After a few cocktails, my agent won’t be able to resist telling you how she discovered me. How she plucked my headshot from a pile of polaroids. Lowering her voice, so you have to step closer to hear her amongst the chatter, she’ll tell you, and it’s always the same phrase, that I had an alluring asymmetry. Even in Los Angeles, the golden land of the gorgeous, mecca to the beautiful, my picture, she will half-whisper to you, commanded her attention. She will explain that the left side of my face—here she will dramatically bring up her hand and touch her own face—is flawless. But thrown across my right, like a fistful of mud, is a spatter of freckles. A perfect paradox, my agent will say, bringing a ruby negroni to her ruby lips and taking a long sip. She was lucky to have found me, she will tell you, adding that I am lucky to be born with such a face. I always disappear, mingle with the other guests, or head out for some air when my agent begins her story. She has a good heart, and without her, my career wouldn’t be what it is today. But my agent grew up in Santa Monica. Lucky? She has no idea what it was like to be a kid attending a shitty middle school, in a shitty midwest farming town. With a cult-like, lockstep conformity my classmates all had the same Trapper Keepers, identical Lisa Frank folders; the same pink, unblemished faces. To be successful required the ability to blend in. I would attempt to hide my freckles under a thick cake of makeup, or behind a mass of bangs that I’d blast with hairspray so they’d hang like a slab of beef jerky covering half my face. The kids avoided me; ghosted me, talked through me as we sat at our rectangular tables in homeroom, as we ate in the lunchroom, played at recess. I’ll never forget the night I stole a Brillo pad from beneath the kitchen sink and scrubbed the right side of my face bloody. Would my agent still call me lucky if she knew? Or what if I told her about the day Anna moved in? Her family had bought the Peterson’s old place, three houses down from my own. It was early August. Splendidly warm. I was riding past on my new Huffy mountain bike and she waved at me from her porch. No kid had ever waved at me before and I actually squeezed the brakes and came to a jerking stop. The two of us instantly became friends. We spent the rest of the summer together. If we could convince one of our parents to drive us we’d go to the mall. Or we’d sit in her bedroom and talk about the upcoming school year. She was starting seventh grade, I was going into the eighth. As if she were cramming for a test, she wanted to know everything about our middle school. I gave her a rundown of the teachers, taught her how to tight-roll her jeans, and helped her pick out a JanSport backpack. Sometimes her plastic hamburger phone would ring, and she’d roll her eyes. She’d talk for a little while to one of her old classmates, and then she’d tell them that I was there, her friend, and she had to go. There was a moment when I almost told Anna about school. We were flipping through my yearbook and she was asking about my friends. I was going to tell her that I didn’t have any. But Anna could see my freckles and to point them out, to explain how the kids treated me, I felt was unnecessary; akin to pointing to the sky and explaining the sun. I didn’t talk to Anna on that first day of school. We had separate lunch periods. But I did catch a glimpse of her in the hallway. She was beaming—the focal center of a group of girls. I yelled her name, but my voice was lost in their laughter. She wasn’t on the bus ride home. Which I thought was strange. But I chalked it up to the fact that maybe she had joined an extracurricular. When she wasn’t on the bus the following day I could feel dread corkscrewing in my stomach, turning and turning as I ate alone in the lunchroom, rode the bus, walked to her house, rang her doorbell. Anna opened the door a crack, just enough to poke out her head. I could hear muffled giggling behind her, could smell the tang of buttery burnt popcorn. She looked past me as I asked her why she wasn’t on the bus, why she would no longer talk to me. Never once did she look me in the eye. Not when she said that I had lied to her; that my omission had been a betrayal. Or when she told me we could no longer be friends. For years I was heartbroken. Maybe I still am. I tell myself that’s what my agent saw in my polaroid, not my freckles but sorrow, an earned despondency. It’s the look I strive for when I’m being photographed. When I pose, I imagine the lens is a grocery shopper browsing a rack of magazines and they pick up the one with me on the cover because I remind them of someone from their past who had lived for a time next to them, alive, yet even then, forgotten.
-- Richie Zaborowske is a dad, librarian, and author from the Midwest. He puts a contemporary twist on traditional library offerings; his monthly Short Story Night packs the local brewery and features trivia, comedy, and author interviews. His writing appears in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Los Angeles Review, HAD, X-R-A-Y Lit, Identity Theory, and others.