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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: The Short End of the Stick (02/20/14)

TITLE: Tan Lines
By Toni Hammer
02/25/14
~3rd Place


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Born with a semi-rare genetic alteration, I was given the short end of the stick at birth. In the United States, I am 1 in 17,000. I am albino.

This condition comes saddled with its share of difficulties. My vision without glasses is 20/400—twenty times worse than that of someone born with the standard 20/20. Even with glasses my vision is around 20/40. I’ll never see “perfectly.” Everything from street signs to subtitles is a challenge.

I can’t drive. Oh, many states say I can with a restricted license, but I don’t belong behind the wheel. I would be putting myself, my passengers, and anyone on the road in danger. Therefore, if I’m to get anywhere, I’m left asking for rides, taking public transportation, or walking regardless of the weather.

I am physically unable to tan. While this sounds shallow, I grew up in a California beach town. Trust me—it was a problem. Being stark white in a land of golden bodies was asking for mockery. The sun doesn’t scorch my skin on contact, but I should wear sunscreen exponentially more often than the average person. Annual checkups and eye exams are always heavy with warnings of skin cancer and worsening vision as though I haven’t heard these speeches since birth.

I wish the physical complications were my only concern. Sadly we inhabit a society where differences breed divisiveness.

Kids are cruel. We need only look at the treatment of Joseph by his brothers to see that this has been true since the beginning. While children can create heartless comments from nothing, my intensely pale skin and blonder than blond hair made me an easy target for nasty names. Though some insipid remarks failed to make sense—I’ll never understand the creative genius behind “mayonnaise”—the underlying sentiment was loud and clear: I was different and not worthy of positive attention from my classmates.

The negative association attached to albinism doesn’t end on the playground. There are a multitude of albino characters in the arts industry portrayed in an odious light. The movie Powder was released in 1998 when I was in junior high. The protagonist is born with albinism and, due to this strange characteristic, discovers he can conduct electricity through his body. Because of his albinism, he is abandoned by his father, kept in a basement by his grandparents, and treated atrociously by his peers. The movie’s climax shows him as a teenager using his electricity ability to kill himself because the main lesson he learned in his short life is that he is a freak who doesn’t belong in society. Had I a quarter for every time a fellow student asked if I had “special powers” because I was albino my kids’ college funds would be fully loaded.

Another notorious albino is Silas in the critically acclaimed book and film The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Silas, a loathsome character who literally beats himself into submission, is a murderous monk bent on ensuring secrets of the faith are not revealed. He is a villain. He would be a villain without having albinism, but both Dan Brown, and later Director Ron Howard, chose to depict him as an albino despite numerous requests asking them to remove this attribute from the character as it is completely unnecessary. The book and film’s release let loose another deluge of inane comments regarding my albinism.

Looking back, my younger years were better than most, but as a sad child who was picked on again and again for something she could not control, that truth was drowned in tears. Why did the Lord create me this way? Only He knows. However, I do know I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV). I believe the Bible is complete truth and, therefore, I believe that verse despite my childhood experiences and the art world’s portrayal of my genetic alteration.

Over time, I’ve learned there are positive side effects to my condition. I have a greater compassion for others who were given the short end of the stick after exiting the womb because, on some level, I can sympathize. I also possess an inner strength which chooses to rise above the ignorance and instead cultivate qualities of the heart—love, grace, kindness—rather than be downtrodden.

With all its physical and social maladies, I would never wish albinism on anyone. However, I do have it, it’s who I am, and at least I never have to worry about tan lines.

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Member Comments
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CD (Camille) Swanson 02/27/14
Thank you for your story that was so well written, touching, moving, and sobering on so many levels.

Children are cruel, and the taunting and the harsh emotional abuse you've sustained is something that I can relate to quite well.

Although I'm not an albino, I was abused during my school years, physically (beaten up) and mentally (teased on a daily basis.) And, not because of any attribute other than I was "above average in intelligence, quiet and extremely shy." That was the primary focus of attacking me.(Not that there is ever a reason for bullying.)

So, I feel your pain, and I not only sympathize with you, but the countless others in this world who've met, and are currently undergoing similar or worse circumstances.

I got through mine with the love of God, and my incredible family, and I didn't let it "affect" who I was.

Your being albino doesn't "define who you are" your heart does as well as your compassionate soul.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, that was serious, but had an uplifting message along with some levity in certain spots.

Excellent work here!

God bless you~
Jules St. Jermaine 02/27/14
What a beautifully written piece. I do believe you will be a blessing to many. You just gifted me with your writing. God Bless!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/27/14
This is quite fascinating. You presented it in a clean clear fashion. I think albinoism would fascinate anyone because it is different. Your take on the topic was out of the box for sure. It drew me in and made me eager to read and learn more.

One thing you might want to consider is starting off with more of a hook. I know some experts discourage the author to start with dialog, but sometimes it can be used as a hook. Ex: "Mayonnaise, Mayonnaise She is always in a daze!" The taunts from the playground are twenty years old, yet they still echo in my head. I was given this nickname because of a congenital anomaly known as albinoism. That's how people have made me feel--like an anomaly--a freak. I can't count the number of times horrible thoughts intruded my mind. It's not fair. Why me?
Though not perfect, the dialog immediately shows the reader the conflict and the emotions of the MC. Dialog is an excellent tool to help the reader connect, to see the personality of characters, or develop the emotions.

Your ending is delightful. The quintessential epiphany. God does love us and even more in his eyes we are perfect. Oh if only the world had God eyes. You also did a wonderful job of connecting with the reader. Though not albino, I grew up a redhead, which kids teased me horribly - - Carrots, Red. I also need to slather sunscreen all over. I've never tanned only burned and peeled oh and freckled like crazy. Also redheads are more prone to faint than others. Like your MC, I've learned as I've grown. Now that I can appreciate my red hair it looks more brown than red. In my opinion just more proof that God has a delightful sense of humor. :-) You touched my heart with your story and you reminded me that even redheads and albino are made in God's image. Keep writing and reading. You're doing an awesome job!
lynn gipson 02/28/14
The words that come to mind are "Wow" and "Excellent"

This is superbly written as far as this novice can determine, and thanks for sharing this personal part of you with us.

I was born manic depressive. Why did God make me that way? To make me strong in life and in faith.


You are on your way!
Allen Povenmire 02/28/14
Your piece was powerful and, at times painful to read. You've led a life that unfortunately has been marred by the insensitivity of others, but you haven't allowed the anger of your mistreatment to dominate your testimony. Keep writing. You have a unique perspective and gift.
Allen Povenmire 02/28/14
Your piece was powerful and, at times painful to read. You've led a life that unfortunately has been marred by the insensitivity of others, but you haven't allowed the anger of your mistreatment to dominate your testimony. Keep writing. You have a unique perspective and gift.
Margaret Kearley 03/01/14
Wow, this is an excellent piece of writing. Not only did I learn much - to my shame I have never contemplated the pain associated with such a condition - but also you spoke right into my heart. I am so glad you included the precious promises of Psalm 139 and it is wonderful to read of God so actively at work in your life. Thank you for sharing this with us - I trust you and your writing will continue to be greatly used by our Lord and our Creator.
Hannah R03/01/14
That is amazing and very sobering story, hard to believe it happened to you. This is a grea piece.

To Shann Hall, that's like in Anne of Green Gables! Same thing happened to her.
Dusty Fontaine03/04/14
This is a great read, Toni. Yes, it is personal, but that's what makes it so powerful. These experiences and your skillful writing ability will allow you to reach many. It certainly moved me.

I had two friends (twins) in high school that were albino. They too had vision problems (I didn't realize this was common) but they actually were quite popular. They had very strong personalities, no doubt developed from years of teasing when younger.

I enjoy your writing and your unselfish reviewing of others' writings. Keep up the strong witness you have been on this site.

Dusty
Bea Edwards 03/05/14
The thoughtful way you presented this painful life experience was astonishing.
My own struggles with the why ?'s in my circumstances haven't developed that maturity yet.
While I know in my head that I was formed in my mother's womb- fearfully and wonderfully made- some of the circumstances allowed and/or deliberately sent by my loving Heavenly Father are difficult to process in the recesses of my heart, when looking at the entire picture in full color. I tend to keep it muted.
Your comment that it has built your compassion level has been my anchor when attempting to make sense of it.
lynn gipson 03/06/14
Two ECs! Woweee...Congratulations, girl!
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/06/14
Congratulations, Toni. This is expressed so beautifully--worthy of high recognition.
CD (Camille) Swanson 03/06/14
Congratulations!

Toni my heart is bubbling over with joy for your well deserved honor. Your story touched everyone's heart and you told it with conviction and love.

So thrilled for you. Praise God.

God bless~
Dannie Hawley 03/06/14
Congrats on your E.C.! The other commenters seem to think that this is an autobiographical account, though it is not noted as true. Indeed, I'm so sorry that it reflects a true part of your life becasue of the pain of it. However, your attitude is just the one to help all of us through whatever it is we're going through. I always say, "God has a plan and God is perfect. I may not understand the why's of things, but I know God and He's a tender Father. He has His reasons, and that's good enough for me." You've crafted a beautiful article, well-deserving of recognition.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/06/14
Congratulations! Happy Dance!!!
Judith Gayle Smith03/06/14
Toni! You are a remarkable gal. Your writing always grabs my heart. Your openness breaks my heart. I love your work . . .

Congratulations, and thank you for your heart for Christ!

Hebrews 10:26-31 KJV
Danielle King 03/07/14
And I will add my belated congratulations to the long list. This piece is brilliant and well deserving of your win!
Allen Povenmire 03/07/14
I'm just now noticing, but in no way was surprised at you 1st place finish...again! Way to go! You're making this look waaaay too easy.
Ellen Carr 03/08/14
Congratulations, Toni,on your 3rd place win! It's well deserved for this very well-written personal account. It's informative, moving and in the end positive. Great work!
Ellen Carr 03/08/14
Congratulations, Toni,on your 3rd place win! It's well deserved for this very well-written personal account. It's informative, moving and in the end positive. Great work!
Judy Sauer 03/25/14
Congratulations Toni on being the Quarterly Winner. Your talent is soaring on eagles wings
Tracy Nunes 03/25/14
This was told with direct honesty and great heart. Congratulations on the Quarterly win and on taking a seeming negative and using it to glorify God and to bring others encouragement.