Scarlet E (Winner Lee County Aspiring Authors Contest)


Eshanta Wilson

Go ahead. Assume what you want.

Yes, it was I, one of the handful of black students in a predominantly white school. It’s an elementary school, and I was in third grade. Obviously, kids are going to be curious. I’ve always known that my skin was darker than the rest of my friends but I didn’t pay it much attention. We were all just kids at school. It wasn’t until now that I realized that my best friend and I didn’t share the same skin color.

I remember he leaned in and asked the question: “Do you wish you were my color?”

“I just wish…” I paused for dramatic effect being the drama queen I am.

“What do you wish for? What?” he leaned in, concerned, and ready to hear my big confession.

I held my head down and whispered, “I wish my skin was… clear.”

I have Eczema. Eczema is usually in the creases of the skin, particularly the inner elbow and back of the knee. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same for me. I have a type of eczema called atopic dermatitis. This could show up anywhere on my body, especially during breakouts and flare-ups. And eczema isn’t picky about a flare-up: the food I eat, seasonal changes, reaction to a detergent. Anything.

People always remind me, “Stop scratching!” This line would undoubtedly irks my nerves.

The overwhelming urge to dig like nails on a chalkboard, back and forth, back and forth.

There’s relief, and then it burns like flames of acid on the flesh.

Most people won’t understand.  It’s really not that simple to just not scratch. It’s like Halloween with thousands of candy pieces. I know it’s not healthy for me but I eat it anyway because it tastes so good right now. And that brief moment of relief leads to skin breakage, open sores, and dysfunctional skin regeneration.

I let my insecurities get the best of me. It’s long sleeve shirts and skinny jeans on a hot summer day.

Constant questioning: “You’re not hot?”

Close to having a heat stroke, I’d answer with a smile, “No, I’m fine.”

And I would disappear into myself, trying hard to avoid Itch Monster underneath my clothes slowly penetrating my cells, ready to fight against me.

In class, my hand slides under my desk into my backpack on my lap. I struggle to pull my jeans above my knees, the hems cutting my circulation. I slowly open my jar filled with creamy Cetaphil. I rub the relief in a circular motion, slipping lower, down into my seat, so no one sees me.

Over the years I’ve let go of my self-consciousness with my skin. I established a relationship, like a friend.  Eczema is a she.  She’s temperamental, and prone to flare-ups.  But we’ve been learning to negotiate. I, like a high wire walker, made friends with my fear and insecurity, and I smacked them with Cetaphil when they act up. Yes, it’s annoying at times but I’ve come to notice that being different made me see things… well, differently. And I’m different in more ways than one.

I embraced my Very Scarlet and Itchy Letter. My letter of ignominy, my Scarlet E.