During the peak of the psychological abuse I was receiving from my fellow classmates, my grade school’s parish was celebrating its Diamond Jubilee year. Meaning, they came up with a number of mandatory celebratory events throughout the school year to remind everyone how old the church was. I wasn’t the kind of kid to scoff at traditions like this. Oh no, in fact–I drank the kool-aid pretty heavily.
Like I said before, I actually enjoyed learning. Even more than learning, I enjoyed participating. You name it–my hand was raised. Does anyone want to carry the American flag down the aisle before church? *Raises hand.* Does anyone want to clean the chalkboard? *Raises hand.* Take out the trash? *Raises hand.* Bring Kyle his homework? *Raises hand.* Lunch monitor? *Hand.* Hamster cleaner? *Hand.* Read aloud? *HOLY CRAP, HAND!*
Yes, I was the kid that sat in the front row, hand up, holding my elbow with my other arm so my hand appeared higher than my classmates’. I definitely noticed the teachers avoiding eye contact with me whenever they suggested something. I still remember the perpetual look of “you again” whenever they eventually had to pick me– because no one else in my class wanted to do shit.
Of course, this habit didn’t help much in the popularity department. If anything, it made me an easier target. I couldn’t help myself though! I didn’t know what theater was back then, and I had to make myself in the center of attention somehow. I figured volunteering for menial pageantry and tasks would fill the void in my life that my classmates refused to fill with friendships.
To make matters worse, in 1995, I started to develop something I continue to battle with to this very day: acne. To be more specific, cystic acne. Which, in my opinion, is the worse kind of acne you can inherit. Sure, I may not have a poppy field’s worth of blemishes on my face–but I’d take that before the throbbing pain of a cystic zit on my forehead. The sight of which left people wondering whether or not I had a horn growing from my skull.
I will never forget the first zit that appeared on my face. Most people don’t remember their first blemish, but I do, and I’m pretty sure the entire city of Philadelphia remembers it too…unfortunately.
It was just another Monday morning when I woke up to find a giant welt in the middle of my forehead. And I mean directly between my eyebrows. What IS that? I thought to myself as I pressed my fingers into it–hoping to push the lump back into my brain. “Don’t touch it!” My mother scolded. “It’s a pimple. If you touch it– it’ll get bigger.”
So I kept touching it. My mom wasn’t going to tell me what to do. Sure enough, mom was right and by Tuesday I had a giant red puss mountain sticking out from between my eyes.
Seeing me walk into school with a giant cyst on my head must’ve been like Christmas morning for the kids that used to torture me on a regular basis. It’s as if I’d walked in with a giant target on my face. My bullies must’ve felt the same way most comedians felt once Donald Trump started running for president. Their job was about to get a whole lot easier.
And it did. I’ve heard it all when it comes to my acne. Pizza face. Unicorn. Crater face. Oil head. All of these names were used to describe my pimple, and it felt horrible. As soon as I got home I was determined to get rid of it. I would stare into my bedroom mirror pressing into my head hoping for a relieving pop that never came. The worst thing about cystic acne is the never ending stream of clear liquid that pours from your face…only making your zit bigger and scabby.
By mid week my zit was no longer a little bump between my eyes, but a full blown mountain with a dark scab directly in the middle. This prompted my classmates to call me something that still shocks me to this day. Because of the unfortunate location of my zit–my classmates started calling me “dot head.” All of the students in my school were white. So they thought it was okay to associate my zit with a racial slur.
These were 4th graders btw…. And people say racism hasn’t always been a problem in this country. I wonder where they learned that?
By Thursday, my teacher had an announcement for the class, “On Friday, to continue the celebration of our parish’s Diamond Jubilee, we’ll all be participating in something special.” DID SHE SAY PARTICIPATING!?!? “We’re going to be burying a time capsule outside of the middle school, and we need a representative from our cl–.”
Before she finished her sentence my hand shot up. As soon as I heard the word “need” I knew it had to be me. I waved my hand frantically. Pick me! Oh, God! PICK ME!!! My teacher avoided my gaze as she looked for another option. Unfortunately for her, no one else raised their hand and she was stuck picking the leper in the front row: me.
“You’ll be breaking ground with one of the 8th graders.” Excellent! I thought…until I realized I’d be performing this task in front of the entire school with a third eye growing out of my head. Oh, shit! Why didn’t I think of that before I raised my hand? Why did I have to be so fucking enthusiastic all the time?
As soon as I got home I danced the tango with my surprise dermal. I needed to get rid of the damn thing, but to nothing worked! My cystic acne mocked me, and when I woke up on Friday morning my lump was gone–only to be replaced with a giant irritated scab. Great.
After a day filled with zit related bullying, my class headed for the middle school parking lot to partake in the mandatory time capsule festivities. I was wearing a kickass denim jacket over my uniform in the hopes that my fashion sense would distract people from my face. As we crossed the street to make our way towards the middle schoolers–that’s when I noticed it. The press.
Why was the news there? No idea! In 1995, I guess a bunch of kids burying knick-knacks into the dirt qualified as breaking news in Philly. I groaned. My zit was going to be seen by every bully in every school and I’d never hear the end of it. I’m not the kind of person to back down from anything either. When I commit to something, I follow through and I was going to bury this damn time capsule. Zit or no zit.
Monsignor Mortimer handed me a golden shovel that was way too big for me as he announced, “When we celebrate our 100th year we will all gather around to dig up this time capsule. I hope I will be here to see it!” The crowd cheered, and I broke ground with the 8th grader. It was fun, and I forgot my brow for a moment.
“Smile!” I looked up from the dirt to find myself in the middle of a photo op for The Philadelphia Inquirer. NO! Not my face! But I had nowhere to go, and the flash from the camera came quick–immortalizing my first zit in the city’s paper. The black and white photo prominently showed my temporary physical deformity, but my jacket looked badass.
*Oh, and the time capsule was accidentally dug up a few years ago. The tree that marked it died from a tree disease so they had to rip up a chunk of the parking lot to find it. A crowd of construction workers pulled it from the dirt about 20 years after it was buried. Not quite the celebration Monsignor imagined, bbbbuuutttt at least the photos are online? *
Jo Anna Van Thuyne is an actor, comedian, and producer residing in New York. Her column, Why Can’t We Be Friends?, posts every Thursday. Check her Snapchat/Twitter/Insta @JoPincushion.
Apocalypse…Now? is a podcast exploring the possibility that we’re heading toward the end times. Join comedian and filmmaker Jo Anna Van Thuyne for a weekly discussion with people just as nervous as her that this might be the end. Click here to subscribe.