Birthmarks, Freaks, and Loudermilk
How a TV show sends me into self-reflection
I have a congenital hemangioma on the upper part of my right arm. Congenital hemangioma means “vascular lesions that are fully formed at birth and occur when blood vessels form abnormally.” That is a fancy way to say that I have a distinguishing birthmark.
I had to look up the proper name and definition to use here. I was always told “while you were in the womb, some of your blood vessels grew together and burst leaving a scar on your arm.” When I was born it looked like it took up my entire arm. And, if anyone touched it, I’m told I would scream. It has faded a lot over these 49 years and now most shirts that I wear cover it entirely. It is still sensitive to touch in certain places. I have one friend who never fails to squeeze it as hard as possible when we hug. This is one of the best huggers you could ever know. It just so happens that the strong squeeze also sends me into severe pain.
I rarely think about it unless it is hurting. Today I’m thinking about it because I’ve been binging the show Loudermilk. I like to think of myself as so self-aware and then I have moments like this one.
I’ve been thinking about writing about Loudermilk for a couple of days because of the ways in which the show presents persons of every shape, size, physical capability, etc. It is the story of a “Sober Friends” group — a “rip-off of AA,” they call it. So, it follows the lives of these different characters on their roads to recovery. The leader of the group is Sam Loudermilk played by Ron Livingston.
One of the group members, Mugsy, played by Brian Regan, has several children (at one point they say 10, at another point they say 12) and he hasn’t been a good father. For the first two seasons we only hear about the children from Mugsy during group, but in the third season we actually meet a couple of them. His oldest daughter is named Cappy (short for Cappuccino).
Now is as good a time as any to tell you that the show is set in Seattle.
Cappy is an adult, graduated from college and beginning her career. She remembers the most about her father’s addiction, so it is a lovely story-line when she begins to want to spend time with him again. The first episode in which we see her, they meet in a coffee house to catch up. Cappy is played by Cassandra Naud and the actress has a prominent birthmark that takes up just about the entire right side of face. She is absolutely gorgeous. Look her up! But, it was shocking to see someone on television who looked like her. Just like it had been shocking to see Mat Fraser who plays a rock-n-roll drummer, Roger Frostly. Mat Fraser was born with phocomelia in both arms which is “malformation of human legs or arms.” His arms are almost non-existent and his hands are large. In one episode he was described as “having feet for hands.”
Cappy and Roger are just two of many characters who represent a wide variety of what it looks like to be human. They don’t cover them all, but nobody is perfect. I’m getting back to the “I think I’m soooo self-aware part.”
I wanted to applaud the show for the representation and I started to look up Cappy and what the condition may be called that caused her birthmark when suddenly I realized, “Oh my god! I have one of those too!”
Now, you may not believe me because IT IS absolutely insane that I could sit and watch hours upon hours of this show and not once realize that I appreciated the representation BECAUSE I AM ONE OF THOSE REPRESENTED. This lack of self-awareness should be becoming more and more clear. I have a feeling that is what this daily writing is going to end up being about first and foremost. (I’m not giving up on Anne Lamott, though!)
Seriously, I watch this show and think, “Oh, isn’t that great? Such a wonderful way to represent all the freaks of the world.”
I almost deleted that. That is what came into my head though, so I’m going to leave it and trust that it will be okay in the end. When I use the word “freak,” I am usually in awe of the person. I wish I could be a freak. Every now and then, it slips out and I’ll say it to Kid #2 — “You are such a freak.” I should probably delete that too. But, you know what Kid #2 says every time? “Thank you, I know I am.”
IN AWE OF THAT!
So, as I was getting ready to attempt to write something witty about Loudermilk and the representation of all kinds of beauty in the world, I was looking up Cassandra Naud to see what the official title of her birthmark would be. The first thing that happened is that I got results using the word, “birthmark,” which I had not thought to use.
Birthmark? Hmm. That sounds familiar. I have a birthmark.
Still it took time and looking through images of such birthmarks before I connected my own arm to those very images I was searching.
Wait a minute. This is familiar! This is me!
The one and only “beauty contest” I was ever in was in middle school with BFF. She was beautiful in the classic sense and wanted to be in the Miss Middle School Pageant. (It was really called by the name of our school, but, you know, no distinguishing information for the MILLIONS OF READERS.) I did not want to do it. Wait, that isn’t true. I did want to do it, but I was terrified. I knew I wouldn’t win. But BFF really wanted to do it.
So, we got our parents to sign the permission slips. We planned together. We shopped for dresses together. This was during the early 1980’s. I wanted to wear a dress that was sleeveless, but I was reminded of my birthmark. I ended up wearing a blue tea-length dress that showed one shoulder — the left one. The one that looked like everybody else’s. I also wore my hair curled with a curling iron and pulled up to one side in a banana clip. It was a whole asymmetrical look.
I have pictures from that pageant. I did not win anything that night. It wasn’t devastating. I knew I wouldn’t. It seems like BFF won Miss Congeniality, but I may be making that up in hopes of a better story. Anytime I’ve looked at that picture over the years, all I can see is a girl covering up a birthmark so that it wasn’t an embarrassment to anyone.
The birthmark that I have looks a lot like a scar from a burn. That is what everyone always assumes it is. When I was in grade school, the conversation usually went like this:
“Oh wow, what is wrong with your arm? Did you burn it?”
“Well, what happened?”
“It is a birthmark. I’ve had since I was born.”
“I have a birthmark. It doesn’t look like THAT!”
“I don’t know what to tell you. My mom said that while I was in the womb that all my blood vessels in that arm grew together, then burst. That left this on my arm. No, you can’t touch it.”
When I was around 10, I got tired of saying “No,” so I started saying “Yes.”
“Oh wow, what is wrong with your arm? Did you burn it?”
But, of course, if you say “Yes,” then they want that story too. So I made one up.
“I was a toddler playing in the kitchen while my mother was cooking. I bumped into her legs and she spilled the pan of hot grease on my arm. She has felt terrible about it ever since.”
Sometimes I lie. Usually when I do, though, I end up saying so!
I only told the fake story about my arm for that one school year, but apparently kids talk. Somehow, there was someone in our graduating class who had not heard the talk. He saw my arm for the first time and asked about it. He was probably seeing my arm for the first time because it was senior portraits and all the girls had to wear those things that were like shirt dickies, but they made it look like you were wearing a ball gown that had a V-neck and rested off the shoulders. Mine was maroon. I’m sure we all wore the same color. None of this new-fangled “express yourself” senior portraits shit!
So, new friend says, “What happened to your arm?”
“Oh, it’s just my birthmark,” I said.
Another friend was standing nearby who I had known since first grade replied with what sounded like sincere hurt,
“What? I thought your mom accidentally burned your arm with hot grease!”
All I could say was, “Oh, no. I just made that up.”