You know that Hawthorne story, about the most beautiful woman in the world? As I remember it, there’s this lady who is the most beautiful woman in the world, except for one flaw–a strawberry mark, I think it was, across her face. But she is perfect in every other way! And if you haven’t read the story, I’m going to go ahead and ruin it for you–because he is a big weasel, her husband wishes away that imperfection and she dies, for she is now just too perfect to stay on this earth. It is so sad! It is also what I am trying to remember, sitting here with a giant cold sore taking up half the real estate on my face. No! Not that I am Too Perfect to Exist (ha! ha!)! What I am trying to pretend, here, with a giant cold sore taking up half my face, is that without this giant cold sore–taking up half my face–to complain about, I’d be so perfectly happy on such a perfectly gorgeous spring day that I would immediately expire, and that would be so sad.
I am very sad. Every time I get another cold sore, I realize I am still–still!–bitter about how I started getting them in the first place. I was maybe thirteen, and my brother was eleven, and he got cold sores on the corner of his mouth every single month. And they were always big and crusty and kind of gross. I am sure I was making fun of the one he had, for being crusty and gross, as an older sister does to her beloved younger brother. And he swiped his finger over the thing, and then wiped it across my face. Cold sores, they are contagious. Super-duper evilly contagious, and I developed one within a week, and oh man, I was so angry at him, and have been so ever since.
I got them every month for a long time, and then every six months, and
then maybe one or two a year, and lately, I only get them very rarely.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a cold sore. Last year, there
was some unpleasantness on my upper lip, but it turned out that it was
the side effect of a nearly-as-sexy strep throat. This time, though,
this time it is an honest-to-goodness cold sore. Two, actually. One on
the top lip, one on the bottom lip, both sprawling across the landscape
of my face and chin and lip like a major metropolis. Scaly and
I am a very lucky person who wants to pull her face off and burn it
because god, they’re so ugly. They’re so ugly when they’re just there,
and they’re so ugly when you goop them up with medication, and they’re
just so ugly and make me feel so self-conscious. Yes, I have got sores
on my face, no, I’m not going to rub them on you, yes I wash my hands
after I touch them, yes, I know they are not pretty, please stop
talking to my cold sore when I ask you a question. It’s like wearing a
push up bra on my chin. It’s like being a horrible freak of diseased
nature, and I am always aware of them, on my face, because they throb
and itch and burn and sting and it gets old, fast. It was old the
instant I recognized the tingle and burn, when I woke up yesterday, and
thought no no no now is not the time, oh, no.
It’s never the time, of course, because who ever wants a big throbbing
ick on their face that takes weeks to heal? No one, I feel confident in
asserting. Unless you were taking on the big throbbing ick in exchange
for world peace, or to save a burning building from a small child, or
you are a holy person ministering, holily, to a leper colony and that
is just the price you pay for being so holy and going right to heaven
once all your parts fall off for good. Never, ever a good time for a
cold sore; an especially poor time is now, when I am leaving in two
days to go visit my family and see friends I haven’t seen in a long
time, and also meet up with official people. Don’t look at me, I am an
When I was backpacking a million years ago, I contracted one of these
suckers, and it hurt, as they do. We went to a pharmacy to get some
stuff to put on it. My friend spoke Spanish, and I did not. I sent him
up to the counter, and hid in the back, because it was big, my cold
sore, and ugly. My friend spent ten minutes trying to explain what he
wanted–a cream, for a sore, on a lip. The pharmacist didn’t understand.
My friend gestured me up to the front, and I came reluctantly. “Oh!”
the pharmacist cried. “HERPES!” I got the cream, but I was too dead of
shame to apply it to my face.
Oh! my friends and family and editors will say. HERPES! And I will
die, just like the lady in the Hawthorne story, only way less perfect,
and with much less pathos. But it will be a relief, because ow, ow,
ow. Ew. And ow.