Feeling the creative urge, as I sometimes do, I have written the following freestyle poem in the hope that it may be as therapeutic to read as it was to write. It might baffle some readers but I think that anyone who has had widespread vitiligo will recognise the feelings of consternation, powerlessness and loss of identity that accompany the progression of this condition. But I hope that the relief and delight I have tried to convey at the return of my pigment will give others hope that this is not necessarily a one-way journey :)
VITILIGO: A Play(room) in 3 Acts
ACT I: Collecting Jigsaw Puzzles
My life has been a series of jigsaw puzzles, the first as pretty a picture as you could wish to see. It never occurred to anyone that anything could mar the image of a bonny baby in all her glorious honey-hued, gurgling perfection.
They never found out who crept into the playroom and stole the first piece. It was only one little piece – the size of a sixpence on the baby’s left ankle. Hardly noticeable. A pity though that such a pretty puzzle should be incomplete.
The next piece to vanish left a leaf-shaped hole in the baby’s back. Did someone accidentally knock over the board? Perhaps the lost pieces are on the floor or down the back of the sofa.
But if that is so, why could they find no trace? Surely it had to be the work of a thief because it did not end there.
The next puzzle was a toddler. How strange that the same pieces were missing here too. Not only that, but a third and fourth piece had gone – the other ankle this time and now a tiny gap at one corner of the child’s mouth. Why would anyone want to remove random pieces of the puzzle? And how did they do it without getting caught?
No one had any answers.
Successive puzzles depicting a panda-eyed schoolgirl, a shy adolescent, a carefully groomed young woman – all plundered by unseen hands – revealed more and more of the blank surface beneath and ever less of the subject herself.
One day I opened a new box and asked myself “Is this puzzle half here or half gone?”
There comes a point when a puzzle ceases to be a picture with gaps and becomes a blank space strewn with fragments like the excavated remnants of an ancient mosaic.
Would some archaeologist dig me up and fill in the blanks to show posterity what I once looked like?
The jigsaw of a woman in her 40s would have been quick to complete, since so few of the pieces actually connected. Scattered across the board, it was impossible to decide if they, or the space between them, were the real object of the exercise.
I suppose it all depends on how you look at it.
Over the course of 50 years my unplanned jigsaw collection progressed from Bonny-Baby to Can-You-Tell-What-It-Is-Yet? What would the next puzzle be called… The-Invisible-Woman perhaps?
If you think jigsaws are frustrating, try my next hobby…
ACT II: Painting by Numbers
Number 1 was the original skin tone, a light golden beige, my favourite pigment.
Number 2 was the colour of nettle rash, mottled and roughly textured.
This was closely followed by number 3, a stark white, applied almost symmetrically in in random patterns, some clearly delineated, others splashed carelessly across the canvas like spilt milk. (No sense in crying over it. There is no cure. It won't kill you.)
There’s nothing quite like summer for bringing out the colours of a painting. A hat and long sleeves were no match for the persistent sun and by the time the picture was finished, the numbered paints ranged from 1 to 20 with a different abstract brush stroke to go with each one. My canvas contained a tortoiseshell patchwork of shades from brilliant white to violet, golden ochre, burnt sienna, chestnut and scarlet.
And yet this was the height of my blue period.
I had to paint by numbers for 50 summers before I could enjoy my third (and final?) pastime…
ACT III: Joining the Dots
By sheer fluke, at the age of 51, I discovered the secret of the missing jigsaw puzzle pieces. They were there all along – just not visible to the naked eye.
They had been starved into transparency but, as I began to feed them, atoms of them materialised like specks of golden ink on blotting paper. Tiny dots like pixels on a grainy satellite image, jostling, overlapping and joining together until they looked something like the missing jigsaw pieces - if a little mottled with mildew.
And gradually the mildew has faded - along with the sense of loss - to reveal glorious, even colour.
Of all the activities I ever found in the playroom of my life, the most cherished, the most miraculous, the most deeply longed-for and appreciated has been this game of Join the Dots - an unremarkable pastime, you may think (if you have never walked in my shoes), but one which has brought me on a return journey along a jigsaw road from
by way of A-Pity-That-It’s-Incomplete
and finally – if not quite back to Bonny-Baby – then at least back home to a grateful woman of a certain age who can look in the mirror and smile to see her whole self.
My name is Caroline.