"Tenía 4 meses."
They applied camomile lotion to the little red mark on her cheek. It reminded them of a bee sting. They were willing to listen to anyone who had an opinion about what to do. Many did, but nothing seemed to work.
When Ana started walking, they got a camera with a flashbulb on top. They took it everywhere. To the shoe store on the day of a two-for-one sale. To the neighbors where she played on a tricycle. To the park across the street where she sat in a swing for the first time.
Margarita put the photos in an album. Ana loved to look at them. At a folklóricocompetition, her aunt took a picture of her dancing across the stage with her cousin, holding her red ruffled skirt out. She had a smile that barely contained her happiness.
As that little red mark on her cheek began to spread and distort her features, her parents told her not to worry, not to be bothered by how others stared. They felt their love grow stronger even as they became more isolated for having to cope with a problem that no one seemed to understand.
Es la sangre de mi sangre. She is the blood of my blood, Ismael thought, and whenever Margarita cried, she made sure that Ana didn't see the tears.
But Ana knew something wasn't right. At an early age -- "somewhere between the crayons and the glue, the swings and the milk boxes," as she later recalled -- she came to realize that she was different from the other children.
When she asked her mother why, Margarita would tell her that God made her this way.
Why then, she'd ask, was God so mean?
The face is our calling card to the world.
There is an eloquence to the features we inherit from our parents: the symmetry of the eyes framed by the brows and cheekbones; the rise of the nose; the sensual curve of the mouth; the gentle parting of the lips.
The face telegraphs essential information -- sex, age and ethnicity -- and, more subtly, it conveys a broad spectrum of moods and emotions: inquisitiveness, love, boredom, impatience, indifference, anger.
It also elicits reactions from others that shape our lives. Every day we read faces and make assumptions about identity and character without any basis other than appearance.
It is hard to say what my assumptions were when I saw Ana for the first time. The manager of public relations at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla had told me that the hospital and a local doctor were about to treat a young woman with facial tumors similar to the Elephant Man's.
The surgical plan was ambitious, and because the woman and her family could not afford the cost, the hospital and the doctors would donate their services. Would I be interested?
Certainly I was intrigued. I knew about Joseph Merrick and vividly remembered the 1980 movie about his life, David Lynch's "The Elephant Man."