I’m hopeful that my son’s tiny fingers, so plump and soft, will one day grow to be strong and sturdy. It’s just the outline of whiteness around his cuticles that haunts me.
I see him playing and rolling his toy cars down the linoleum floor of my kitchen. The cream-colored highway on which he drives his yellow Tonka trucks and red race cars make up the busy world of his imagination. He sees a construction site, an action-packed scene with cars colliding, men working and the world moving.
I see a paling of the pink in his thick, slightly upturned lips and a spotting of white blotches on his otherwise smooth chocolate-brown cheeks that I have just kissed. It’s Vitiligo, the doctor said, a fairly common skin disorder, that afflicts one in one hundred.
I join my son on the floor and drift into my own world: he is in college, the beautiful dark complexion peeling away like someone slowly bleaching his skin to lighten it. Walking across campus, he sees his classmates. Will the girl who makes his heartbeat fast look past his discoloration to see what I see – the arched eyebrows, round dark eyes, straight nose, and the perfect oval shape of his face? Will she stay around long enough to feel the glow of his warm heart, sense the tenderness in his voice when he calls me beautiful, see the gentleness of his ways as he runs to help his grandfather with his heavy load, or hear the pain in his voice when he winces at having missed once again the honor roll or that soccer goal – a parent’s expectation for greatness?
The truth is my imagination does not betray me. The patches are real. Washing up for bed later that night, he catches a glimpse of himself reflected in the mirror: “Will these white spots go away, Ammi? Will I have them forever?”
What do I tell my baby boy? I know only what the doctor said. It is hard to tell what will happen. The patches may stay the same or grow. Only time will tell.
That is not what I can say to my son. He is too young for the uncertainty of gray; his mind still sees only black and white: yes or no; not maybe or not sure.
When he looks up at me, toothbrush in hand, I realize he is waiting for my answer. I have only the world of make-believe to offer. It may seem that appearances mean everything, I imagine saying to him, but by the time you are all grown up, my boy, no one will ever judge you based on your looks. The world will be a better place, and it will embrace you for who you are. You will learn to love your melanin-missing patches, and nothing will matter if you are happy.
All this I want to tell him. It is what he needs to hear.
Instead, I bend down and kiss his mixed-tone cheek and wipe the toothpaste from his mouth.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Mark Bonica