If I had a $1 for every time I was asked the above question, I’d be a billionaire. Growing up, I think I was asked this about every other day in school by someone. Usually, it was asked by a student but occasionally a teacher, bus driver, volunteer or room parent would be the one asking the dreaded question. My answer was always the same, “because I have a heart problem.” If they followed up with questions, my answers were always, “I don’t know.” As I got much older, I could further explain, “because the red blood mixes with the blue blood. I had a second open heart surgery to try and fix the leaks so my lips would be pinker but it obviously didn’t work.” That’s as far as it would get.
We all know kids can be inquisitive and generally don’t have a filter. So, it’s no wonder I was asked this question almost daily. Some days it didn’t bother me, other days I’d come home crying or hide in the bathroom at school and cry. I didn’t like calling attention to my heart problem and the purple lips were an obvious invitation for inquires. I already knew I was different but I didn’t like being called out on it or being recognized for something I couldn’t explain or want.
When I was about 10 years old, I remember being in the Cardiologist’s waiting room at Mott’s with my parents. My mom stepped away and my Dad could tell something was bothering me. He asked me why I had been sad lately and I told him it was because kids would tease me about my lips and call me “purple lips” all of the time on the playground and when I walked to and from school. I told him how it hurt my feelings and how I wish I wasn’t different. He looked crushed and then said, “Tell you what Holly. If anyone hurts your feelings, you shake it off and tell them to stop. If they don’t stop then punch them in the nose.” Punch them in the nose?! What?! Did my Dad really just suggest that? My Dad was the most mellow, easy going guy so that was way out of character. Now, he had my attention. He said, “Come over here. Let me teach you how to punch. Now, make a fist…”
My mom walked back into the waiting room and asked what we were doing. I excitedly explained that, “kids were teasing me and Dad said if they don’t stop after I ask them to, then I could punch them in the nose.”
“LARRY!” my mother’s shrill tone echoed in the room. Other families looked over at us. I felt invincible. It was awesome.
“Holly, we do not punch people,” she scolded. My Dad winked at me. I smiled and said, “I know Mom… geez.”
For the record, I’ve never punched anyone in the nose or have gotten physical over being teased. I know right from wrong and I knew it back then but for some reason that memory sticks with me like it was yesterday.
As a freshman in college, I lived in a dorm with community bathrooms. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this set up, there was one large bathroom with multiple showers, sinks and toilet stalls on each dorm room floor. The floors alternated by gender and everyone living on the same floor would use the same bathroom.
One day I happened to be using the restroom and overheard a conversation between two other girls that I was not friends with. One girl was telling the other, “Yeah, Holly always wears that purple lipstick. She even wears it coming out of the shower!”
“What a jerk,” I thought to myself, “She is so stupid. Who would be so insecure as to put on lipstick before getting out of the shower?” I flushed the toilet and walked over to the sinks just as the girl was putting on her mascara. She about stabbed herself in the eye with the wand when she saw me. I smiled and said, “I can’t help it. I just love this color.” I washed my hands, turned around and left.
Three years later, I was at The Landshark bar with friends. We were having a great night of dancing, drinking and hanging out. I was coming off of the dance floor, heading towards some of my friends who were talking to a group of guys when I overheard one of the guys say to his buddies, “She’d be hot if she didn’t have purple lips.”
I did a quick pivot and thought to myself, “he might be hot if he was 5 inches taller.” Now I know two wrongs don’t make a right but does it count if I didn’t say it out loud?
I’d love to say that after college when I was officially adulting on my own, the purple lips inquiries stopped. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. One weekend, I was in my early 20s hanging out at the apartment complex pool with my friends when this 30 something year old woman in the chaise next to me starts up a conversation.
“Hi! I just love your lipstick. What’s the brand and name of it?”
“Oh thanks! Actually, I’m not wearing any lipstick. My lips are naturally this color.”
“Obviously, you have lipstick on,” she said curtly.
“No, seriously I’m not wearing any. I have a heart problem and therefore, my lips are always this color. There isn’t anything I can do about it,” I offered.
She replied, “You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”
Ummm, ok? I looked at my friends and they were shocked. Although, being called a bitch for not sharing a non-existent lip color was a first for me, I was so used to this negative attitude that I just rolled my eyes and made another drink.
***Today, I still get the occasional inquiry on my purple lips but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Probably, because it usually comes up when someone is complimenting me on my lipstick (which I never wear). Instead of using the ole stand by, I reply with, “Oh, I’m not wearing any lipstick. I have a heart problem.” If it’s cold outside, I’ll jokingly add, “Don’t worry, it may look like I’m dying but I’m not.” We at least get a laugh and usually the inquirer replies with, “Well, you’re lucky. It’s a beautiful color.” If they don’t, I’m prepared to let them know the color is by GOD and it’s called Heart Condition.