I’ve been noticing my psoriasis marks more and more lately, and I don’t know if they’ve gotten more apparent recently, or if I’m just able to see them since the spring sun is out and they’re exposed in short sleeves, or maybe I’m just sort of more self-conscious of them.
The psoriasis doesn’t bother me, not really; it’s manageable and on the spectrum of “difficult stuff to deal with” they’re really, really low down on the list. A broken air fryer would be more distressing, you know?
I think the reason I think about the psoriasis is that its another aspect of ageing, of the differences in my face compared to the way it looked before. I’m noticing it, and that’s probably a natural response to being middle-aged, to growing a pandemic beard that is now a permanent part of my look, to having two kids that I’ve paid more attention to for years than to my personal grooming (my wife is reading this and is furiously messaging me, “you still have to groom yourself”).
I look at myself in the mirror and don’t remember how I got here; I don’t remember much of the “me” part of the last few years, or of the last decade or two. I remember childbirths, and weddings, and job changes, and moving countries. I remember how my IKEA desk looked in Chicago, and can describe its differences to my current IKEA desk here in Barcelona, even though they are the exact same color and model. I can remember what our living room looked like, to the smallest detail, when the Cubs won the 2016 world series. But I don’t remember what *I* looked like. And that’s what’s sometimes jars me when I look in the mirror: “Oh, that’s me, now. Huh.”
This isn’t a lament against getting older, because, as the cliché says, its beats the alternative. I like how I look now; I like being 45 years old. It’s nice to be at this stage in life, because about 95% of the things that used to bother us in our younger days doesn’t bother us at all at this point. I like being here, as I am, and I’m thankful for it. I’m luckier than I ever expected to be at this stage, when I imagined my 40s at age 21.
It’s a minor thing, just noticing that my head shape, my number of chins, has changed slightly with the layers of material that years of burritos and ham sandwiches have added. It’s a minor thing, just noticing that I look like the weathered uncle of the person in my head named “Mark Nabong.”
One aspect of moving to a brand new city after years in the same place is that you have to reestablish who you are to people you meet; this can be weird, as it takes a long time to unveil all the bits about yourself you want to share with people, and to get at all the bits about other people that you’d like to learn. How do I bring up that I like ragtime music? That I have a top ten list of favourite buildings? That I love Long John Silvers chicken planks, or even what Long John Silver is?
How do I find out all those things about other people? Do I even need to?
Making friends as an adult is famously difficult; for many people who are also parents (us included) you end up becoming friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. That’s great, and a normal thing. But its strange knowing almost nothing about someone one day and then, two weeks later, you’re having conversations every day at pickup, at volleyball practice, at dance rehearsal. And you’re getting to know each other AFTER a decision has been made, via your children’s friendships, that you’re going to be connected together for a while. It’s like an arranged marriage, but it’s our kids arranging playdates for us.
And these folks, these new friends and acquaintances, they’ll never know what I looked like before, what I acted like before. They’ll see the face I wear now, and that face will be how they know me. And vice versa. My daughter has a friend from swim class, and that kid’s father is completely bald. He wears it well, but he told me he started shaving it two years ago, and he had bright read hair before. I’ve never seen it, can’t even imagine it, and I’ll never really know what face he sees when he imagines himself. But it’s there, whatever he imagines, and it’s as remote to me as the face of a beardless Mark is to him. And that’s sort of weird.
But, it’s also not weird at all.
I spent years wearing a suit everyday to work. Every Monday to Friday, I wore a suit, tie, dress shoes, fedora (I know, I know). And I’d go home, I’d have dinner with my wife, change into a flannel shirt, jeans, yellow baseball cap (I know, I know), head out to a stand up comedy club or bar and do open mics or feature sets all night. And not a single person from my day job ever saw me in a yellow ball cap, and not a singe person at those comedy shows ever saw me in a suit.
Not a single person from my day job ever heard me be funny in the way I was at the comedy shows, and not a single person from the comedy shows ever saw me be serious in the way I was at work.
The moon doesn’t have its own illumination, the moonlight we see on earth is directly reflected sunlight. Well, not all of it. There is a tiny, tiny amount of sunlight that is reflected off the earth first, then hits the moon, then comes back to us. It’s called “earthshine” or the “DaVinci glow”, and you can only really see it where the moon is not directly reflecting sunlight. You can see it in the new moon, or in the area outside the crescent in the quarter moons. That bit of moon face you see in the new moon? Or in the “dark” parts of the half moon? That’s earthshine.
I suppose it does’t really matter that my image of my face in the mirror is not quite the one I remember. My family, my loved ones, the strangers on the train, they all see my current face. It is the current face they see that helps them, or hurts them, or ignores them, or neglects them. It is the slightly balding face, with bifocals and psoriasis, that they see when I put a coin in their cup, and it is this older face that is buried in my phone when I pretend not to see their outstretched hand.
My children do not remember a face before this one, and it is this one that they love.
The years pass, and my face, the outside face, reflects it. And I can only know what that face looks like indirectly, in the faces of the people I love and the people I hate and all the people in between.
I am a moon, and my face has never been illuminated by my own light, it can only be seen in yours.