What Counts? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     "You might want to pull your collar over that." I looked at my teacher. This highly respected doctor and very religious man whom I considered a friend was referring to the red birthmark on my neck. I knew he was a very smart man who'd been through medical school and had his own bout with cancer, but I also knew what he thought - I was an outgoing eighth-grade girl.

"It's a birthmark," I said defiantly, shocked by his assumption.

"Sure," he retorted, with a touch of disbelief and sarcasm.

"It is," I persisted. I turned away, perplexed by his insensitivity. I wanted to say, "Hey, you can't make an assumption like that!" The rest of the day, my brain stumbled over his negative reaction. Was my opinion of him wrong? Whenever I see him now, I remember his penetrating comment and I cannot think of him with the same respect.

"Did you get hit with a golf ball?" asked the maid in the lobby. My cousins stared. My face burned.

"A what?" I asked.

"That's what I call that thing on your neck," she replied. "Whenever someone has a hickey, I just disguise the word with 'golf ball hit.'" She laughed. I was appalled. My cousins giggled.

"It's a birthmark," I retorted, not hesitating to add annoyance to my voice.

The maid laughed as I made a quick exit. I was humiliated and took a minute to regain my breath. Her question shocked me. She had been so forward, so quick to ask a personal question. It grieved me to know the first thing she noticed about me was the red, freckled mark on my neck.

When I was little, I told a different story: "It's a tarantula bite," I said happily after being asked about my birthmark. I had talked about it with my dad, telling him I was tired of having to explain.

"So," he said, "why don't you make something up? You don't have to tell them it's a birthmark." I had just learned about tarantulas and knew that they were very dangerous. So when people asked, I would go into a long tale of a family vacation to Texas. I was sitting in a tree, and a tarantula landed on my shoulder and bit me on the neck. I was rushed to the hospital, where, luckily, the doctors were able to save my life. For a long time, my pretend story gave me satisfaction, but as I grew older, I realized how unrealistic it was.

Now, people often assume the worst. "What have you been up to? Is that a hickey?" are just a few of the questions. I have always been bothered by people's ability to notice others' faults and flaws, often wishing that my birthmark would disappear.

The doctor told my mother that the birthmark would go away by the time I was two. "It's still there," I often reminded my mom. "Nothing I can do," she would answer. There's nothing I can do, either. I have learned to accept my birthmark and try not to let what other people think control my thoughts and viewpoint of myself.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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