When I was in high school, I worked at a gift shop in the most boring tourist trap in America. In front of the register was a small, often-overlooked candy counter. When things were slow (which was most of the time) we'd go through the candy and weed out anything that had expired, and move the stuff that was about to expire to the top.
We were supposed to throw away the expired stuff, but since the shop was staffed mostly by high school kids and stoners, we threw it on the table in the break room. It wasn't as if you could tell the difference. I suppose if you left it long enough, the chocolate would develop that white rash that tastes like chalk. Maybe the hard candies would have started going soft and sticky. But right after the expiration date, there's no real difference. You know and the candy knows, but nothing looks, smells or tastes any different.
Sitting on my bedroom floor, shaking back and forth, on the morning of March 21, ten years after I told the stoner in charge to take that job and shove it, I realized that that's what life is like. Certain aspects of life just expire and you are faced with something brand new. Nothing was wrong with the old me, but here I sat still trembling in the new me. Completely changed.
I stood up for the first time since waking up and running to the corner to cower. I looked again at what lay on top of my rumpled white sheets. The old me. Or the shell of the old me. If someone had made a balloon version of me and then deflated it, it wouldn't have appeared much different. My caved in face showed all the freckles I had earned playing in the hay fields as a kid. My arm had the scar from that time I thought I could teach myself to drive at night in the rain. My toes were the same shade of bright purple I'd painted them only yesterday. The only problem was that all of that was laying in a giant pile of rubbery-looking skin right in front of me.
After a few moment's hesitation, I stumbled into my tiny bathroom and leaned against the sink. I wasn't sure who was standing in the mirror, but it clearly wasn't me. Blond, straight and silky hair floated down to pink, tender-looking skin. My black, curly hair and porcelain complexion were still in the next room. Lips too full, nose too long, eyebrows so pale they seemed to not exist. None of it was mine. Except my eyes. Same watery, green eyes shot through with brown.
"This does not happen." I said aloud. "This just does not happen."
I reached up and touched first the mirror, then my own face. My new face. I ran my fingertips over perfect, unblemished skin. And why shouldn't it be perfect, it was brand new. I heard a high, frightened noise and realized, detached, that I had laughed.
I walked back, on unsteady feet, to my bedroom and immediately threw the comforter over the gelatinous skin. I went to my dresser and began dressing. Everything fit, that was a relief. Of course, it seemed it must.. there was nothing there but skin.
What next, I wondered. Normally, now I would go to work. But I knew I couldn't. No one would recognize me. I couldn't go anywhere in fact, because I did not look like I was supposed to. I picked up the phone to call in and then immediately put it back down. What if my voice had changed too?
"La-la-la..." I gave it a shot. I could tell a subtle difference, but maybe that was just nerves. It sounded mostly right. Three phone calls later and I had the day free. But free to what? I needed to get rid of the skin, but what, exactly did one do with a giant pile of skin?
After considering all the options I could think of, I finally gave up and called the one person who had never failed me.
"Mom... Can you come over?" I knew she'd hear the fear in my tightly controlled voice.
"What's up, darling?"
"I'm really freaking out. I woke up this morning and... I don't know how to tell you this, but I woke up and..."
"Oh my goodness! It happened! I thought it wouldn't. Usually it happens before your 18th birthday, so I just thought that it would never happen. I'm so happy for you, dear!" Over my mother's voice was a strong roaring, like waves in a storm. I stood in shock, truly terrified for the first time.
"Mom, what are you talking about?"
"I'll be over in fifteen minutes. Do you like it? Your new face? Of course you do, of course you do. I can't wait to see it. I was beginning to worry that you turned out mostly human."
A click and then silence. A silence that would not be filled. I slid down the wall, for the second time in one short morning rocking back and forth and begging the truth to be a lie. It wasn't. I knew it wasn't. And even through the haze or horror and fear, I knew one thing for certain. My old life had truly expired. And a whole new life was going to start. Ready or not.