Sometimes I imagine myself one of the heroes in “Jaws” on a rickety fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic, sucking down cheap liquor and talking about all of my scars while waiting for the shark to attack. Or a pirate in the Caribbean, arm in arm with my fellow shipmates, singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and waxing poetic of how our scars came to be. I’d fit right in. I have plenty of scars.
The slash through my left eyebrow occurred when I fell out of bed and hit the sharp corner of a hotel nightstand. I remember the clock radio with the numbers that turned like pages, the dark brown Formica of the nightstand, and blood gushing everywhere. It is one of the few childhood memories where my mom and dad are together. Each parent grabbed one of my hands and whisked me down the hallway in my nightgown, my bare feet not even touching the ground. There were no stitches. Someone taped my eyebrow together with a butterfly bandage and that was that.
At the tip of my chin are classic markers of a 1970s youth spent running around slippery cement swimming pools. A more notable scar sits further back, under my jawbone. A lump half the size of my head that doctors thought to be cancerous but ultimately turned out to be an abscess in my lymph node kept me out of school for six weeks. By the time they decided to remove it, I had missed Long Division and Valentine’s Day. I’ll never forget munching on the contraband McDonald’s cheeseburger my dad had snuck into the hospital, and my second grade teacher stopping by with a pile of Valentines from my classmates. “You’ll never have a double chin,” my mother said, always looking for the silver lining. She was right, sort of. I will never have a double chin on my left side.
The majority of my scarring occurred during childhood, both the physical and emotional kinds. And while both types fade over time, there’s no getting rid of either one completely. When scars are no longer fresh, you think about them less and less until they’re just there, subtle reminders of accidents or acts of aggression or medical events (or vanity). Emotional scars blend into the fabric of your personality, visible as a few snags on the surface but mostly camouflaged by the superego, unnoticeable to anyone except the closest of friends. People tend to show me their scars, people in airports and bank lines, and at Bar Mitzvahs. Either they’re prone to TMI or they recognize in me a kindred spirit.
My very first scar is the one that strangers notice most. The thin “bracelet” on my right arm is the only evidence of a birthmark my parents had removed when I was just a year old. I don’t remember the surgery, although I’ve seen the before and after photos. Before, is a chubby baby with a wide grin and brown mark on her forearm, a drop of God’s chocolate ice cream cone. After, is a hazy photo of a smiling toddler in a green hospital gown. Nearly a half century later, the scar is faded but still visible. My mom claims it looks like a tan line, but more than one person has asked if I tried to commit suicide. Given that the scar is positioned almost halfway between my wrist and elbow, it doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to off one’s self.
My stomach is a constellation of scars, from childhood Chicken Pox to adult moles that were burned, frozen and sliced off by my dermatologist. The worst by far is the one that looks like train tracks and sits just below my belly button. I’ve thought about getting a tattoo with an arrow pointing to that scar with the words: “this is not from an appendectomy”, to avoid any confusion in the future. I’d hate to show up at the ER with an appendicitis only to be misdiagnosed because they assume I’ve already had one. Yep, it’s that ugly. “You’re not planning to wear a bikini, anyway,” Dr. Gottlieb said as she cut a big chunk of flesh from my abdomen. “Well, actually…” I do still wear a bikini, despite frequenting beaches with some of the flattest stomachs in the Western Hemisphere. Even women whose bodies have been sculpted by personal trainers are not perfect. We all have scars.