Sunday, August 3, 2008

On scars

There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.” Harry Crews

JAN: I'm not one to cherish the wrinkles on my face or laugh lines around my eyes, but I have to say that I'm terribly fond of my non-facial scars. The one in the photo is not mine, but I've got a terrific caesarian section scar, so small that I can still wear a bikini, and yet the avenue of birth for two healthy kids -- one weighing in at ten pounds four ounces.

There's also an impressive scar on my ankle that reminds me how tough I can be with a little vodka. My sister-in-law and I were on Round Island in New York with small kids to watch when I cut my ankle deeply with glass. Rather than go to a hospital and get the stitches I needed, the oral surgeon in the vacation house next door cleaned it by pouring dish detergent into it. (apparently the best household disinfectant). On his advice, my sister-in-law braced me with a shot of vodka -- which believe me, I needed because it was excruciating. But I survived.

But my favorite scar is a little half moon barely visible on my right wrist. I was about eight years old and I walked to the candy store during the school lunch break. Someone told me the popcorn machine was broken and there was change inside. I plunged my hand into the machine, not once, but twice, to get about fifty cents in change (a lot of money then). The second time I went in too far, and came out with my wrist bleeding. I think I got a Bandaid from the school nurse, but I still have the scar -- a lifelong lesson about greed.

Do you guys have any scars you cherish?
HALLIE: Yes, well, I prefer thinking of them as laugh lines, not wrinkles; and as my daughter once told me, that's not gray in your hair, it's sparkles.

Yes, I have a Caesarean scar, too, but mine's big and ugly. Long story. And you know what, I never think twice about it. Because I got it giving birth to two fabulous daughters who've kept me in stitches ever since (sorry, lame joke).

RO: Well there's the one on the knuckle of my left index finger which taught me not to have a few beers and then try to chop firewood. Then there are the chicken pox scars on my forehead which sentenced me to a lifetime of bangs. I recently learned to love those because there's a tribe in Tanzania, the Wagogo, who mark themselves on the forehead with little circles, and when I travelled there the women noticed and called me sister.

But my favorite scar is almost faded now. I got it the day before school started. I was going into the fifth grade and I was riding on the back of my sister's bicycle. She got too close to a brick wall and I overreacted and pulled my foot in and it got caught in the spokes of the wheel. I got a lot of mileage out of that in school the next day. The other kids thought I was pretty brave,..or adventurous..or something. Now it reminds me of how much fun I used to have with my sister.

ROBERTA: I guess I've been lucky with mishaps--I really can only think of one scar: a small curve at the base of my right pointer finger, sort of like a Nike swish. No dramatic story, but I can remember exactly how I got it. I was washing a glass during my senior year at college and it broke with my hand in it. Off to the campus health center for three stitches. Internal scars--those I could list! But wouldn't this be an interesting discussion to have about our characters? And the photo you posted Jan is very eerie. Each of us could write a story about that one...
HANK: Jan, you can wear a bikini? Hooray for you! Anyway. I have a scar on my knee--from running down the driveway, in a panic, to catch the school bus, when I was about--8? And completely wiping out on gravel. To the hooting and hollering of the kids on the bus. Went to school with a bleeding knee and a bruised ego.
I have a slash on my leg from when a horse decided it would be more fun for him if I got off--so he tried to scrape me off by rubbing me gainst the fence.
I have a scar on one finger from when I was playing with one of Mom's purses when I was little. I don't know exactly how it happened, but I really got in trouble.
But my favorite is a tiny round burn scar (okay, that sounds weird but go with me here) on my right little finger--which I got pouring tea at Katherine Graham's house. (late of the Washington Post.) It was in the 70's, I was working at Rolling Stone, and I was there for an interview (a fun story but too long for now.) It hurt LIKE CRAZY but I pretended nothing happened.
Lessons? Hmm. Do scars result when you--really want something?
JAN: That photo is eerie, A major wound that looks like it has violence behind it. Perfect for a murder mystery. And I agree, a good way to understand your characters is to delve into their scars -- external and internal!
Please come share your tales of injuries endured and lessons learned.


  1. Some really bad bosses have left some scars, but they are more emotional than physical.

  2. Do you ever stop to inventory the scars and other distinguishing features that would let you identify a loved one if, say, his head had been cut off?

    Oh, that's why I became a mystery writer.

    I have only one scar of note. When I was walking home from school at the age of eleven or so, I decided it would be cool to slide on a nice patch of ice in a field--and of course fell down and scraped one knee. The scar itself is small, but all these years later it still has grit embedded in it. So I always carry a bit of New Jersey with me.

  3. Hi Paul,
    I've got some of those, not so much from bosses, but from publishing experiences.

    So Sheila, what part of New Jersey? (I'm from NJ and maintain an undying interest...)

  4. New Jersey tomato here too!

    I'll have to warn my husband if he catches me looking at him funny, it's only research for Sheila...

  5. My "superscar" is affectionately known as my "Jaws" scar. I was swimming in the Atlantic off LI at my grandmother's house during the heyday of the famed movie and swam a bit too far off (mind you I was a precocious 10-year old at the time). The beach was private, but the local residents were happily camped out enjoying their summer day until I came out of the water with quite a bit of blood running down my leg. Talk about causing a commotion!

    Unbeknownst to me, I swam across a sunken telephone pole with a very ragged top that was submerged to designate one private beach from another. In the cool saltwater, I never even felt any pain until I got out of the water. I still have the scar on the top of my leg as a reminder of what dangers can be lurking in the deep, dark waters...

  6. Felicia,
    I think it must take a tremendous amount of self-disclipline not to show it off as a shark-bite!! But the deliberately placed telephone poll is almost as scary.

  7. Jan, can't you just hear the theme music playing? Da-dum, da-dum. What, I never showed you the scar? Next time...

  8. Oh, dear. When DH and I were dating, we got to that date where you compare scars. All of his were from team sports but all of mine were from doing things I wasn't supposed to be doing. Going through barbed wire fences, climbing around abandoned factories, well, climbing around everything you can think of, creeks, fooling with animals and tools, playing catch with a rusty old carburetor, playing Tarzan, like that. Sigh. Good memories.

  9. And Felicia, you know, nowadays you could sue somebody for the telephone pole incident. You'd be so rich you could become a publisher!

  10. I have related stories about two of my scars acquired 30 years apart.

    The first is on the top half of my right ring finger. I was 12 years old and helping my Dad clean up left-behind debris in the house my family had bought but not yet moved into. Long story short, I cut my finger on broken glass and hands, like heads, bleed a lot. My Dad, a doctor, grabbed the nearest old rag and told me not to drip on the carpet on our way to the bathroom. There he filled the sink with warm soapy water and told me to soak it--while he went into the kitchen to buff the newly waxed floor. About 20 minutes later (the sink water was past pink and heading for cranberry) I heard a WOOMF. My Dad had slipped on the floor. He came to get me, rubbing his hip, and we drove to the ER at the hospital where he was on staff. He walked in, greeted the ER staff, and said, "We've been over at the new house cleaning up. I slipped on the floor and bruised my hip. Oh, and my daughter cut her finger. She'll need stitches." I did--and didn't get the sensation back in that part of my finger for at least 10 years.

    OK, still with me? The second scar is on my left wrist. My husband and I took a short hike to a waterfall in Vermont. If you've been to VT, you know how the "green consciousness" hits you at the border. I decided to be a good Doobie and pack out one of those big beer bottles that someone left sitting at the base of the falls. No backpack, so I carried it in my hand. We reached the edge of the stream we'd forded to reach the falls, when I slipped and put my hand with the bottle still in it down on a big rock. Bottle smashed under my hand, leaving lots of little cuts and one big one on my wrist. We were a mile from our car. My husband yanked me across the stream and up to the trail, where some other hikers gathered around. I looked at the cut and said, "It's welling, not pumping. I can feel all my fingers. I can move everything. It's OK." One hiker donated a freshly laundered extra tee shirt as a bandage. I held my arm up in the air and we walked out to the parking lot--where we found an off-duty EMT sunning on the banks of the stream. He bandaged me up and took my husband's blood pressure before directing us to the hospital. Stitches again. My husband asked me. "How could you stay so calm?"


  11. I have a bad reputation in the family for being careless with sharp things:

    The farmhouse we lived in when Pom was born had no heating vents--so before we got baseboard heat, I had to cut a square out of the carpet covering the grate in her bedroom floor that was just above the kitchen. I have a clean, inch-long carpet knife scar on an index finger to show for it.

    And the day we moved out of our Virginia house, I was only minutes ahead of the new owners. My arms were full and I was also carrying an X-Acto knife. When I went to shift my load, I forgot I had the knife and jammed it a good half inch into the meaty part of my hand, just below the thumb. Lots of blood on the steps as I fled. Significant, I think. It was a house I didn't want to leave.

    My favorite scar is almost faded now. A girl named Lisa Mangiani dug her nails into my forearm, drawing blood, on the school bus one day in sixth grade. I haven't the faintest recollection why.

    (RO--I'm with you on the chicken pox scars. I've always secretly liked the one right between my eyebrows!)

  12. Great scars everyone!
    Do you think we all like our scars because we're all storytellers and its a perfect jumping off point? And is that why, for the most part, we like our scars, but abhor our wrinkles? Maybe instead of plastic surgery, we all just need good stories to go with our crow's feet!

  13. Research is a good thing (and so is being observant!). The scar came from Summit, although I went to HS in Madison.

    And I completely forgot my most obvious scar, a line that horizontally bisects my left eyebrow. That came from a falling can in a supermarket when I was about three (and resulted in a court case against the market). It is noteworthy only because I remember the can as blue, but I couldn't read the words. See? There really was a time I couldn't read.

  14. I'm such a klutz that I have a host of scars all over that have no glorious story behind them. Dink here in 1970. Dink there in 1985. Dink again in 1992, etc.

    I do have three, though, that I sort of treasure. One's from taking out a pan of brownies for my goddaughter's birthday, and one of my kittens, fascinated by chocolate (?!?), made this mad akimbo leap for the pan, missed it, and when I tried to catch her, bit me on the way down as she flailed. Her little tooth caught under a ring on my middle finger, left hand, and I still have the scar from that tiny tooth snag.

    Cat bite scar.

    In the early 2001, while I was on the tarmac teaching a student how to negotiate a traffic controlled airfield (his first) a pilot taxiing a private jet miscalculated his pivot into the wind at the FBO, and his subsequent jet wash spun our Cessna around as we were getting into it. The starboard wing strut caught my right collarbone, fracturing it, and the footrest on the strut (for climbing up to check the fuel) cut me, leaving a scar.

    Plane bite scar.

    And finally, while working the HMS Rose in 1999, I got a series of three rope burns on the inside of my right arm as someone pulled on a line that he didn't realize was under us while we finished a stow on the main topsail.

    Ship bite scar!

  15. Susannah,
    Personally, I'd be really, really proud of a scar I got from rope burns working on the HMS Rose! Very cool. I think it says more about you than any tatoo every could!