Reflections on Scars

Thursday, November 5, 2015

**This is a first draft of the longer essay due for my creative non fiction class.  I highly appreciate any of you who read the entire thing.  Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.**

Reflections on Scars

                               I.            Forehead

My sister was the type of kid who could be reduced to a puddle of tears by the most minor of wounds.  Bumps, scrapes and stubbed toes became theatrical demonstrations of pain.  At times my mom would fashion tinfoil ‘Academy Awards’ and present them to her for a “Moving Performance in a Dramatic Role”.

 It is my sister’s worst scar that left the deepest impression on me.  We were young and playing.  She fell and hit her head on the side of our pretty wooden dresser.  The cut was deep.  So deep, I swear I saw the startling white of bone through the crack in her forehead, though maybe that is my guilt-ridden childhood mind inventing drama. (Perhaps I should dig out the tinfoil trophy for myself.) There was blood on the carpet and I was scared, so convinced I’d killed the little sister I had always thought myself to be the protector of.  My parents tried to hide their panic, but couldn’t.  They took her to the hospital and left me with a neighbor.  My sister came back with seventeen stitches on her head that I refused to look at. 

Thirteen or fourteen years later there is still a scar, fainter now, running down her forehead.  And I still blame myself as the one to put it there.

I’ve cried more about that scar over the years than she did when she got it.

                            II.            Eyebrow

I have a little white scar running through one of my eyebrows.  I have no memory of the event but I’ve heard the story told plenty of times. I was just a year old and ran into a coffee table face-first.  The wound required a few stitches.  I like to think of this moment as the beginning of the end; the moment the innocence vanished and the never-ending cycle of clumsy and unnecessary injuries began.

                         III.            Head

When my brother was two or three, he completed the family circle and received a head wound of his own.  I like to think of myself as the pioneer of our family’s head injury proclivity, considering I’m the oldest and was the first to take the fall.  That day I was sitting next to him on the couch when he fell off backwards and hit the back of his head on our new (and apparently equally as dangerous) coffee table. He too was taken to the Emergency Room, this time with my sister and me along for the ride.  She and I were then cautioned by a nurse that we may want to stay in the waiting room to avoid the displeasing experience of watching someone put five staples into our little brother’s head.  Though I’m sure this was still my imagination, in that waiting room I assumed every cry or yell I heard was him in pain.  I could almost feel the scar being created.  Though his hair now covers the spot, I’m sure a good shaving would reveal the little scar; to match the ones my sister and I wear on our faces. 

                         IV.            Hands

I am no stranger to the stereotypical “I’m not good at using kitchen appliances!” burn.  A word of warning to those not yet afflicted: these should be avoided at all costs.  They hurt like hell and cause unnecessary added kitchen stress.  I have at least four casually sprinkled across both hands.  They mock me.   

                            V.            Knees

Though I assume this is the case for most people not blessed with coordination and natural grace, my knees have suffered much more mistreatment than they deserve.  The pattern of scars on my knees is almost like a visual storybook, though I no longer know exactly which scars relate to which part of the narrative. Some of the memories have escaped me altogether, leaving me with more questions than I feel comfortable with.  How can something that creates a permanent mark not even merit a lasting memory? 

One of them I do remember, with almost too much clarity.  I had decided to rollerblade to the library by myself.  Unfortunately at the time my brake was out of commission.  I lived in a pretty flat-ish area and decided to take the risk; I suppose I was feeling ballsy that day.  I was almost to the turn for the library when I came upon the tiniest of downhill gradients.  I started to gain an alarming amount of speed, but I needed to stop at the bottom so I could cross the street.  Naturally, I grabbed a telephone pole, spun around it, and flew (with knees and elbows exposed) onto the street.  I maneuvered around the cars who had stopped to avoid hitting the poor, embarrassed child on the road and pulled myself off to the grass to assess the damage.  I was bleeding profusely from three separate locations, the biggest of which was right on the center of my knee.  I hobbled around for a while considering my options and ultimately relinquished the ballsy person and called my mom.

These days I look at that scar and laugh at what I must have looked like to those people driving through town.

                         VI.            Abdomen and Chest

I have none of these scars, and for that I am grateful.  I am greatly alarmed by the idea of someone cutting into the area where all the vital organs maintaining my life are quietly resting.  I’d like them to stay undisturbed for as long as possible.  To those who’ve endured Appendectomies and C-Sections, Open Heart Surgery and transplants:  I don’t envy you.  But I do respect you.

                      VII.            Arm

My aunt has one of the most noticeable scars I’ve ever encountered.  It is seven inches long, running across the back side of her arm, through her elbow.  A few years ago she fell in her bathroom (which she will happily and dramatically reenact for anyone who asks).  The injury was bad enough that it required casts, slings and physical therapy over the span of many months, in addition to the surgery that left the scar.  Looking at it now still makes me anxious.  It’s so startling and severe. Part of me—a small, cynical part--wonders if less precision and care was put into the stitching of the cut, just because they knew she wouldn’t criticize the work they’d done.  All of me hopes that’s completely untrue.

My aunt handles pain differently than anyone else.  She is deaf and intellectually delayed and (for whatever reason) also has a remarkably high pain tolerance.  Even badly broken bones don’t register to her as worthy of mentioning. She once broke her leg on our trampoline and showed no signs of pain for several hours, while the festivities of a family gathering continued.  It wasn’t until we noticed her leg swelling considerably that she was taken to the doctor and it was deemed serious.  The inability to tell if she’s gotten badly hurt or has just stubbed her toe will never stop causing me unsolicited stress and anxiety.

                   VIII.            Missing Scars

A few years ago on a family vacation to Washington D.C. I fell (in a rather dramatic and highly embarrassing way) and broke my toe.  In all honesty, this was some of the worst pain I can remember.  But after a few weeks, when it had healed and I had finally stopped limping, all signs of what had happened were gone completely. There is no scar I can point to and say, “There.  That’s from when I broke my toe.”  I’m left with the recollection of awful pain, with no evidence beyond the memories in my own head (and the accounts of eyewitnesses).  And yet, I can look at my knees and see a collection of marks that for the most part now mystify me.  They were serious enough to leave a lasting impression on my body, yet my mind has misplaced their origin stories like some trivial fact read in a boring magazine.

And where are the scars for each time we lose someone we love?  Where are the scars for each time we fail to accomplish some great dream?  Where are the scars for each time someone makes us feel unworthy of love?  Where are the scars for each time we feel desperately afraid?

                         IX.            Other Scars

When I asked my sister to tell me what she remembers from the day she got her scar she said that, like me, she remembers every detail.  She was scared and in pain.  And she has the permanent reminder of it marked onto her forehead.  She says she no longer notices it.  It has become as normal to her as any other feature on her face.   Yet when I see that scar I’m struck by the guilt I felt for hurting someone I loved so much. 

Scars can leave impressions far beyond the traceable memories of pain that remain visible on the skin.  So where is the line drawn between the physical, lasting scar and the emotional mark it creates?  And why do we have these scars lying on our bodies and infiltrating our minds?  I don’t know that I have an answer.

Compared to some others, the scars I have seem fairly insignificant.  They are nothing worth comparing to the sting of a bullet or an amputation or the urgent necessity of life-saving surgery.  Mine are the simple scars of a clumsy, hurried childhood.  And yet they’ve done damage, they’ve shaped memories and they’ve influenced life.  So my thought is this: perhaps the reason we scar at all is to prove we’ve truly lived.



1 comment:

  1. That was simply brilliant and beautiful all at the same time!!!!