Independence has its limits. You can stand alone. You can set yourself free from the expectations of others. But memories are bonds that cannot be broken. You can't escape the past.
I bear, on my left arm, three unremarkable scars.
The first, a small cross, was stitched into my skin after the removal of a purposeless mass, a benign cyst that lingered through early childhood. I can still remember the piercing sting of the anesthetic, the strange, numb sensation of the sharp scalpel slicing through my flesh, my mother seated beside me, tense, as she so often was.
Not long after that wound healed, a certain transition began to take place. It was as if the cyst itself were a veil that, when lifted, revealed a level of anxious self-consciousness I had not yet known. The perfectly acceptable pastimes of childhood no longer seemed appropriate with approaching adolescence. My toys grew dusty in the dark corners of my closet. The laps of my parents became foreign lands. Saturday afternoons spent browsing the musty stacks at the small public library gave way to phone conversations spoken in whispers and giggles. British comedies and Superhero comics were replaced with reality shows and pop music. Pretend play shifted into a new kind of make believe, a fantasy of small-town normalcy.
The other two scars, a pair, are remnants of teenage carelessness. I inherited from my parents a tendency toward intermittent, haphazard attempts at fitness, and, at 16, anxious to impress a new boyfriend, I happened to be at the height of one of those streaks. It was a Sunday afternoon, cool by South Georgia standards, and I was poking around in my father’s dusty, cluttered workshop, looking for some old weights that were stored with the tools.
I discovered the weights stacked behind a thick sheet of plate glass with no apparent use, probably a scrap retained, as were many items in the workshop, on the outside chance that it might one day be needed. I slowly pried the glass away from the toolbox on which it leaned, but it was much heavier than I expected, and, before I could return it to its place, sheet shifted between my hands. I panicked, my feet skidding back as my hands still held the edge of the pane, and it fell, shattering against the concrete, a long, sharp shard grazing my arm.
There were two cuts, a tiny sliver and a deep gash, the latter leaking bright red blood onto the sawdust-covered concrete. I screamed, but my father was already there, looking sorrowfully at the remains of his plate-glass scrap. His face, though duly concerned, showed little surprise. Breaking things was a particular talent of mine.
That evening, we attended church, and I wore a long dress, emerald green, with a delicate collar that perfectly matched the large white bandage covering my forearm. Sam, the new boyfriend, greeted me with surprise and the knowing concern I desired. Minor injuries of this sort were still strangely appealing at that age, as they invited a casual kind of attention, a sort of understated sympathy that can make a teenager feel visible and noticed, which they so often aren’t. But novelty is fleeting. After a week or two, the bandage disappeared as dark scabs sealed the cuts and eventually all that remained were two raised lines below my wrist.
For years, those three scars would remain the only visible evidence of trauma, or the lack thereof. Eventually, they would be joined by the silky webs that motherhood would mark against my hips, well-concealed surgical lines, and the predictable evidence of age. But there would be no spectacular brandings, no stigmatizing blemishes. No tell tale signs of bodily battle.
Too often, the discernible markers of our experience belie our real struggle, the internal warfare of becoming. The worst scars are the ones we can’t see. They are the traces of our pasts, the irreversible words etched into our souls, the fossils of our own faults and insecurities, around which we are forever left to form.
Created: Jan 05, 2012juliegmaudlin Document Media