My scars have done me huge favors over the years. That’s how I’ve been learning to see them, as blessings in disguise. During my teens, I was embarrassed about my face, afraid someone would see it as a reason to take me away from my parents if I told anyone the truth. Despite my newfound appreciation, I still don’t like giving them much attention, and I’ve mastered a makeup routine that can hide them. But writing has helped. Through words, I can start to acknowledge the damage.
Of course, the real truth is I don’t know anything about how I got these scars. I just have stories. They happened before my memories had sharp enough talons to take hold.
Sometimes I like joking about my scars. I have to admit, they’ve given me an easy icebreaker at the bars and coffee shops where I hang out. The first one you’ll see runs halfway from my ear to the corner of my mouth. Of course, you might see the second one immediately after, a semi-circle on my forehead—between my eyebrows—that makes me look like I belong in some kind of cult.
My facial scars used to be the first things that talkative strangers, including guys, would ask about. Whenever I start talking with a potential mate, I can almost predict when his eyes will move over my face and pause on the scars. “How did you get those?”
Sometimes I shrug and say, “I’m not sure. I don’t remember.”
The guy might squint and say something like, “So you were young when it happened?”
What I know is one night my dad came home from work and found me playing with play-doh on the living room floor, an open wound on my cheek and dried blood on my clothes, maybe some on the carpet. The forehead scar hasn’t happened yet. That’ll be a few years later.
Most dads would probably freak out at this sight, his daughter bleeding by herself over toys. Mine has never broken his stoic persona.
I like to imagine that my dad gripped my shoulders and chastised me for making a mess with my bodily fluids, before storming off to find my mom in the master bedroom listening to Madonna on her headphones, a little tipsy on wine, either oblivious or feigning ignorance. After a few minutes of interrogation, he probably gave up on an explanation in favor of getting me to a care center for stitches.
After I’ve known someone a while, they might press me for details about the one on my cheek, then my forehead. “Do you remember that one, at least?”
I don’t remember much about the one on my forehead, either. I’ve been told I jumped headfirst into the fireplace, at the age of three or four. “I was alone at the time. I think I was dancing to a music video. My parents found me an hour later, lying on the floor.” I might laugh and add, “They thought I might be dead at first. Lucky me, huh? I really got chewed out over that one.”
This someone might furrow his brow, explaining what I now understand as “childproofing a house.” I’ll argue back that, in the 1980s, “Nobody knew about childproofing.” Then I’ll remember my parents finally buying a cover for the fireplace.
I’ll tell him I remember studying the stitches on my forehead every morning before going to my preschool, the lectures about exercising greater caution around furniture, the empty threats about social services taking me away to a foster home, and I didn’t want that, did I?
A partner normally finds my third scar in bed, on my lower pelvis, a patch of rough and discolored skin about the size of my palm. He might trace it with his fingers, and say something like, “How’d you get that one?”
I might stare at the ceiling and say, “I don’t know.” I’ll tell him my mom’s version: that I, a toddler, somehow reached up to the counter and pulled a cup of scalding coffee onto myself. Part of my diaper melted onto my skin. Hey, at least I didn’t pour an entire pot down those Huggies.
A friend might find my last scar on the palm of my hand, from when I reached for my mom’s cigarette across the stove eye she’d used to light it, and she pushed my hand down on the rings. In her defense, she hadn’t exactly intended that.
Sometimes, I lie about my scars. Just little lies. Once, a college friend was giving me a hard time about the mysterious circumstances of my disfiguration, so I told her it was a car accident. Drunk driver. Eventually I fessed up, to her disappointment. The disappointment was temporary, though, replaced by a fascination with writing my narrative.
Maybe I was kidnapped at birth by Satanists, my friend once offered. I was almost sacrificed on an altar to the Dark Lord himself. The scars are a mark of some kind, legible only by the demons of Hell. Someone saved me at the last minute. Who? Someone in a costume, with a cape? Sure.
Personally, I love this story. It’s my favorite. I’ve adopted it as my own.
A few friends have asked if I’ve ever considered plastic surgery. It’ll come up randomly, like when I’ve been dating someone a few weeks. We’ll just be reading at a café. “You’d be so beautiful,” he says. “You could be an actress, or a model.” I just shrug and say, “I’d rather not.” I don’t tell him how awesome my scars are, or how special they make me feel, despite my discomfort with the attention they often bring.
I don’t tell most people what the scars mean to me, what they remind me of, even if I can’t remember their origins. I think about my mom, wherever she is right now. We haven’t spoken in four years come this August, and they’ve been the best four years of my life. That tends to happen with the kind of mom I have. I don’t mind that I have physical scars to distract people from the ones they can’t see, ones that will have to wait for another essay.
Some people say, “I don’t want anything to define me.” But sometimes, things define you—whether you want them to or not. My scars are mine. I can photo-shop them out if I want, and I sometimes I do. Honestly, they don’t show that much in photographs, especially with the right makeup and filters. But in person they’re lovely souvenirs. They remind me of what I came from, how far I’ve come, how much better I’ll try to do for the child I have someday.