The Girl with No Eyebrows
My hands are demons, laced with black blood intended to rip away the most prominent feature of my face—my dark eyebrows.
My left hand is the greater evil, lurking just above my eyelid until the fingers brush against the short, gentle hairs that compose one brow on my forehead. The darkness emerges in isolation, strengthens with boredom and petulance. One pull turns into seventeen, the debris littering my cheeks and chest. My mind struggles to conceptualize disaster. Smooth is alluring like a wet stone in a shallow lake.
My hands are manipulative, experts on my daily cadence so they know when to strike.
As a strange introduction to this tendency, my first pull was in front of a crowd. I was ten years old. I wore silky pajamas as I sat on the blue leather sofa at my parent’s lake house in New Hampshire. The living room reached maximum capacity with my family and relatives huddled around the television to watch a movie. The activity poured over into the dining room. My mother and her sisters listened from the kitchen as they finished cleaning the dinner dishes.
My left hand padded my left eyebrow. I’ve always preferred symmetry, but my left side is stronger than my right and I often find myself leaning on my better half. I let my hand rest in my lap, but the demon overpowered my mind and moved in a circuitous rhythm. The thumb and index finger latched onto a hair and dug into the follicle. They clawed into my skin until a half crest strand lay in the center of my palm. I clenched my fist to hide my secret. I examined the piece when I was sure no one would notice. The hair was small, angelic.
The demons strengthened over the years. Soon it wasn’t enough to pull one hair. They craved more. They needed to recreate the blended pleasure and pain emitted from a pull. Five to ten hairs fell through my fingers and landed around my neck. Gaping holes protruded from my face. My sisters stared with contempt, clucked their tongues and cast their eyes down to the floor.
I eventually typed “hair pulling” into an internet search and discovered I was not alone in my tendency. Others just like me also had these demons that lingered at their eyebrows. Trichotillomania is an obsessive-compulsive disorder caused by stress and anxiety. It is exacerbated by boredom, loneliness, fatigue, or overwhelm.
When I reached high school, my older sister took a heightened interest in my Trichotillomania. She was a junior and since we went to the same school, she cared more about my appearance.
“Let me fill in your eyebrows,” she pleaded one afternoon.
Rather than accept the help, I took her statement as a jab at my mental health and recoiled to my bedroom. She continued to ask in a variety of forms. Sometimes she held a makeup bag. Other times she cornered me on the way to the bathroom. She asked in conversation or when she was getting ready to go out. She lauded her makeup skills, said she would draw on eyebrows, but I treated her remarks as snides, further justifying her younger sister as a freak, a lunatic, the high schooler with a messed-up face.
After two years, I caved and filled in my eyebrows for junior prom. My older sister was in college and recruited her high school best friend, a makeup connoisseur, to do my makeup for the dance. I obliged because I admired her friend. She thought I was funny and judged me based on my character, not my eyebrows.
When I looked in the mirror, examined my face with eyebrows, I felt beautiful. Normal. I didn’t know whether to cry from embarrassment or smile with pride. I realized I had a chance for recovery. The goal seemed tangible.
I stopped pulling as much. I let my older sister teach me how to fill in my eyebrows so that I could do it every morning. I practiced in the bathroom mirror, buying makeup in secret. I struggled to perfect the art, often buying too dark a shade or applying the makeup too heavily. Tissues and toilet paper piled up high in the wastebasket.
Some days the thought of putting in the effort was unbearable. Other days I spent thirty minutes in the bathroom trying to perfect my eyebrows.
My progress ebbed and flowed the remainder of high school. When I started college, I reset the clock, encouraging myself to control the demons. I kept my hands busy by twirling a pen or squeezing a stress ball. I spent most of my time around other people.
The demons emerged in the dark of my dorm room, alone with my thoughts about my success on the field hockey team and my demanding coursework. While my roommate slept on her side of the room, I pulled in secret, wiping away the hairs to remove evidence in the morning light. I waited for the bathroom to empty out before I touched up my face, concealed the damage done in the black mosaic of the night. My teammates learned about the holes in my face because after practices and games, we showered together in the locker room and my face went raw. As water cascaded down my face, my eyebrow paint washed away. They stared with skepticism, avoiding conversation altogether. In some ways, it transferred out of the locker room, into my relationships with them. Most didn’t want a friendship. Others ignored my presence.
After I graduated from college, I tried again to regrow my eyebrows. Now a young adult settling into the professional world, I needed to appear confident, composed. But instead of relocating to Boston or New York or LA like the rest of my classmates, I moved home to the suburbs of Massachusetts. I threw myself into running, hoping the sport would occupy my hands, consuming all thoughts about pulling. But the loneliness allured my demons. More hair gone, more makeup applied.
I saved enough money to move to Brighton, a suburb of Boston, and after a year of friends praising Somerville, I made the jump across the river and found a place near Davis Square. I ran. My cousin and I trained for the Bay State Marathon. I dated around, met strange men at local bars and restaurants. No one stayed in my life for long to learn about my demons. Until I met my partner.
The first time she saw me without eyebrows I forgot to pack my eyebrow pencil. Before going out the previous night, I made a conscious decision to leave my makeup at home, thinking the eyebrows would stay on through the morning. When I woke up, needing to pee, the eyebrows transformed into black smudges running across the width of my forehead. I tried to utilize the excess makeup to assuage the damage, but it didn’t work. I sulked back into her bedroom, concealing my eyes. When we woke up later, she studied my face, but made no comment on the eyebrows. At this point in our relationship, we were still discovering each other, working hard to make a lasting impression.
“I should go home,” I said, gathering my belongings.
She narrowed her eyes, her face softened. “Why?”
“I, uh, don’t have everything here,” I said, rummaging through my black Michael Kors purse, trying to find the one possession that would make this situation better. But, of course, I knew my eyebrow pencil was at home.
“Because of your eyebrows?” she said, almost in a whisper.
I froze, uncertain whether to share my demons, admit to the Trichotillomania that I’ve struggled with for the past fifteen years, or feign ignorance.
“Yeah.” My voice was small.
“I don’t care,” she said, “We all have things we struggle with.”
I nodded, not really believing what she said.
“Really, Jaclyn. It’s okay.”
I couldn’t muster a smile then as I processed the words escaping her mouth. It was okay. No one had muttered that phrase about my Trichotillomania. No one had so completely encapsulated my demons in the most thoughtful way.
Jaclyn Torres is a writer based in Medford, Massachusetts. She runs the blog Candor & Spunk, which cultivates queer voices through wellness and writing. She has been featured in Anti-Heroin Chic, Hobart, Drunk Monkeys, and The Lesbian Blog.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.