A few days ago I felt a sudden urge to account for the scars I’ve earned in my lifetime. Here they are, and how long I’ve had them:
- High on my forehead is a tiny flesh-divot that occasionally catches the light. That fleck of me was lost when I took the slide face-first and belly-down as a toddler and was met with a wall that split open my skin. 26 years.
- On my right thigh I have a graphite tattoo that looks like a gray freckle. It was the handiwork of a fellow preschooler wielding a number 2 pencil. 24 years.
- The backs of my two front teeth have a seam where ceramic caps meet natural enamel. Only the dentist can see this one, using his doll-sized rearview mirror, but I feel it constantly against the tip of my tongue. My teeth were cracked off by Rollerama’s bathroom floor during the sixth grade field trip when my rented skates went flying out from under me. Their impact left a powdery white mark on the tile. I smudged it off with my finger, curious, before I realized how much blood was filling my mouth. 16 years.
- My left index finger has a pale crescent-moon of a ridge left by a quick slip of my X-Acto knife. I was carving plastic for an art project and carelessly aimed the blade toward my hand instead of away from it. A short while later the emergency room doctor told me I was lucky not to have damaged the nerve and said it needed six or seven stitches. I watched him thread fine filaments of metal through my flesh and marveled that I couldn’t feel what I was seeing. For a week while I carefully washed around the finger I joked that I’d been embroidered by a robot. 7 years.
- Both hands are callused at different points by different types of work. The right has a writer’s bump on the last knuckle of the longest finger. This one is old: I’ve been gripping pencils and pens every day for years, decades now. The left has shiny-peely toughened fingertips that dent sharply when I search out chords on the guitar. These are new: I’ve only recently started practicing again thanks to my dear friend’s encouragement.
I love my various scars. They remind me of all the misadventures I’ve had the pain and pleasure to take in life, and I don’t want to lose them any more than I’d want to lose my memory or lose my mind.
But having accounted for them all, I have to say that the calluses are my favorite.
The calluses are the scars I’ve worked the hardest to create over time and the ones I’ll gradually lose if I neglect that work.
I know. It’s happened.
The writing bump diminished when I graduated and started typing during office hours instead of taking class notes by hand. As for the guitar fingers, my first set faded when I had to return the old acoustic I’d been borrowing. My skin soon went soft from lack of practice.
So when I took up playing again last month it was painful all over for my pillowy little fingertips. They had to toughen up from scratch—to grow a thicker skin. And now that I’m writing by hand every day, my writer’s bump is nice and knotty again, too. My hands may look mild-mannered at a glance, but touch them and you’ll find how rough and gnarly I’ve managed to make them.
I guess some scars stick on you whether you like it or not, evidence of a single slip-up, but I’ve learned that others need to be earned day in and day out. I know now that I don’t want to give up what I’ve worked for: I want to maintain these calluses. They are mine. They are me. Even when my writing hand cramps or the chords won’t come, I’ll keep putting in the time to stay tough each day. I might not create a work of art by dusk every time, but that doesn’t mean the effort was wasted: really what I was working on was myself.
Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.
All the Pretty Horses
What scars did your mind or your fingers drift to while you read this? Which ones are still painful? Which ones makes you proud? Bare your soul, or just a little skin, in the comments below or on one of my social media pages...