Scars, by Nan Doyal

The oldest scar on my body is a thin white line on the under right side of my lower lip that marks where I jumped into the pool at the age of five and hit my face on the deck as I completed a perfect 180. I don’t recall if there was blood in the water, but I remember a beautiful woman in the changing room lamenting that I would be scarred for life. She was right.

There are the two perfect ridges, barely legible now, that traverse my lower abdomen marking my only planned surgery: a double hernia at the age of six. I remember the night before in the hospital, standing on my bed unable to sleep, spying on the nurses through the small window that looked out into the hallway. Then there was the humiliation afterwards when while playing with other children in the recovery room; an intern pulled the bandages off my sutures. I was sure the others had seen me with my pants down.

There are other scars: like the zig zag on my right knee where I fell off my bike while racing two boys around the track after school in third grade. I picked small stones out of that wound before I got back up and rode home. There is an extra crease above my right eyelid from when I fell on my ski goggles when another kid ran into me on the slopes. I scored two black eyes from that and looked like I’d been in a bar fight. I was only twelve. My right ankle has a large lump on the outside and it still aches when it rains, a nagging memory from the time I broke the bottom of my Fibula, an injury I sustained in a downhill skateboard-race. My father came rushing to my rescue in our baby blue Ford Torino station wagon when he heard my screams of pain. We sat in the hospital for half a day before they finally put a cast on me.

While stretch marks are a scar of sorts that usually come later in life, mine showed up in high school, a remnant from years of a chubby adolescence. And my varicose and spider veins are the scarring trophies from my 30s when I carried and gave birth to two healthy boys. Over-plucked eyebrows, thick cuticles and liver spots have left their mark and pay homage to my vanity. Back then I cared more about my appearance than I do now.

Last summer I fell while mountain climbing, skinning my knees and shoulder. The scars are still pink, but I know that they will fade to white over time. The woman who stood in horror as they pulled me from the swimming pool was right: we are scarred for life. That is part of the deal if we go out and live it.

Of all my scars, I cherish the ones on my face the most. I am proud of the lines at the corners of my eyes, the ones that roll over the top of my cheekbones and into my hairline, for I came by those only after years of smiling. Then there are the half-moons on the sides of my mouth, the remnants of too much laughing. The sine waves across my forehead mark the surprises life has dealt me as well as the years I’ve spent learning, thinking and working through the tough spots.

My body is the palimpsest upon which all the choices I made, the chances I took, the actions and inactions of my life are revealed. One way or another, life gifts us scars. The older we get, the richer we are.