Something to Do With Peanut Butter by Ery Caswell

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close up of eye with brownish spot inside whites

Before it was a scar, it was peanut butter. This moniker was a smooth, discrete measure of intimacy spread thin between two people. If you looked just beneath my right eye, you could see it: a birthmark. Someone had to stand close enough, breath grazing the cheek, to notice. The birthmark, a blemish really, consisted of a few innocuous bumps, only slightly darker than the tone of my flesh. Nothing to gawk at from a distance. Nothing to see at all.

A girl on the school bus was the first to identify it as such: “You have peanut butter under your eye.” The girl pointed, looking quizzically at my face, as though it were a riddle.

“No, it’s a birthmark.” This became the riddle’s answer.

I wondered why she had noticed today when she never had before. It has always been a mystery why one day, suddenly, someone could see.

No one ever referred to it as anything else. Not marmalade. Not applesauce. Not tapenade. Not imperfection. Even into adulthood, usually after someone had kissed me enough times to see me, always, it was: “You have peanut butter under your eye.” They would gesture, a tender erasure, to wipe it away. I would smile, watching him reckon with its refusal.

Optometrists, who should be most equipped to name it, could not: “If it grows, you can get it removed.” Without more scientific terminology, the physician’s Latinate taxonomy of defect, I had no words with which to correct people’s attempts at recognition. So peanut butter it remained.

Before losing my health insurance, I decided to have the birthmark under my eye removed. It had grown. And so had I. Such inexplicable changes could not be without repercussion, I reasoned. The doctor assured me cutting off this old outcropping of self made for a simple procedure. A few numbing drops. A needle or two, just below the socket. A couple of uncomfortable snips, and a stitch. Another stitch.

No more peanut butter.

As the gash healed, it scarred gently, imperceptibly. While removing my stitches, the doctor said what doctors say: “That’s healed very nicely.” He insisted that in a few months’ time, even the scar would recede. Just into flesh. Just into lack.

The man I hoped could love me found the bruise blooming on my cheek from the procedure peculiar: “How interesting.” He grazed his thumb against my skin just beneath the wound that would become nothing. It is an empty word–interesting.

It is not peanut butter.

I cried, a little, at this revelation. Who would come close enough to notice it, to ask about it, to reach and seek to make contact with it, to grasp for it, to try and fail to wipe away this unnamable blemish that had become a part of my body’s most intimate topography?

The stranger stared at my face as though it were a riddle, not understanding what I was mourning. Neither did I.

Something to do with peanut butter.

Meet the Contributor

Ery CaswellEry Caswell is a queer emerging writer, public librarian, and forest fairy living in New England. His essays and poetry have been published in Waxing & Waning: A Literary Journal, Quartz Literary, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, and Dreamers Creative Writing. He’s led community writing groups and workshops for five years. When not working or writing in a mossy grove somewhere, Ery manages a volunteer-run mobile social justice library and technology instruction business called Beyond the Stacks. Find out more about his library work, classes, or the mobile library project at beyondthestacks.com or follow him on Instagram @msst_ery.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Lindsay Turner

  2 comments for “Something to Do With Peanut Butter by Ery Caswell

  1. To me this is a rather sad story (imperfection, intimacy, loss) but the “peanut butter” brings levity. Really lovely writing. “Just into flesh. Just into lack.”

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