy hair, wearing braces and getting her teeth capped, and finally losing 30 pounds of weight put on by eating ice cream and watching Hazel in the afternoons, Amy had blossomed. She cut her hair in a short pixie style, started smiling after seasons of close-mouth smiles over mouth gear, and eating summer squash and salads, she felt and looked transformed. That is, until this deep-seated, painful knot had sprung up.

“I feel like I have two heads,” she complained to her roommate of a few months. During that time Amy felt as if something very important was going on in her life. She had never been sought after by two older, attractive men at the same time. This was the stuff of her imagination, her stories, her poetry. The pimple was decidedly not poetic.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” her roommate had countered.

But later she overheard said roommate telling someone on the phone…”she has this huge red pimple on her nose; yeah, a band aid would at least hide it from unsuspecting victims.”

That was when Amy decided to go through with the experiment. Wincing and gasping as she placed the full end of the bottle on her nose, she held it in place by its wide plastic lid. She counted as long as she could stand it. Tears leaked down her cheeks, yet she continued to hold it there even after she counted out the last painful number. Gingerly, she lifted the bottle and set it on the sink. As she peered into the mirror, still foggy with steam, her reflection revealed an odd, almost white color on the nose area. She picked up a clean washcloth and saturated it with cold tap water, then lay on the couch with the cool rag covering her face. It was there her roommate found her after class.“

“What happened to you?” she asked. “You okay?”

When she heard her roommate’s bedroom door open and close, Amy slunk back into her own room, lying on her twin bed. When she woke up to deepening shadows, she lifted the limp, now cold washcloth. Touching her nose, she felt a watery blister pop. A quick dash to the bathroom mirror showed a wide bulb of raw meat in the front of her face.

Amy gasped. She had literally pulled the burned skin off her nose. Her heart beat flared, and she let out a cry of agonized humiliation. She had ruined everything, and no doubt, seriously injured her face. It was so unfair that she had wreaked this tragedy on herself, after working so hard to look like the girl she knew she could be. She squenched the tears back. Not only did it hurt, but it was impossible that this would heal in time for the game. Two days; it was impossible. It was also the end of her dream-like state of bliss in having two good-looking as well as intelligent young men interested in her. The dream had ended.

Still, the next day she tried daubing makeup on the end of her nose with a cotton ball, then dousing it with powder. She hated herself all the more for interfering with the healing process, for now her nose looked like a shriveled, powder-covered prune. In the end she put on a bandaid so she could attend her classes, hoping not to run into either Brad, the blonde, or Jim, the raven haired social worker.

When Brad called to confirm details for the game, she told him she was afraid she’d have to back out of the trip. When he pressed her, she reluctantly told him what happened.

“Come anyway, he’d said, “Everybody gets pimples.”

Adorned with the bandaid, Amy still enjoyed wearing the corduroy outfit and store-bought blouse. But the usual effect of hearing “Mandy” crooned by Barry Manilow was annoying rather than dreamlike as it played on the radio several times during the hour-long trip. Amy had not met Brad’s friends before, two other couples who formed a merry band of comfortable friendship throughout the day. She did lose a moment of self-consciousness while cheering for a touchdown by the Crimson Tide. However, most of the game she tried to turn her face away from Brad so he wouldn’t have to look at her.  It was a total disaster.

She managed to dodge seeing Jim until about a week later, when the skin had mostly healed. But the damage had been done to her sense of her newfound attractiveness. When it came to analyzing The Portrait of a Lady in honors English, or writing a paper about the effects of print media on advertising, Amy felt empowered and stimulated. It would take years for the skin to grow back on her only skin-deep, fragile self esteem. Even now, at age 67, and with decades of summers wearing protective sunscreen on her nose, Amy felt foolish thinking about that pimple.

Writer’s note: I was Amy. I would tell my younger self not to take such things so seriously. It’s our imperfections that make us interesting. What advice do you have for your younger self?