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I've had poison ivy before. It's a bad, bad thing.

The first time, 'cause-I-was-a-kid-and-didn't-know-better, I attacked the itch with a green-handled brush, scrubbing skin with black-bristled fury. The spaces between my fingers throbbed lava red; I gouged pits in my shins 'til they bled.

The second time I tried a different approach, immersing my skin in "extra hot" water. The scalding soak focused pain elsewhere, and so it worked...for a moment...but then it also broke blisters and helped the ooze spread. I scratched and scraped and writhed and cried 'til the poison-fed itch consumed me. Neck. Ears. Eyelids. Nose. Between my legs. Fingers. Toes.

The third bout was bizarre. It began with my face. I awoke one morning, and realizing I could barely open my eyes, stumbled to my mirror in panic. My face was... this thing. A monster mask. An alien. An angry balloon. My lips were inflamed. Tears slipped from the slits where my eyes should have been. I was twelve: I'm-so-self-conscious-and-paranoid-about-my-looks-that-a-pinhead-sized-blackhead-can-trigger-thoughts-of-suicide twelve! So I shrieked. Sobbed. Slid to the floor with my face in my hands like a destitute soap opera diva. I locked the door. Stutter-wailed as my parents knocked and pleaded. Later, at the crowded doctor's office, I stood in a corner, my face to the wall, hands cupped like grotesque draft horse blinders.

The doctor was baffled, but surmised I might have passed through a cloud of ivy smoke---it was autumn, and I'd walked past piles of burning leaves the night before. He administered a cortisone shot. Wrote prescriptions for pills and for salve. I stayed in bed on my back beneath packs of ice. My hands clenched and twitched at my sides.

Three decades later, and I'm a ball of dread, reliving that livid red itch.

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