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red mermaid

this is my ‘port-wine stain’, when i was just born. while my mum was washing me, she found this small, red spot on my knee. wondering what it was, she tried to wash off the stain but it never went away.

it was my blood vessel, which had grown too close to the skin’s surface. soon, it started to spread. in all my memories, my left leg was covered by it. the birthmark and i grew up together. it didn’t hurt, it wasn’t infectious. it made me look different.

when i was 8, in my class there was a boy who hated me. he would try to hit me for no reason and growl at me all the time, so i was scared of him. one day, i was walking home after school. on a small, empty road, i heard his voice from behind. the boy came closer shouting out loud, ‘look who’s there!’ as if he wanted me to be warned. i tried to ignore him. i walked straight, swinging my umbrella playfully. then i felt the umbrella hitting something. i looked back. he was just behind me, crouching. before i could say anything, he rushed and grabbed my back-pack, shook it, shook me and beat me, shouting: ‘you filthy monster with a disgusting leg!’

i can’t remember much after that. i think i wanted to look indifferent. but when i finally walked in the door home, i burst into tears as i saw mum’s face. why did you make me like this, i shouted at her. what her answer was, or if she ever did answer, i don’t know. mum was only a few years older than what i am now. she was pretty, and admired pretty things.

not long after that, my parents brought me to a dermatologist. we could try laser surgery but the expense would not be small. the word ‘surgery’ reminded me of things like a blade, blood, and the smell of disinfectant. from the air in the room, i could tell the expense they were talking about was something we could not easily afford. i started crying. i was guilty and scared. then the doctor said we could wait and see, because some birthmarks disappear naturally.

so they said it might be gone by the time you turn 10 years old. but it was still the same when i became 11, 12. 13. the idea of having surgery scared me, but i dreamt of the white, pretty legs that i would have after it. i thought i was like the little mermaid.

we had uniforms in the middle school i attended. the rule was to wear black stockings from autumn to spring, but with summer uniform, we wore white socks. first year, first day of summer uniform, some of the girls asked me, what’s wrong with your leg. it was the same question i would always get every year when the summer started, so i had the explanation ready. it’s my blood vessels showing through my skin, it used to be as small as a baby’s nail, it gets lighter if you push it like this and it comes back again. among my friends was a girl called ‘subin.’ she was very smart and nice, and had many friends. after listening to me, she said, with all her kindness and sympathy, ‘pity!’

dad became an important person at work, and met many people, including dermatologists. through one of them, i finally got the surgery when i was 17. since i would need time to recover, i went to the clinic just after the holidays began. in the clinic, they took photos of me from all angles. i felt like a disease. after a two hour surgery, there was no bleeding, but bad bruising showed where my blood vessels had ruptured. when i stood up, the blood rushed into the leg and i felt like i had been shot. so i had to stay in bed most of the time. after spending two holiday periods like that, the doctor said it would look much better after about five more treatments, although there might be some marks left.

i started to wonder what it was all for. even after five more holiday periods like this my birthmark was not going to disappear. after all, it had been a part of me for 17 years. a part of me. i felt i wouldn’t be myself anymore after getting all the surgeries. why can’t i just be me.

i didn’t go back to the clinic the next holiday period, or for any other after that.

some time later, my cousin said to me. ‘i always thought you were special. you have something i don’t.’ when you change your point of view, you see things differently and meet people who think differently.

we grew older, my birthmark and i, and we became a young lady. i went to a hairdresser’s one day, and one of the assistants who looked a bit younger than me was drying my hair. ‘is that a tattoo on your knee,’ he asked. no, it’s just a birthmark. ‘it looks like a tattoo of a flower.’ it was his eyes that looked like flowers.

of course, conflict cannot be resolved in just a second, because life is not a drama. summer was still very warm and there were still those people who wouldn’t take their eyes off me, who tut-tut as they passed by, who didn’t even bother to ask before touching, who felt sorry for i was pretty and tall, and sometimes, those who said they could fix it. those people were still everywhere. and every time i met them, i could not help but wonder why this everyday fight started when i never chose to fight.

somebody tried to comfort me like this: it is a mark that god gave you, for he favours you so much. but the god i know loves everyone equally. so i guess all people live with marks of their own. it’s just that my mark is more visible. and there might be a reason for that. there should be.

then he came along. with a scar that he never told anyone about. he said he had a dream a long time ago; a dream of meeting someone with a birthmark. she would know she was not perfect and so would be ready to embrace him who was also not perfect. it all might have been for him. so that we could understand each other. we might be able to fight together.

i don’t know about the future. maybe i’ll get sick of everything and decide to get another surgery. there will always be the people who say that you’re not beautiful and you have to admit it. but covered with their red scales, my legs are as beautiful as the milky white legs of the princess from faraway land.

we’re happy now. his scar, him, my birthmark and i. soon, i will be 30.

red mermaid

written and illustrated by sojung kim proofread by nathan hackett self-published by sojung kim first published in mar 2012 thanks to aucb student service dermot mccarthy lisa richardson and sharon beeden

red mermaid  

this is a story about my birthmark.

red mermaid  

this is a story about my birthmark.