I was born without a philtrum – that groove on your upper lip.
Growing up, I was always sensitive about it; kids can be harsh to anyone who looks different. My mother used to tell me that it was some sort of rare genetic thing. I never believed her though, because no one in any of our old family pictures had the same condition. When I brought it up with her, my mother said I got it from my father, whom I never met. Conveniently, we didn’t have pictures of his family, so that was that.
As soon as I could, I grew a mustache to hide what I considered a deformity. It wasn’t very difficult for me. I’d always been on the hairy side, even before puberty hit. Pretty soon, I had a respectable brush under my nose that made me feel like I looked more normal. But that was when I noticed my eyes. When I asked my mother if my eyes were set too far apart, she laughed and told me I was imagining things. I dropped it. At least my eyebrows didn’t meet in the middle.
By the time I was 20, I’d all but forgotten about my missing philtrum. And on those rare occasions that I did think about it, it didn’t bother me too much anymore. I’d seen enough people with worse problems and I wasn’t going to be a dick about it.
And then I met Mira. She was 19 and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. For some reason, she liked me too and we started going out. That was when things started to slide sideways.
Mira came from a religious family that took their Catholicism seriously and, one Sunday afternoon after we went steady, she asked me to go to church with her. My mother had raised me a Methodist, but at that point in my life, Christian sects were pretty low on my list of important things in the world. So we went.
At first, I found all the formulaic praying very interesting. There was something about the pageantry of the mass that, I felt, really spoke to me. It was an unexpected stirring and, from the way Mira smiled when I caught her looking at me, I could tell that it really showed. And then it happened.
When the priest started the prayers consecrating the host, I felt a tingling start in my temples, like someone drawing circles on them with their knuckles. I tried to ignore it, but as the priest kept on intoning the words of the prayer, the tingling turned into an insistent pressure. It was starting to hurt, with the pain radiating down my jaw and behind my eyes. I looked at Mira and saw she was lost in prayer, her eyes shut. Not wanting to disturb her, I looked around and saw everyone doing the same thing. Well, almost everyone.
About three rows behind us and to the left, standing near one of the church’s massive pillars was a pale woman with long black hair. Her eyes were fixed on the altar, where the priest was fussing over the host. She must have felt me looking, because she suddenly turned her head just enough for our eyes to meet. I couldn’t be sure, but at that moment, I could have sworn I saw her curious look suddenly transform into … recognition? Spooked, and in an increasing amount of pain, I looked away towards the altar and saw the priest start lifting the host.
At that point, the pain behind my eyes just exploded into a blinding white light. I thought I’d gone blind and that back of my head had blown out. The last thing I remember was the sensation of falling to the side, slumping against the old man kneeling on my left, startling him.
When my eyes opened again, I could see Mira’s face, her eyes blazing with panic, against the deep blue of the cloudless sky. I couldn’t make out her words, but from the sound of them, I guessed she was asking me what happened. I opened my mouth, feeling how dry it was, and croaked.
“She had no philtrum.”
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Continued in What You Are