Colonies of cauliflower-shaped blisters weep thick yellow mucus. The wound throbs at irregular intervals and glows a fiery red. This is not the mark of some sideshow freak, nor is it the infected battle scar of a soldier. This is what my cold sore looks like, and, trust me, it feels much worse than it looks.
p. In college, no one says anything about my cold sore, but I know people still notice it. Whenever I’m sporting this ulcer, workers at the Caf are extra nice. They probably think I have some awful sexually transmitted infection. Knowing that I am not long for this world, they make sure to give me extra beefaroni casserole and rice pilaf.
p. Friends make an effort to ask me how I am feeling. They look concerned, and some friends even tell me that I have a piece of popcorn chicken on my face.
p. “Things are going great,” I say. “And besides, that’s no chicken nugget, that is my cold sore.”
p. The cold sore, and the medicine I take to neutralize it, causes my entire upper lip to inflate like a balloon animal. Everything I say sounds uncertain, making me seem like a drunkard or a plastic-faced housewife. Because of my drunken cadence, professors probably think I am some raging alcoholic. It certainly can’t help that I always look particularly haggard during cold sore weeks, since the piercing pain of my sore keeps me up all night. I can just imagine the conversation I would have if I were ever reported for being drunk in public.
“No officer, I am not an alcoholic,” I would say. “And that’s not a chicken nugget on my upper lip; that is my cold sore.”
While people in college feign sympathy, my primary school classmates were painfully honest. Since third grade, I have sported this recurring mark of shame. During recess, the kids in my class would grab my head and individually inspect my cold sore.
“It looks like he has an upside down dolphin on his face,” one child said.
“No way,” another kid drawled. “That looks like a baby elephant.”
Throughout primary school, my cold sore was compared to a rock, a compact disk player, a chair, Mickey Mouse, my fourth grade teacher’s desk and, my favorite, a corn flake.
By high school, my friends stopped mentioning my cold sore outright; instead they made it a point to avoid me whenever I looked sick. After a weekend of skiing, I returned to school with multiple cold sores. My face had exploded into a cacophony of chicken nugget-sized ulcers. Word spread, and before homeroom my then-girlfriend intentionally avoided me. She even made it a point to skip school for fear that she might come face to face with my infected mug.
I can’t blame my high school girlfriend. I am constantly disgusted with the cold sores that flare up once or twice each year. Sometimes they seem to occur for no reason at all. Causes include stress, sickness and sunlight. In other words, doing anything besides lying in bed and drinking Vitamin Water could lead to another flare up.
As much as I hate my cold sore, I recognize some advantages to it. In high school, one teacher mistook my cold sores for third-degree burns, and allowed me a paper extension so that I could sufficiently recover. Plus, since my cold sore is such a burden on my appearance, its disappearance always gives me a surge of confidence. I always feel compelled to monitor my health more carefully. For the first few weeks after a cold sore I take vitamins religiously and eat five vegetables each day. Yet, after a few weeks, I invariably forget about my condition. I return to a stressful life of long nights and poor nutrition. Before long, my lip begins to swell to an unnatural size, and blisters call my face home.
__James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. He refuses to eat chicken nuggets.__