I have an obsession; an obsession with zits.
I don’t know what it is, but ever since I popped my very first zit, I’ve been hooked. As soon as I’d see one of those little red bumps, I’d poke it, prod it, rub it in anticipation for the time it was ready to pop. Waiting for that little white head was like waiting for water to boil; it was never done fast enough.
It’s not that I like zits; quite the opposite. I’ve done everything imaginable save limiting my chocolate intake to combat zits. My acne was never nearly as bad as most hormone-saturated teens’, whose faces sometimes looked like warzones, deep red craters from old, popped zits filling the space between the new ones, sprouting from the skin like bubbles in a cauldron ready to burst at the slightest touch. But my vanity, or perhaps my perfectionist tendencies, would not tolerate a single blemish.
So in seventh grade, when the zits’ invasion of my face and shoulders threatened to end in the obliteration of what little self-esteem I had, I begged my step-mother to take me to the dermatologist, who proscribed a special facial wipe and some type of cream.
The results were catastrophic.
We picked up the prescription on the way home, and I used both immediately. I absolutely loved the burning sensation as I purged the impurities from my skin; I imagined little germs fleeing in panic, screaming “Noooooo!!!” in tiny little voices, cartoonish little microbes with scruffy little beards shouting “The End has come! Head for the hills!!” as I cackled like a mad god.
The next day, however, my skin paid me back for the abuse. I woke to find that my face had found something in common with cooked lobster. A deep red stain spread across my entire left cheek and up toward my forehead. The right side was only slightly better, blotches in the same dark crimson like blood spatter crawling down my cheek and neck.
I put it to my parents that there was no way in hell I was going to school like that; they disagreed, with the straightest, most serious faces I’d ever seen them use, and gave me a tube of moisturizer to soothe my skin, which at this point felt like a nuclear test site.
Though I have always been at war with my hair, forcing it into a tight ponytail every morning, that day we formed a truce. I left it down to at least partially cover my face, and the kids at school were either polite enough or horrified enough not to mention it.
Throughout the day I kept the tube of lotion on me at all times, re-applying almost every five minutes, as the burning sensation got worse and worse. The lotion was not enough to save the top few layers of my skin, which sloughed off in little pieces, preventing anymore lotion from sinking in. So when I got home my step-mom gave me a new bottle of some really expensive uber-hyper-super lotion from Mary Kay, which she usually sold to really old women whose skin had all died years ago and still hadn’t gotten the hint. But by this point, my vanity would be a long time recovering, and I didn’t care who it was intended for—my skin was as dry and cracked as the surface of Mars, and this new lotion felt like water.
It started working almost immediately, and I came to a wonderful and terrible realization: if this lotion could keep my skin from dying and turning that awful red, I could keep using the acne wipes and cream as much as I wanted.
Though I did eventually stop using them, my skin was probably irreversibly damaged; I still have to use the same lotion twice a day to keep my face from drying out. But I still pop my zits. I know they say not to, that messing with them only makes it worse, and perhaps that’s true. I just can’t help it. Not popping a zit is literally about as possible for me as not breathing.
I do have a small amount of self-control. If I didn’t I would probably have multiple restraining orders out on me. I can keep from attempting to pop other people’s zits, but only at the expense of my attention. Anyone with a zit or two on their face can count on the fact that I am giving them only about two percent of my attention. The rest will be split between pretending I am not looking at their zits and self-restraint.
The biggest zit I’ve ever seen belonged to a boy I knew in the seventh grade. It had taken up residence at the tip of his nose, and proceeded to grow to epic proportions. He refused to pop it, and I’m not sure I blame him—by the end of the year, we might have had a second Pompeii on our hands. I don’t know whether he ever popped it or not, because we moved on to high school, which was a much bigger place, and I never saw him again. But, though I knew him for years before it appeared, when I look back all I can see is his zit.
Then there was the man I sat beside at my husband’s graduation from basic training. He didn’t have any particularly large zits, but he had a lot of them—every pore of his nose, in fact, was a zit. But they weren’t blackheads, which is what you usually see on the nose. They weren’t even whiteheads, because they didn’t have heads—there was so much pus it oozed out of his skin like icing from a tube. Thanks to him, I have almost no memory of the graduation ceremony whatsoever; it was the first time I’d ever seen something so disgustingly fascinating.
Though most people think all zits look the same, the possibilities go beyond just ‘blackhead’ and ‘whitehead;’ it all comes down to how they pop. Blackheads usually all come out the same, but with whiteheads, the possibilities are almost endless. Sometimes the pus comes out in thin little streamers, like snakes. Sometimes it all comes out in one big explosion, leaving a deep red hole in the skin like a crater. Sometimes there’s a hardened chunk blocking the rest, which may even have to be pulled out with tweezers, and then the rest pours out like water. Then there’s the color; sometimes it’s white, sometimes yellow, green, or even black. Sometimes they bleed after they pop, or expel some kind of clear liquid.
There are even different techniques required to pop different zits. Only about fifty percent will pop with the most common method, pinching it between two fingers. Some zits have too large a surface area to ever form a head—the pus never gets close enough to the surface to be squeezed out. For these, I’ve found a pin usually works.
But the best tool for popping zits is what my husband and I have creatively called the “zit-getter.” The zit-getter is probably one of the best inventions in history, right under air-conditioning and Eggo waffles. It’s a fairly simple design; a metal rod about three inches long with metal loops at both ends, one flattened and slightly larger than the other. The loop goes around the circumference of the zit, and all you have to do is press down. It hurts much less than pinching with the fingers, and works much better on deep blackheads.
My husband was the one to introduce me to the zit-getter. When I first met him, l liked him well enough, but when I first met his back, I knew we were meant to be. The entirety of his posterior was a minefield of hate-filled pustules no one with any desire for self-preservation would want to look at funny. Yet my worst fantasy involves him, enough chloroform for a few hours, and the zit-getter.
I guess I take the whole marry-a-guy-with-problems-in-the-hope-that-you-can-fix-them thing to a whole new level. Obviously, I have issues.