This one, carved into the flesh of my outer right thigh, is the oldest. A gouge from a rusty nail protruding from the side of a friend’s house when I was four, encountered in pursuit of the best hiding place ever. My older sister slapped a band-aid on it and didn’t tell our mom. By the time she found out, it was too late for stitches; the doctor boostered my tetanus and sent us home. You can see from the breadth of it how badly it healed.
This one here by my elbow fared somewhat better. I cut that down to the white on the pointed edge of a metal fence while seeking a break in the wire that would let us down to the river, the vast, wild waterway calling seductively out to the youth of our neighborhood from the base of the hill behind the old chemical plant. My sister slapped a band-aid on it and didn’t tell our mom. But by then Mom was more alert to unexplained band-aids; ripped it off suspiciously and dragged me sulking to the hospital before it was even dark outside. The stitches worked their medicinal magic; the scar barely shows at all now.
For the longest time there was one here, between my thumb and forefinger. It miraculously vanished just a few years ago, as if it had decided it was finally time to let go of me, or perhaps to let me go on without it. I severed an artery with my elementary-school scissors and nearly died. As always, Mom had come to my rescue; she’d forgotten her car keys and traipsed unheard back up the noisy wooden steps to our apartment to find me lying in a pool of blood. The strange scar rarely bothered me, but the image of that spreading pool and young-girl-me lying bloodstained in it did. I used to imagine it whenever I saw that odd, fleshy bump projecting from the crease of my hand. Sometimes I still do.
Although you can’t see it now because of the hair, there’s probably one up here along the side of my head, too, from where I cracked it open when I was six. I don’t remember how many stitches I got, but it was a lot. I was jumping on the bed, quite gleefully, as I recall, as is only natural when you’re six and have recently discovered the wonders of jumping on the bed. It was the dismount that got me: a less-than-stunning feat of gymnastic grace that concluded with a painful crash against the edge of my dresser. I didn’t cry, my mom assured me years later. Not until she told me I was bleeding. I pressed that royal blue bath-towel up against my skull to staunch the blood all the way to the hospital, not sulking this time; in too much pain to be bothered about losing my playtime. In the emergency room I recovered my spirits and my bravery; laughed off the creepy feeling of the needle tugging against my scalp as I got sewed up again. But after that I didn’t jump on the bed anymore.
Here on my shin is the biggest, yet least noticeable one. That I got climbing a hill of broken-up concrete at a poorly-guarded construction site, recklessly racing my fleeter-footed friends. I tripped hard, slamming my shin-bone and shallowly scraping several square inches of skin, which bled all over my new white socks with the pink pom-poms on their heels. The skin healed pretty well but if you look at my leg sideways, you can still see the dent in the bone.
This white spot on my knee? The consequence of a stupid biking accident when I was twelve. I wasn’t looking where I was going and pedaled absentmindedly right into a parked car and pitched sideways onto the asphalt, more concerned with how ridiculous I looked than with the asphalt abrading and invading my kneecap. I slapped a band-aid on it and didn’t tell my mom.
This little one on my wrist came upon me slyly, unexpectedly. I was wrestling in our high-school stairway with a boy who maybe liked me, whom I maybe liked back, wrestling over the dime I was supposed to use to call my mom when band practice was over and I was ready to come home. It was the dime that got me, tearing a tiny rectangle in my flesh that refused to seal. I’ve never forgotten that boy or how I got the scar that bears his name.
I acquired this one on my foot quite innocently in my early twenties; snagged it on the sharp steel edge of the crappy refrigerator in my crappy studio apartment. I didn’t even get a decent story out of it, and stitches and tetanus shots were old hat by then.
It’s been years now since I’ve gotten any fresh scars. There’s one on my back from where I had to have a cyst removed nearly a decade ago. One day there will be some surgical ones around my shoulder, when that stops working altogether. And probably a bunch along the sides of my knee, when they finally have to go in and fix that, too. Intentional scars. Planned, not incidental ones.
I suppose it means I’ve grown wiser, wise enough to avoid actions and situations that are likely to culminate in soft tissue forever marred by irreversible scars. Wiser than the child who didn’t fear the scars; who hadn’t yet learned to fear.
Still, it seems a shame, having no new points of interest to highlight within the map of my body. Maybe one day I’ll again be willing to risk my skin: take up skateboarding, whitewater rafting, ice hockey. My tetanus is up-to-date. And scars don’t hurt, after all. They’re merely dead marks on the skin, cautious reminders of mindless stupidity or unlucky accidents. And every so often, bold badges of courage.