Break the Face in the Jar by the Door
By Carlie St. George
Clown by Bryan Prindiville
Tuesday mornings go like this:
Get up at 5:00. Don’t wake your husband, who doesn’t appreciate early mornings the way you’ve grown to. Get dressed. Apply makeup. Keep everything tasteful, classy. Nothing men might take as a silent invitation.
Downstairs, read the book you’ve hidden behind the laundry detergent. Your Me-Time: a precious 45 minutes with nothing but spaceships and explosions. The kind of thing you read in school, before you became a Wife and a Mother and a Bank Manager and a Real Adult. Then stow the book away, climb the stairs carefully. Skip the sixth step entirely — it creaks.
Open McKenna’s door. Step over her Barbies, her toy microscope. She’s a stomach sleeper, limbs spread like a starfish. Say her name, which will merit no reaction. Gently pull her toward you. Tickle her awake.
This is how Tuesday mornings go, how all school days go. Monotony is good. A break in the routine — like when you put on too much eye makeup or wear a shirt he doesn’t like, when you’re caught doing something childish or wake him climbing the stairs — this is how bad days begin. This is how you bring them on yourself. Say you’ll stop doing this someday. Lie.
It’s Tuesday again.
McKenna does not respond to her name. Pull her towards you. Notice, too late, how curly her ginger hair has become. See the unnatural whiteness of her skin, the too-vibrant red of her mouth, how her lips pull into an exaggerated frown that human lips are incapable of making. How red runs from under her eyes, like tears, like blood. Like greasepaint. How none of it smears away when she stirs under your panicked hands.
“Mommy?” McKenna says.
Break the routine. Shatter it. Scream.
Do not attack the doctors when they offer statistics instead of reasons, counseling instead of cures. Do not pretend to be an authority on coulrodermatism. Do not bite your neighbor’s head off for calling it ‘that creepy clown disease.’ Do not yell at your friends for their stupid suggestions. Do NOT make a scene.
Apologize when your husband does all of these things.
The appointment with the child psychologist is at 10:00. Tell yourself you’re not angry your husband refuses to go. Lie.
Dr. Huerta is not afraid to shake McKenna’s too-white hand. Decide you like her, even if she ends up saying this is all your fault. Because it is your fault. It must be. Don’t lie, not about that.
Don’t cry when McKenna says, “Daddy hates my face.” Don’t cry when she says, “Maybe it’s because I’m bad.”
Stop crying. STOP. Tell her that she’s perfect.
Blink when McKenna says, “Sometimes, I like it better this way.”
Do not tell your husband what McKenna said.
It’s your Me-Time. Read blogs detailing life with coulrodermatism. Lurk on community forums debating makeup versus surgery versus acceptance. Look at before and after pictures. Take particular notice of the children, the ones with red noses and wide, impossible grins.
Remember the question Dr. Huerta asked. Remember how it didn’t even occur to you.
McKenna, why do you think your new face is so sad?
The plastic surgery consult is at 2:00 p.m. Do not argue with your husband. Do not let your horror at the thought of someone taking a knife to your six-year-old’s face stop you from considering all the options.
Listen to the doctor say McKenna will need multiple surgeries. Listen to her explain how she’ll apply permanent makeup with a tattoo gun. Listen to her say, “With time, I’m confident your daughter will pass for normal again.”
Make a scene.
He’s furious, of course. You’re embarrassing him in public. You’re being unreasonable. Why are you doing this to him?
Do not tell him he’s an ass. Do not say, “This isn’t about you.” He won’t understand those words, and really, whose fault is that? Instead, tell him McKenna is just a child. Remind him how much pain she’ll be in daily. List all the potential side effects. Ask him what lesson she’ll learn from this: will she think her parents don’t love her if she’s different? Will she came to hate herself inside and out?
Tell yourself he cares about these things. Tell yourself he’s just scared. Tell yourself he can see reason.
Stop lying. Just stop.
The Bad Day becomes a Bad Week. He alternates sullen silence with interrogation. Don’t you see how hard he tries? Don’t you know you’re all he has?
He doesn’t hit you. He’s never hit you. That’s not the fear that’s made you stay.
Don’t cry when he starts crying. Don’t chase after him when he leaves, promising to hurt himself if you don’t love him, if you don’t need him anymore. Remember he’s never kept this promise or any other. Lock the door behind him. Try to sleep.
Never forget what McKenna said to Dr. Huerta.
“I was sad a lot cause Mommy was sad. But Daddy would get angry, so I tried to smile. But now, now I can’t pretend. It’s easier that way. My face just says what it wants to say.”
Ask yourself: what would your face say, if you let it?
It’s Tuesday again.
Get up. Don’t wake your husband, passed out on the couch. You didn’t hear him come home. Tell yourself you’re sorry he’s alive. Lie.
Get dressed. Apply makeup. Not classy — what you used to wear in school, when you didn’t hide your books from anybody. White foundation. Black lipstick. Dark lines like razor cuts over your eyes.
Break the routine. Shatter it. Open McKenna’s door and tickle her awake.
“Mommy, you changed too.”
Try to respond to that. Fail. Settle for taking her shopping. McKenna wants a tutu, and books about caterpillars.
People stare at you, whisper. “Creepy clown freaks,” they say.
Remind McKenna that she’s beautiful. Tell her, “We don’t pretend anymore, okay?”
Squeeze her hand. Buy her books. Make a scene.