Scars are nothing to be ashamed of. They are a testimony of God’s ability to heal deadly wounds. — Jentezen Franklin, Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt (p. 38)
My birthday seems like an appropriate day to talk about scars — physical as well as invisible. Birthdays are fraught for me. The most unusual was probably the year I crossed the English Channel on a Hovercraft. The worst is a tossup: when my roommate had sex with the guy I’d adored for eighteen months (thin apartment walls!), or when I slit my wrists in a tub.
So yeah, scars.
I have an ugly series of scars on my left leg just above the knee. They look like nothing except what they are: the results of a very bad January night when I hacked savagely at my skin. I limped for a few days afterward, but the despair and anxiety that had screamed in my head for weeks were finally soothed.
I didn’t think at the time about whether or how long it would take those cuts to heal. I didn’t plan carefully, as I had in the past, to explain away the damage by saying a cat scratched me or I’d fallen on gravel. I suppose if I thought about it at all, I assumed the scars would fade by the time summer rolled around. The other ones mostly have, or so I tell myself, and I covered the worst of them with a tattoo. The days when I layered fishnets and mesh tops to hide the damage are long past, and I wear t-shirts and tank tops now without feeling self-conscious.
But the scars on my leg did not fade. At least not enough.
As I fretted about wearing shorts last summer, a counselor friend told me, “People are so self-centered, no one will even notice.” But the neighbor walking his dog noticed; the woman who cuts my hair noticed. I saw the recoils, the looks of revulsion and pity. These aren’t people who know me well enough to ask questions or to whom I can explain. The people who do know me well enough usually wince and nod and say, “Yeah, those are bad.”
When we took my nephews and niece to the pool, I braced myself for questions. They’re at the age when they ask whatever pops into their heads. (On my most recent visit, the 6-year-old inquired loudly, just as church was about to start, “You know your old iPod that you gave us? Why did you have a song on it called ‘Opening the Gates of Hell’?” Way to choose your moment, buddy!) But despite multiple trips down the waterslide together–them climbing onto my scarred lap–they didn’t say anything. I was relieved because I didn’t know how I would have answered.
That January night a year ago is the last time I cut myself, the last time I will. I knew it immediately afterward. That’s not to say the urges have subsided – sometimes they roar back, and sometimes they’ve roared so strongly that I’ve had to resort to putting ice cubes on my wrists (try that in southern Georgia in July!).
But that’s not who I want to be anymore. It’s not who I am.