Memoir : My Scarlet Letter (asian eyelid circumcision)

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It’s my scar let, let her, it’s my badge of shame, Look into my eyes to see, who is left to blame.

You’re not seeing the me I was or could have become naturally, you’re seeing the altered version, the plastic victim mimicry. I wear it as a punishment for vanity. I am Medusa camouflaged in cyclop’s form, a reborn Gamora warrior, a She-Hulk pirate queen who survived the shame of failed beauty; branded by envy into self-invented ugliness. It’s my brand, my veil of Yokshim, (which means greed in korean), exaggerated pride, ego guide, it remade me, now I wear it as a permanent, anti-heroine mask.

It’s my own fault and my mother’s for encouraging self-mutilation and abandonment. I didn’t know who I was, my gauge for intrinsic value was broken, stuck half-way on self-hatred. I wanted the elusive subjective outer validation of my toweringly, strong-willed often critical mother. I had an unattainable, self-negating death wish for perfection.

I ruined the whole sweet dimpled cake of my face, my chosen shape. But I was born perfect already, with all my mistakes, healthy but with a streaming hole in my heart, a murmur that stayed. I rejected my original self, the tiny, precocious genius self that hid so invisibly well. I was born in the wrong era. In another version of me, in parallel time, I could never have erased myself in this way. Technology allows Frankenstein-ian abandonment. The lost versions of myself that I can’t revive or forget, are like past lives, the paths I’ve lived and left.

My swollen left eye, I rename, Moon in Pisces, Bee stung accident. The surgeon’s laser blade, streamed across my eyelids,I didn’t faint, I had to be, awake to blink my eyes, Blink blink blink blink blink, Chink chink chink chink chink.

The lasers burned across my pinned skin; searing fuming skin, screaming fusing in. I was voltaged awake. I wasn’t asleep, I was spiritually unconscious. My mother and her mother and I were dreaming in astral coma, only there we knew about our worth because in the conscious world, that secret wasn’t obvious. My worth as a worthless girl was to be married and the mother of a son. Slavery elevated to obligation, gracious servitude as mothers of pearl sons, that was our highest possible evolution.

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Beauty was the gateway in to worth and that’s why she thought she was right to focus on surface appearances. Mother stared at me with amazement, “You’re so beautiful!” she said. I had emerald liquid eyeliner on, it was glowing radiantly on my sun-worshipping tan skin, “Thank you Mom.” I smiled long-distance love into her eyes. “You would be even more beautiful if you had eye surgery.” She whispered back. The compliment was an unintentional, upside down insult. But I committed to the plastically enhanced platform, to the arena of self-abusing starlets, like Marilyn Monroe and all of Hollywood.

“No, I don’t need surgery.” I proudly stated when I was sixteen. Somehow I was wiser then, but my confidence drowned by the time I was nineteen. It was my sister whose eyes were circumcised first. She begged our parents for the procedure. All throughout high school she created a fake crease with eyelash glue and bobby pins, every day she painfully ripped the fragile skin. She hated her eyes which I thought were finely regal, delicately graceful. But everytime I was praised for the shape and size of mine, she found new ways to punish me. My right eyelid had a slight, surface-lined crease, and when I cried, both eyelids double folded. I looked dreamlike after tears, that was my super talent charm, tragedy made the hologram of subtle beauty, dramatically obvious.

I always liked the hawk-like curve of my eyes, and didn’t mind their slight difference in shape, until I felt my first slash of rejection. He was a Korean Johnny Depp look-alike, in love with a statuesque Vietnamese woman, whose painted gaze knifed through me. She had faceted, glinting mannequin eyes. So when my mother’s surprise compliment morphed into a decision, I sold my identity away for that Devil’s lottery, the monkey paw boomerang curse, the self-negating wish to have what I never needed.

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I wanted to be a super-ultra elusive, a live-action anime-femme, winking doll-like, mechanized perfection, like the doe-eyed models and actors with expertly rearranged faces: broken upturned noses and carved, bionic eyes on Asian films and soap operas, they all had their features altered. I never felt beautiful during childhood but in college, I started blooming, but sitting in the car with my mother that day re-routed my life. The opening to innate beauty closed.

I destroyed my true face, let my identity be butchered, murdered away with melding lasers in a gamble to be more. My surgeon, Dr. Plastic, was Korean too, he briefly tried to tell me I was beautiful already and didn’t need the surgery, but I ignored him, I shyly bowed and sold my eyes away, while my mother ushered us along to business. He marked my eyes with dark blue marker dots. He said, “Blink blink, open close, open close, blink.”

Then came the alien abuction interrogation over head lights, my eye lids were numb with anesthesia but in a tactile way, I could feel everything. Every bit of pain rippled under the high tech scalpel, my skin labored, soaked up the shock of horror and disbelief. There in the corner I saw Mother wincing with empathy. She only wanted what she thought was best for me, but she was deeply wrong and wronged, misguided by her own neglected childhood.

Sizzling, shearing skin, slivering in; I can smell electronic burning, nauseating fumes, he’s soldering my wet bleeding eyes, cementing them apart and overlapping them together. I’m weeping blood plasma sap, like a sacrificed, chain-sawed tree, melting lava and amber, it’s not “Logan’s Run” exactly but I think of that cheesy, 70s sci-fi film. As a distraction, I think of free-associated, inter-related metaphors, during the cutting, removing subcutaneous fat, sewing with actual wire-like threaded stitches! I want to burn an escape hatch open with my lasered eyes and climb out of the room’s ceiling. I grit my teeth from the needles piercing grip and think of “Star Trek’s Dr. Bones'” character shouting madly, “I’m a doctor, not a seamstress!”

The rapidly swelling skin is a pronounced, wet stretched, balloon of rising pain. Dr. Plastic is sewing in slow-motion. I see his arms rising up and falling in torturous sloth-paced waves in between eye blinks, his nurse wife wipes down his misted forehead because he’s sweating with anxiety. During the surgery they debate in Korean over my unlucky accidental fate. One eye is terribly, crookedly, lop-sided askew but he’s finally finished bruising and pulping it. No more, please I want to stop, peel off the suctioned, octopus chair, but he’s done with one eye and we can’t go back forever. Innocence can’t be reversed. Time moves in one flow, regrets can only follow like desperately useless ghosts. Round two hurts even more, maybe it’s the exhaustion of pain, strapped to a chair, eyes tauntly pinned opened and closed while the skin is permanently rearranged, “A Clockwork Orange” comes to mind too with deranged Alex in the brainwashing chair.


This one act changed my identity. I killed myself, or faked my own death, in this one permanent mistake. Because of this thoughtless accident, a new android me emerged. I was cat-eyed alien, crooked puffed, exoticized, made freakishly, stereotypically foreign, I looked like a non-Asian, in Asian drag, a caricature of myself. I became the symbols of my race: chopsticks, kimchee, and samurai swords, soy sauce, sticky rice and conjoined Siamese twins, every time I look in the mirror and in every photograph I am a replacement, a freak show double, a stereotyped, clownish copy of myself. “You’ll never have to wear make up again”, said mother before the surgery, she knew I liked the natural look, that’s the karmic irony. The opposite was true, my face is a canvas now. I have to wear makeup as another disguise, to cover my fucked up, boxer in the last round, face is my persona or live with the deformation in humility. “I’ve ruined you,” Mother said with her head caved in her hands. She carries the regret too, but my face is imprisoned on display everyday as an earthquaked mirror, irrevocably cracked.

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Mooncake, Chinese, Pancake face, they called me that in elementary school, bullies who sang Ching Chong out of tune and sharpened their eyes into talonized weapons, alternating diagonal sloping lines with their fingers zig zag dancing their teasing chant, ching chong, like a ringing bell, ding dong go to hell, you flat-faced chink. What’s wrong with your eyes? Can’t you blink? Do you see things differently through those snowflaked, paper cut eye slits? Chinese, Japanese, those were the only options, but I did not belong here, there, with them, with me, even within family, labels never fit, because I could never fit in anywhere. I didn’t feel free to be what I was, always silently frantic, struggling invisibly to be better. The looming shadow of my survivalist, Valedictorian, first generation immigrant mother, was too all-powerful for me to live up to. She survived war poverty, even rescuing her family from starvation as a child, how could I compare or argue?

Scars remake persona. I reformed into a black sheep activist, an authority fighting rebel, a lone wolf feminist with a belligerent tongue. I ran away from home alone, with my crooked eyes, two overflowing suitcases full of thriftstore clothes, $70 and the only shoes I brought, were the gladiator sandals on my feet…to the enchantment of San Francisco, 1993.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Issa Dioume says:

    Great writing Judy! Great reference to the Nathaniel Hawthorne book 🙂 📚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Issa, yes it’s a reference to the shaming in the book and a play on the word scar.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Foolchund Saahil says:

    Great poem depicting a lifelong struggle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Saahil. Yes it’s a life changing event. I want others to know their worth before it’s too late.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Foolchund Saahil says:

        Yes, a poem of Hope


  3. 1weaver says:

    this gives one a tremendous amount to reflect upon.
    i look forward to reading more about your ever-evolving hero’s journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you for your supportive, encouraging comment🌸

      Liked by 1 person

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