Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Only some chicks dig scars

I will preface this entry by explaining that part of my day job involves reading about often horrific child abuse, the details of which I will not go into for the sake of confidentiality and to avoid triggering any one in my reading audience.

I will also preface this with the revelation that I have some pretty ugly and "interesting" scars myself.  This entry, in part, is about my own trigger. This was not an easy one to write, no matter how "cool" I am with my scars.

For 30 years I have had a large scar on my forehead. When I was younger and it was fresh, it ran from my right eyebrow to my hair line. I had bangs, the classic "bowl hair cut" that was so popular in the early 80s. It was equal parts fashion statement and camouflage. My mother did not want the kids in the school yard to tease me. I have this scar for that same reason (well maybe not entirely for that reason). It's the result of the removal of a very large strawberry birthmark that I was born with. It was sort of egg shaped and stuck out of my head about a half an inch or more, so I'm told. I have no memory of this thing ever being on my head but there are a few pictures of it. Very few. My parents didn't want me to get teased because of this giant red thing on my forehead.

In my work I often read stories about scars that people still have. I completely understand how it feels to have a physical, non-removable reminder on your flesh, especially on your face, of something you wish   would never have happened. I understand what it's like to be embarrassed about it. I understand what it's like to feel ashamed and ugly. The jagged scar on my forehead that now partially hides beyond my hair line, is not the only noticeable scar on my person.

And my heart goes out to each and every individual whose story I read that touches me this way. My scars are not tied to the same kind of trauma. While one or two were scary and all of them were painful in some way, I have learned to live with them. They are a part of who I am. Don't get me wrong, I can still be self-conscious about them. My back is an interesting tapestry of scars and birth marks of different varieties, it's not 'pretty'. Thankfully it is literally behind me so... out of sight out of mind, until someone else sees it. I can deal with that, it's when they ask about it. And the most recent person, whose opinion sort of matters to me wasn't horrified by it. You have no idea what a relief this is, even for someone 'at peace' with their scars.

This is where I most acutely relate to those stories I read all day. People are naturally curious creatures. Some of us ask more questions than others, some of us know how to ask difficult questions with tact. A lot of us don't. As much as I feel for other people in the same boat, I'm happy in the sense that I'm not alone and a thought occurs. It's not the scars that cause the problem sometimes, it's people without tact.

No word of a lie, a person has actually come up to me, someone who I wasn't even that close to, and had the absolute gaul to poke me in the forehead on my scar with their finger and say, "where'd you get that scar from?" As if I didn't know which one they were referring to (though to be honest, on more than one occasion I have forgotten it's there, it's been so long). I wish this was hyperbole folks, but this is a thing that actually happened. When I was an adult so it wasn't some backwards thing that a stupid kid did when I was in school. An actual adult who, in retrospect is lucky to still have that finger, did this.

When I was 12 I did the brave thing and decided that I wasn't going to have bangs anymore. I had had it with hiding the scar and at the time it wasn't that big of a deal to me anymore. It had been there for 8 years and was hidden almost all the time. Most of the kids I went to school with had no idea. There were questions. Some as tactful as you get from 12-year olds, some less so. I honestly don't remember being anxious about pinning my bangs back for the first time at school. Some how I assumed it would't be a big deal. After the first few questions, some of them rather rude I came up with a come back that was all to clever for a 12-year old (y'know instead of the truth, because that was boring and didn't make them feel bad enough for asking about it in the first place). I told them it was my lobotomy scar. Most of the kids who asked had no idea what that was, and well didn't they feel stupid. Questions dissipated after that, but in the last 30 years they haven't gone away. Just like the scar hasn't.

And I suspect that like the granulation of my flesh, the questions will never go away either. I'm fortunate in the sense that I surround myself only with respectful and awesome friends and acquaintances who already know about my scar stories (and do now if they didn't) and they asked politely after getting to know me well first.

On the other side of this coin is that when it comes to "compare your scar story" competitions I have something to compete with. That said I still feel for everyone who will never feel comfortable in their own skin because it bears the mark of previous pain whether it be physical, emotional or both. Only rarely have I found myself uncomfortable in my own skin because of my scars, those I feel for will never know that I've taken on some of their discomfort because I'm in a position to bare the burden, as it were.

The moral of this story? A person's scar is their own very personal story and journey. Be extremely cautious about how and when you ever ask someone about a scar. Not every mark has a cool story.

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