I stared at the clock with excitement. Five more minutes, I thought to myself, five more minutes until I can execute my plan.
I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring, and not because I hated school. On the contrary, I loved 3rd grade! I got good grades, my teacher loved me, and I got to sit next to Miles Anderson – the cutest boy in the class.
Today was different though, today I wasn’t thinking about crushes or recess. I was about to have the house to myself and there was something very important I needed to do.
Something that would require privacy, planning, and looking back now, a one-way ticket to the insane asylum.
Cuticle Scissors & the 9-Year-Old Surgeon
When I walked through the door, I made a beeline straight for my dad’s toiletry kit. I had noticed it a few days earlier, and a tiny pair of sharp scissors had immediately caught my eye. I had made a mental note to use them for the “operation” I was set to perform Monday afternoon, and the much anticipated moment had finally arrived.
Giddy with nervous excitement, I carefully set the scene. I spread a towel out on the floor in front of the TV, switching the channel to PBS so I could watch my favorite show Arthur while I worked.
As I watched my cartoon, I took a deep breath and got started. By the time my parents got home, I was determined to be freckle-free.
Come to find out, you can’t really cut your freckles off. Even if you stab the skin first, it’s damn near impossible to position the scissors properly for the actual freckle removal to take place. But that didn’t stop me from trying.
By the time I was finished, there were a dozen bloody spots dotting my arms like infected chicken pox.
So maybe I wasn’t freckle-free per-say, but I figured if I did this enough my flawless skin would eventually be revealed.
Botched & Exposed
Over the course of the next few weeks, Operation Freckle Removal dominated my life. Every chance I’d get, I would sneak those sharp scissors into the privacy of my bedroom, methodically prodding at old scabs until they’d eventually start bleeding once again.
I’d slip into a trance and lose track of hours while I moved from one spot to the next, dissecting my skin with needles and scissors until there was so much blood that I’d be forced to quit.
As time went on though, it became clear this plan wasn’t working.
My arms constantly hurt – which would have been fine had I been making progress – but matters were only getting worse. I had a sore on my arm that I couldn’t hide anymore, and while it didn’t exactly worry me, I knew this was my sign to stop.
One night at dinner, my mom urgently grabbed my arm to inspect the wound, and a concerned look swept across her face as she called my dad over to take a look. I was absolutely terrified that they would discover my secret, and kept reassuring them that I was okay.
My mom whispered something about skin cancer to my dad and I felt a wave of instant relief wash over me. My secret is safe, I thought. I’ll just let them think I have cancer! I knew that the moment I saw the doctor everything would be fine, and I needed this body inspection to end NOW before they saw more evidence and my cover was blown.
I quickly joined the skin cancer talks in an effort to keep them from analyzing the “surgery” spot. My mom reassured me that catching this early would be key, then explained what the doctor would do to test the area for cancer.
I immediately lit up. Was it really possible? Could this be the answer I had been looking for?
As nonchalantly as humanly possible, I asked my burning question. “Will I still have my freckle once this is done?”
And if you must know, the biopsy did take care of the freckle, leaving a permanent scar 5x the size of the original freckle in its place.
I was thrilled though. While most of my freckle cutting had been in vain, one had officially been eliminated forever.
My freckle fixation continued to plague me though, and this compulsion with eliminating them from my body only intensified as I entered 4th grade.
My parents didn’t care about Operation Freckle Removal. They probably just thought I was a weird kid. After all, how many 10-year-old kids are begging for another trip to the skin cancer doctor as “the only present I want for my birthday and Christmas combined.”
Of course, they said no, but I refused to give up. I knew somewhere out there was a solution to my problem, I just needed to find it. I needed to find someone who has successfully removed their freckles, and I needed to know exactly how they did it.
My Skin Bleached Hero: Michael Jackson
And just like that, Michael Jackson became my childhood idol. I became fixated on his skin.
This man didn’t just delete his freckles, he deleted it all! Michael Jackson had done the impossible, and I was ready to follow suit.
Everyone seemed outraged that Michael had done this, but I only grew more and more inspired. I was elated that the vitiligo excuse was bullshit. Contracting a skin disease sounded complicated, and unless I could strategically target my freckles, vitiligo also seemed rather ineffective.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have totally contracted a mysterious disease in the name of vanity, but knowing that Michael’s skin change was elective gave me hope that the answer was still out there.
I just needed access to his protocol, and more importantly I needed to get my hands on this magic skin whitening solution.
While I never succeeded at procuring Michael’s beauty hack, the comfort of knowing that it was somewhere out there helped me finally let go of my obsession. It’s okay, I reassured myself, you can just add this to the list of things to do when you’re 18.
Believing that I would eventually be able to bleach my skin like Michael Jackson’s was all I needed to let go of the control once and for all. While I never got my hands on his secret formula as planned, my freckles somehow faded over time on their own, never bothering me again.
All I have to show for this insanity now is a big, purplish scar from my pretend skin cancer shtick. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, I probably deserved more than just the one.
Connecting the Dots
Looking back now, it is clear: my childhood OCD and addiction issues later on are very much connected, I’m just still trying to figure out how. And if childhood OCD and addiction are so closely linked, what other effect did this have on me as an adult?
I know that there is nothing funny about this story. It represents a dark and isolated time in my life, and looking back it is clear that things were already spiraling out of control.
My OCD was getting worse and worse, and compulsions and obsessions that once seemed relatively harmless were now becoming a dangerous problem. While I absolutely wanted my freckles gone, there was something else going on behind the scenes that no one, not even myself, could have ever imagined.
It terrifies me that I did this to myself, and it terrifies me even more that despite having loving and attentive parents, I still got away with this dangerous behavior for so long.
As quickly as it started, it ended just as fast. I was able to shove this experience deep into the recesses of my brain for the next 20 years. But like all secrets you keep from yourself, it found its way back out with a vengeance.
The day this lesson came back to haunt me was the same day I realized I was going to die soon if I didn’t change.
It helped me connect the dots between my past and my present just long enough to jolt me back to reality and force me to quit using drugs forever.
Except this time, my new obsession would have nothing to do with freckles. The stakes had been raised and this was a whole new animal. A much darker, much scarier, and much more dangerous animal. One that I truly believe ultimately ended up saving my life.