October 22nd
by rebekah bentley

I’m a picker. I know I’m not supposed to be. When you have a zit you’re supposed to let it clear up on its own. My mom says it. Doctors say it. Blogs say it. But once I know it’s there, I can’t stop thinking about it. My mind practically wills the white pus to push to a head beneath a thin film of taut skin, ripening towards a small pop and release. Yes.

Today was one day too soon for the zit sitting directly between my eyebrows. I knew I couldn’t touch it—I was getting my wedding portrait done and it would be worse to have a scabbed-over crater in the middle of my face. I didn’t want anything to distract from my best feature: my unusually colored eyes, slate blue with sharp slivers of brown splintering the iris.

So I reminded myself that photoshop exists and grabbed my best concealer. Full coverage that’s light and not cakey. It’s what all the commercials told me I wanted. But as I gently tapped it on with the pad of my ring finger, the zit seemed to come to the surface. Maybe it’s ready after all. Maybe just a quick squeeze…nothing a little hot compress can’t hasten.

I started picking at it. Hm. It was a little more stubborn than I thought it would be, but I was determined to get it. Lean in, Sheryl Sandberg. It broke open, white and clear pus, then the sebum-thinned blood that signified you’d gotten the better of it. I snatched a tissue from the box sitting on my toilet tank and pressed it to the spot, satisfied, but a bit nervous about the consequences. The stakes were high today and my mom was meeting me at the appointment. She’s going to be so annoyed that I did this.

I pulled it away to survey the damage, only to find that it was oozing thick pus again. I pressed at it and it began to flow as though there was a deep reserve I had only just tapped.

I pushed from every corner of my face towards the exit I'd opened. What the hell is happening? Perhaps some sort of cyst with a network of rivulets feeding up into this one evacuation point, like magma feeding a volcano. I needed to leave it alone and get moving. I was going to be late, and this photographer wasn’t cheap, and The Knot said she was the best. I could not miss this appointment…nor could I seem to stop myself. How much more could there be, anyway?

And then I found it. A large mass, well-formed and twitching. What is this?

My phone buzzed; I ignored it. I didn’t even know how far behind schedule I was at this point. It didn’t matter. This was coming out, one way or another. But I couldn’t seem to get it across the bony ridge of my nose. Is it resisting? The hole between my eyes began to stretch wider as I pushed towards it, skin splitting at the edges, spreading into a rough slit. My phone buzzed again and again.

The pain was blinding, but I was so close. I felt it pull loose and work its way to the surface. Buzzzz; this time, the door. They’d have to wait. Adrenaline raged from my core, up through my shoulders and arms. Pounding in my heart, and now pounding at the door: this is it.

With one last searing pinch, it exploded from my face, splattering against the mirror and ricocheting out of sight. Shrieks of panicked distress accompanied the frantic blows against the door, a rare call usually reserved for animals who have found themselves in the clutches of predators. Shit. Mom. I ran from the bathroom, guilty that I'd worried her so much, and flung open the door.

“Where have you—“ her gasp fed a scream of pure horror that took root in her bowels and violently bloomed through her gaping mouth.

“Geez, calm down,” I chuckled. “I know, I shouldn’t have picked it. But the photographer can edit it out. It’s not the end of the world.”

She stood there, eyes wide, involuntarily shaking her head, her mouth sagging in a stunned and quivering terror.

“What?” Nothing. “Mom, what? WHAT??

I ran back through my house, pain now setting in, along with the realization that hours had passed since I’d first started picking. Only now could I feel the warm liquid saturating my face, partially obscuring my vision. Blood? More pus? A wave of dread rolled up from my stomach into my chest, fear coursing through my arms where once there had been the thrill of pursuit. Oh god, what came out of my face?

I slowly pivoted around the bathroom door frame, then kneeled and placed my palms on the cold tile floor. I lowered my face, slower still, my cheek hovering barely an inch above, a single drop of thick blood landing beneath me. There was something behind the trash can, partially obscured. I slowly pushed it aside, the excruciating scrape across the tiles echoing through the hollow room. There sat my quarry, peering back at me: an eye, slate blue with sharp slivers of brown splintering the iris.

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