My skin is a conduit of memory. One soft touch takes me back to my sweet high school boyfriend, the first male to every caress me; one harsh squeeze reminds me of one of my college boyfriends, the only person who ever physically hurt me; one stroke on my back connects me to my mother and her “You tickle me and then I’ll tickle you” times when I was little; one poke calls to mind my brother George who loved to prod me into wrestling matches before we got too old for that sort of thing.
My skin is a graveyard of past events. My left knee bears the scars of multiple falls, the first as I raced a childhood friend to his house – I on my bike and he on foot – until in his zeal to win that race he grabbed my handlebars and twisted. I went down less than a block from my house, landing on that left knee with full force of skidding motion coupled with the weight of a Western Flyer. Gravel embedded in broken flesh, pink skin, red blood, clear tears as I limped back home to my mother’s arms.
A second fall, less grand in scale and so much more embarrassing. Fast-forward over 40 years and see me walking up the steps to a renovation-in-progress of our Victorian home. Men with tool belts zipping with great ease up and down multiple ladders leaning against the big two-story house. One thin piece of caution tape stretched across the sidewalk to prevent onlookers from getting too close. I, wearing sandals, step over that caution tape barely a foot off the ground and catch my little toe in the tape. Falling down with full force on that same left knee straight on the pavement, ripping the flesh and embedding tiny pieces of dirt and gravel. I jump up and pretend nothing has happened – I need to save face – only to later pick out the debris and wash the wound with hydrogen peroxide while tears stream down my cheeks. Knee aching in the night – for several nights – before the scab slowly forms. Months pass before that knee is fully healed.
My face bears several scars, the most prominent of which comes from a dog bite I received while I was in graduate school. I entered the home of a friend of a friend with 7 other people. I was number 5 in line to “see the new puppies of a Great Dane.” That same dog spied me from across the room – I was nowhere near her puppies – and sailed over a coffee table and straight for my face. Knocking my glasses off (thank God for my glasses) she chomped down with teeth bared and ripped open my bottom lip and the skin right above my right eye. I begin to run through a house I’d never before visited with the dog tight on my heels. I saw an open door, ran in and slammed it shut just as – BAM! – the dog hit the door and was snarling and barking right on the other side.
I ended up in the emergency room with the pet owner begging me not to sue him. (I hadn’t even considered such a thing.) A middle-aged doctor sauntered into the room in his pajamas and robe and sewed me up. As he was leaving, he turned and said, “Not bad for a guy who forgot his glasses.”
Several years later, I saw a college boyfriend who was by then an emergency room physician. He took my face in his hands and examined my scars. “What happened here?” he asked in a tone that suggested that my looks had been permanently flawed from those events.
Another scar came when I was in my kitchen with my daughter Liz and I had just said, “Isn’t it strange how life can change on a dime?” Right at that moment I turned, slipped on water from the dog bowl, lost my balance and hit the edge of a wooden chair first with my nose and then my upper lip, which burst open like a ripe melon. Within two seconds, I had the beginning of a shiner as well as a gaping lip that required five stitches. Ten minutes later, we were in the car and on our way to the Urgent Care center. The young doctor sewed up my lip and left two curling runs of thread. I looked in the mirror as I was leaving and saw that I now bore a strong resemblance to one of the Three Musketeers. I began to laugh, then Liz laughed too, and we dissolved into side-splitting giggles while the waiting room full of people watched. Once home, I trimmed my “mustache.” After all, I had to keep the stitches in for over a week.
My skin reminds me that I am mere flesh that is easily thrown out of balance. My memories are both bitter and sweet, but the sweet ones far outweigh their counterparts. My scars remind me of many long-gone people, places and events and I remember that my life is a work-in-progress. Thank God for those scars. Without them, I might have missed the opportunity to feel the exhilaration and pain of a life lived as best I can so far.