Warm water, peppermint soap, time alone with a zero percent chance of needing to make snacks for anyone. The conditions were perfect for deep thinking. The other day as I shaved my left leg, to be precise, I saw a scar I got last summer after a nasty bout of molluscum contagiosum (thank you, children). I realized what bad memories came up due to the sight of that scar, and it got me thinking. About all types of scars. About what they mean, truly and metaphorically. About the stories they tell.
For example, my newest scar. I was trying to get dinner on the table before we left for my son’s middle school parent-teacher conferences and noticed some blackberry on my shirt, so I applied the magic trick that gets out berry stain. I leaned over the sink with my shirt held out a bit, and poured boiling water on it. The water ran down the shirt and onto my hand, which hurt, so I yelled and let go, which made the water hit my bare stomach. A lot of pain ensued, as well as blistering skin and the need to wear a giant bandage that stuck out under my shirt (which was now free of berry stain). After a few weeks of burn cream and gauze pads I was left with a scar. I tried various methods to reduce it’s appearance, but it soon became clear that swimsuit season had changed forever.
I’ve racked up a long list of scars over the years: an oval-shaped scar on my knee acquired when I was seven from sliding on thin carpeting, little ones on my hands and wrists from errant knives while cooking or the surprisingly rough edge of the dryer, the stupid ones from mosquito bites scratched to the point of bleeding – they don’t last forever, but they stay through the summer season and really piss me off. And the ironic island-of-Taiwan-shaped scar that used to call my shoulder home (after a scooter accident in…yes, Taiwan.) But Just as I have lost nearly all of the Chinese language I learned so many years ago, the scar has faded away to nothing.
None of those, however, harken back to anything truly horrible. Some scars bring to mind much worse tales. Scars on bodies, or on hearts from emotional pain and suffering. From the time you learned your jeans were not the cool kind or you realized he didn’t love you back; the day you saw your first fight or the time you were nearly in one; those years you thought your parents might divorce or the minute you considered it yourself. Those kind of scars remind you of their presence in different ways than the ones on your skin. They go deeper, into the soul, and show themselves when the same sort of hurt happens again. Or when you see someone else suffer the same pain. Or even when the fear of that pain haunts your life.
Sometimes those emotional scars come out when you thought they had healed and disappeared. They tend to come up for me when I’m writing. I am often surprised how strongly I feel about a long-ago event that hurt deeply, even after years of time to mend. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t take any measures to make the scar disappear: dealing with the emotions and circumstances head-on, accepting them as part of my story and then sending them off like a lantern to float up and away – putting that emotional neosporine on the wound to help it fade. Sometimes it’s because it was such a deep laceration it will always be with me, like the scar on my knee. I’ve had it for 33 years and it looks the same, but without the fuzz of my green sweat pants stuck inside. It is part of me. If you drew a picture of what Jenea looks like, it would include that scar. Just as a drawing of my emotional being would have to include a few choice moments from junior high (that stuff never dies, man.)
By definition scars generally don’t go away. They are forever reminders of our past mistakes and accidents, of often significant pain, and of disappointment. But I’ve been wondering if I can accept them. If I can let them be a part of my story without hating them for that fact. I’d like to stop fighting them. Just as I’ve accepted the unsightly burn scar on my stomach. Because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Go ahead and add it to my picture.
And just as I’ve accepted myself more over the years – my forgetfulness, my poor math skills, my rather tender heart (I went through a period of adopting the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics “I am a rock, I am an island” as my mantra) – I want to accept my scars, emotional and otherwise, into the fold. Not try to hide them. Just let them be what they are – part of my story, part of myself, part of my picture.
Scars are simply a sign of what’s happened to me in the past. They say that I’ve lived. I haven’t spent my life in a bubble but have risked and failed, and their very presence means I made it through. Those marks of old aches – both on the body and in the heart – are more interesting than an airbrushed version. Save that for Glamour Magazine. I’ll take the real, scarred truth any day.