I recently had an assignment for a personal essay course that used the prompt “take an inventory of your personal scars.” Basically, we were told to tell an emotional tale through our physical scars. I originally struggled with the paper and thought I did mediocre at best. My professor gave me some of the best critique I have received so far on anything I have ever written and I am both flabbergasted and relieved. I thought I would share the assignment here because not only was it one of my hardest writing assignments to date, but also one of my favorite. Enjoy.
We all have scars, a compendium of life events written on our skin. Some fade over time leaving barely a trace to recognize while others stay with us until the day we die. Then there are the markings we have purposefully incurred over our lifetime. The tattoos and piercings that mark our individuality and uniqueness and have their own accompanying stories. My scars tell the story of who I am, where I have been, what I have done, and where I am going.
August 24, 2005 was my 18th birthday and as rite of passage, I received my first tattoo, a small zodiac symbol, on my sister’s living room couch. The next day, I attended my second day of college. Living in South Louisiana, hurricanes were nothing new, but this one would turn out to be quite different. That weekend, I evacuated my home for the first time in my entire life. For 18 years, we boarded up windows, stocked up on supplies and hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass. This one was different, though. I stood in my living room, looking at my meager possessions and had to decide what was worth losing and what I should take with me. I loaded up my car and left with my family. My new tattoo itched and ached the entire time and I was attempting to keep it a secret from my parents, although I think they always knew it was there. My zodiac tattoo is far from special but it reminds me of the time I almost lost my home and so many others lost their lives.
My first vacation alone prompted another tattoo, a dragon down the center of my back. I laugh at it now because it is not beautiful in any way, but it is a mark of my youth. I will remember driving 14 hours the day before Thanksgiving to visit a friend in Florida and seeing one of my favorite bands in concert as well as the impromptu tattoo parlor visit that followed. And how could I possibly forget, the 14 hour drive back to Louisiana arching my back so that my shirt would not stick to this fresh layer of ink. We make questionable choices when we are young and my tattoo is the proof of such.
My upper arm bears the mark of my first love, my nephew. He was the first baby in the family and he had me wrapped around his finger the moment he was born. Before having my own child, I did not think that I would ever love someone the way I loved him. Phoenix was the first person I loved more than myself and when I chose to move to Texas, he was the hardest person to leave. The day before I drove my U-Haul to Texas loaded to the brim with all my belongings, I spent six hours at a tattoo shop getting a phoenix tattooed on my arm. Hand-drawn and full of greens, blues and oranges, this tattoo is not only my favorite but also my largest. I cannot help but smile every time I look at it and think about the times we snuggled in the bed watching cartoons, the smell of his hair when he was an infant, the way his skin was so soft it felt like velvet, and the way his smile warmed me from the inside out as if I swallowed the sun.
My first pregnancy in 2011/2012 went according to plan, but delivery was a different story. My daughter was breech and had her head high up into my ribcage, absolutely refusing to turn. After several holistic tricks, a procedure called an external cephalic version, where the midwife or obstetrician tries to rotate the baby by pushing on the mother’s abdomen, was scheduled. During pre-admission, it was discovered that my amniotic fluid was low. There simply was not enough water in her swimming pool for her to turn. That night, a caesarean section was performed and I received my first surgical scar at the age of 25.
The scar from my C-section is about six inches long and runs from hip to hip. It is a bright pink bump that looks like a worm placed on my bikini line. The area is numb and will remain numb for the rest of my life, a small adverse effect of having my skin, muscles, and uterus cut open to remove my daughter. It is ugly, still itches at times and I love it. I see it and remember the most wonderful moment of my life. The sound of her crying for the first time was the most beautiful music I had ever heard. As if it were yesterday, I remember my midwife placing her on my chest, barely able to see her face through the tears filling my eyes and the way she instantly stopped crying the moment her skin touched mine. She smelled of fresh linen and spun sugar, was as pink as a highlighter and absolutely beautiful. It was the most terrifying experience of my life and I would not trade that scar for anything in the world. My daughter has changed my outlook on the world, made me feel love that I had never felt before and showed me that I was far stronger than I ever imagined myself to be.
We all have scars, most of which have no meaning or memory attached to them. Some, however, bring a rush of images to our minds the moment we see them. Every marking on our skin is like the lines in a tree, evidence of our lives being lived. Falling off of bikes, breaking bones or visiting tattoo artists are the life experiences that make us who we are as individuals and our scars stay with us to remind us of where we have been, what we have done and who we are.