A man asked about my scars. A stranger. Which ones, I’m not sure—there are a lot. But I assumed he referred to the white lines, the superbly obvious ones, or so I see them to be. I looked at him quizzically and asked, “what scars?” Stupid question. Questions. You don’t know me—my scars are none of your damn business. Hell, you don’t even know my name. I’m the fucking cashier. Take your coffee beans and get. My response? Equally stupid: sheer denial. What scars? As if. The better none-of-your-damn-business response would have been, “oh, long stories” or “just old scars.” Just. Ha. But, “long stories,” yes. They each have a story.
Of course, he wasn’t referring to the scar on my knee. That scar I likened to an elephant’s trunk as a kid. While I wasn’t terribly clumsy, I was adventurous, and I played hard, repeatedly tearing open my right knee. The wounds and scars never had time to fully heal before I barreled into the ground again, creating a large lump I fancied was full of dirt, rocks, and gravel. It became numb: no matter how hard I fell, I wouldn’t notice it bleeding until there was a tickle from the stream of blood at the base of my shin, staining my sock. I was proud of that scar. Since, it has stretched out flat with my growth spurts and has become fairly unremarkable.
And he wasn’t referring to my next set of scars, from 2004. Those are nearly invisible. They came with pocketknives and charcoal. I can feel those with my fingers but cannot note them with my eyes.
It was the violence, I do not doubt, with which I cut in 2013 that he noticed. There are five scars on my arms from that episode, three on my ankles. Those scars are slightly distracted by two dark burns from baking and cooking and one molehill from staph, but I’m almost certain he noticed the white lines created by kitchen knives—large, small, serrated, anything—pocket knives, and, once those were confiscated, the satisfying discovery of razors.
I wish he hadn’t asked. I felt violated. Why are you looking at my scars? No. I don’t care why. Just stop. Now. I’ve worked hard not to spend every other moment overly self-conscious, but I can’t not notice. I do not, however, need a reminder.
I have more scars. My thighs are striped with white and purple spread and swollen scars. I’d rather not swim, thanks for the offer, though.
His question scared me. Do they really stand out that much? Do they? Is he just socially awkward, like me? But instead of shutting up, he opens his mouth? Would the polite response be to give him a break—mental illness is surprising enough, but once made physical, the shock increases—and assume the best in him rather than mentally chewing him out?
What would I rather? Never to be asked or to have people look with compassionate inquiry? If there was a hint of compassion, maybe I would have responded differently. “Oh, life hasn’t always been easy.” That’s the truth.