My parents hated lentigo spots. You know, those little dots of skin colored slightly darker than the rest. Most people get some form of it when they get old, but even those little darker freckles that some people get all over their body – those spots that are something between a freckle and a mole. Nobody in our family had ever had lentigo. My parents had scoured each other’s genetic background before marriage. It was very important to them. My mother scrubbed our skin vigorously in the tub to remove any flecks of dirt, then lathered us in whitening lotion and sunscreen every day. I maintained this regimin as I grew older.

“Don’t you ever, ever bring a kid home with you if he has spots,” my father said.

“And when you get older, you must be careful. Sometimes you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have lentigo. You have to ask. When you get older, make sure not to fall in love with someone who might have spots lurking below,” my mother warned.

My whole life I avoided lentigo kids. The looked so dirty and I would have put my hand on a bleach bottle and sworn they smelled worse than any of my non-freckled classmates. My parents always told me I had to be nice to everyone and I couldn’t tell them how terrible they were to their face. We still had to be kind, even to lentigos. But I wasn’t to touch them, play with them, laugh with them, or befriend them. Most kids in my class were told the same. I don’t know what the lentigo kids were told. Maybe they noticed we didn’t invite them to parties, maybe they didn’t.

In high school, I looked down and saw a small, dark fleck on my palm. I thought it was dirt, but soap didn’t remove it. I spent an evening in agony trying to scratch it off of my skin, but a week later with the scab had healed, the little brown spot remained. It was lentigo. I knew it, deep down. And it scared me.

I tried to bleach it off. I went to a free clinic in the next city over and asked if it could be removed (no). When I realized I was stuck with it, I covered it with concealer. Since it was on my palm, sweat usually cleaned it away before lunch time. I used a bandaid, but that brought too much attention to it. Finally, I realized all I had to do was keep my hand clenched at all times. If my hand was closed, nobody would ever be able to see this disgusting mark I was forced to carry with me.

I started to hate myself. What had I done wrong? If my parents found out, I had no idea what they would do. Would they throw me out? Would they still love me? I began to think about the lentigo kids I’d pitied and despised all my life. They hadn’t asked to have lentigo, but I’d judged them anyway. Would people do that to me, too, if they knew what I carried with me now? There were many weeks throughout high school where that little mark was scratched raw and bloody, but when my skin healed over, it only made the little mark stand out more on shiny white scar tissue.

It shouldn’t have made a difference, but my grades slipped. I had to hold the pencil just so, in case someone might glance at my hand and see the spot hiding in the concave shadow. My notes were hard to read and I had a hard time finishing tests on time. When teachers asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t tell them the truth. I made up excuses. They certainly didn’t believe me, but what could they do? They meant well, but what if they told my parents?

I felt like a hypocrite among my flawless, spot-free friends. I considered trying to befriend a lentigo person, but I couldn’t bring myself to be associated with them. I mostly spent time alone, in hopes that the less people knew about me, the less likely they’d get close enough to see the truth that I was hiding.

My friend Jordan’s sister saw a lentigo spot that Jordan had been concealing under high necked shirts. Her parents sent her to a treatment center, where they used special lasers and light treatments to supposedly make lentigo disappear. She didn’t return before graduation, so I never found out if it worked. But even if it did, I didn’t want to be sent away.

I went to college. I kept it hidden, but over time, I found people like me. With each other’s help, we loosened our grips, we exposed the dots and had a community. When other people sneered at our lentigo, we didn’t care. We got proud. We got cocky. We wrote letters to the school newspaper, asking, shouting for respect. We stayed up late supporting each other. Some people came out, showed their spots to their families. Sometimes it went fine. Sometimes it didn’t.

But I still couldn’t tell my family. How is it that friends can accept you for who you really are, but your parents – the two people who made you, both in and out of the womb, can’t?

“It would literally kill me if I ever found out that you had lentigo spots,” my mom had once said. “It would be the worst thing that could ever happen.”

For every holiday or weekend trip home, I’d get anxious. I’d clench my fist tightly and practice keeping it closed. I’d get quiet. If they asked about school, I had to censor all the things I cared about – talking with my freckled friends, demonstrations on the Quad, exposing my lentigo spotted palm in an attempt to disgust (and maybe sway) porcelain classmates who had to do group projects with me. Finding people who wanted to be my friend, lentigo and all.

I got good at putting my mask on. It felt like second nature to go home and pretend. I couldn’t sneer as well, and sometimes I tried to play “devil’s advocate” with my family (little did they know I was just the devil). That rarely went well. I bit my tongue, much like in high school, but with less self hatred. Or maybe just self hatred that went by a different name: self denial (but only for my parents’ sake).

I love my family, but I can’t be honest with them. If I was, my mom would be devastated. She’d spend the rest of her life pouring all her money into trying to find a cure for something that I realized is just part of who I am. No amount of talking or reassuring will ever change how she sees people with lentigo. My father – I don’t know what he’d do. Some of my friends say it’s better to go without family than be forced by my family to be and act the opposite of who I really am. Are they right? Or am I? I don’t want to hurt my mom, but I don’t know how long I can keep pretending.