On birthmarks, not belonging, & the selves we insert into our books
I was born with the mark of a flying saucer on my leg. The birthmark is smooth, pigmented a light brown, and creates the shape of a long oval—a UFO setting off back to its homeland in the stars.
When I was young I was painfully aware of the UFO on my body because people would point it out to me when I had a dress on and my calves were exposed, sometimes even strangers walking by—“Is that a birthmark on your leg?” It was darker then, more obvious against my uncomfortably pale skin. And I was more uncertain of myself then, aware of everything that marked me as unordinary: this spot, my family, my shyness, my lack of religion (a Jew to some, not Jewish enough to others), my vegetarian diet, my inability to catch a ball or speak up in class, my outlandish hippie name among a sea of 1980s Jennifers and Heathers and Johns and Jonathans. I took to covering the birthmark with jeans or tights. Later on in high school I often wore black fishnets with dresses and shorts, which I loved for aesthetic reasons, but also, I admit, had the added benefit of distracting from the mark. The funny thing is, in reality, most people probably didn’t even notice my birthmark. I was more aware of it than anyone else, which is the case with most things you dislike about yourself. It mattered to me, and now, years later, doesn’t matter at all.
Now I go whole years forgetting it’s even there. The color has lightened, but it still has kept its smooth disc-like shape, and it’ll be a small surprise when I see it in the mirror, remembering it’s there. It’s a simple café au lait birthmark—so ordinary, so many people have them. They’re hereditary. I seem to remember a long time ago my grandmother on my father’s side saying it’s the “DeLaura birthmark,” which means there are others in her family line who may have had it, maybe on their legs, too, tying me to ancestors I’ve never met and whose names I don’t know. I’m not in touch really with that side of the family, but I’m marked as one of them.
Lately, as I get older, I’ve been thinking of the signs we’re given about the lives we live. Have I listened to mine? There are different beliefs all over the world that say the kind of birthmark you have—the color, the shape, the placement—is not in fact random. That it might hold meaning.
A birthmark could be what’s been called a “maternal impression”: some event or sighting a pregnant person has that makes itself known on the body of the baby. But if my mother had a UFO sighting in the months before I was born, she never told me. A café au lait “stain” as it’s called might simply mean my mother really loves coffee (in fact, she does—mystery solved?). The shape of the birthmark itself might be meaningful: a perfect elliptical, geometrically sound—what might this be speaking to about who I’m meant to be?
Some say a birthmark tells you how you died in a previous life. I look at mine and might ask: Did I drink too much caffeine and my heart gave out? Is it a gaping bullet wound? Did I trip and fall into a deep hole? Others say that a birthmark indicates the lesson you are meant to learn in this life. A birthmark on the leg in particular means that in this life I’m meant to learn to be independent, make my own decisions, and stand on my own. With all the choices I’ve made to get myself here—a writer who made impractical decisions again and again to follow her dreams, a woman who consciously decided to not have children and never regrets it—I might in fact be living what my birthmark has asked me to be.
But the UFO itself—the shape I always saw and took to calling it—what might that mean? It speaks to me about belonging, a feeling I’ve very rarely had, in any place and especially not in any groups of people, which can be especially painful and cause me to isolate and push things away. When I try to be like other people—to do what I see other authors doing in their careers or on social media, for example—I inevitably feel pathetic or disgusted with myself, and then I inevitably fail. So I’ve stopped. I’ve just stopped. Is this what it means to learn to walk on your own? To embrace the alien inside your skin and not hide who you are, even with a lovely pair of spiderweb fishnets?
Every book I’ve written has marked me in some way, different colored stains and shapes all over my body only I can see. The book I’m revising now exposes some of who I am, the girl with the UFO on her leg, the girl who didn’t belong and then who embraced the unbelonging and said it’s what she wanted. I see these things in the sky of my manuscript even if no one else will. This may be why the writing of it has been such a tremendously difficult undertaking, an experience I may only be able to speak about in the future, after I can look back on it from a safe distance.
The closer I get to finishing this book, the more and more it all comes clear, at least to me. This has been a long journey. This has changed me. This has wounded me. This will inevitably leave a mark.