the skin of life

Lately I’ve been thinking about scars. I have my share of them, both internal and external, literal and figurative. Some I’ve had since childhood. Such as: that half-inch scar on my chin from the time I fell in front of a roaring fire and said hello to the living-room floor.

Then there’s the faint gray spot on a vein in the palm of my left hand, the imprint of a pencil that I dropped in fourth grade and then, as I reached down to get it, hit the floor eraser-first at a precise 90-degree angle and bounced straight up and stabbed me. (And I ask you, what are the chances?) The school nurse at Washington Primary informed me that, first of all, I was not going to die of acute lead poisoning, as pencils were made out of graphite, thank God, and second, I would bear the scar of this traumatic episode throughout my life. Of course she did not in fact use the phrase “traumatic episode,” but the sight of that school-bus-yellow Number 2 dangling from my innocent appendage stuck with me for perpetuity, along with the scar.

Of the marks and defects acquired since adulthood, my favorites trace back to my eight years playing soccer and my three rounds of pregnancy and childbirth, as I’ve derived too much joy from both; I’ll never rue the day I earned those scars.

Another flaw I love is the thin white slice on the back of my right hand, below and between the knuckles of my pinky and ring finger. That one I got in the summer of 1991, just before my wedding to Chris, on the day I lugged all my worldly crap out of my triple-decker apartment in Somerville, Mass., and packed it into a U-Haul for the move to Albany.

While woman-handling a file cabinet into submission, a drawer slipped out and gashed my hand. It was deep. The blood spilled out with fulsome gore. But because I was young and cheap and also stupid; because I had paid the one-way rate; because I had to get the damn truck back to damn Boston that same damn night, dammit; and because the clock was already ticking, and I was already late, and did I mention that I was young and cheap and also stupid, I trundled off into the morning and onto the Pike with a plentifully bleeding hand. I grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol from my load of worldly crap and spent the trip to Albany dousing it while driving. Don’t ask me how I managed to drive and pour without the acquisition of a third hand. I don’t remember. I just remember pulling up to Chris’s apartment at the intersection of Park and Delaware in shorts soaked with blood and alcohol.

You can see why I love this scar: It marks the beginning of my life with my late husband. I can’t regard it without remembering that day, that man, that life; I look at the closed wound, and the skin that formed around it, and recall our 20 years together.

My biggest scars show no outward trace. But in the the two and a half years since my kids and I absorbed the sudden blow of losing Chris, a rough but healing dermis has formed around that wound, as well. A whole lot of life has occurred between then and now. The grief is still there. We can put our fingers on it, feel the bone beneath it, see the pucker of skin around its glossy ridge. It never fades, not completely — and it can hurt like hell during a flare-up. But our lives have grown around it. And thank God, they just keep growing.

5 thoughts on “the skin of life

  1. I read this in the Times Union today, and it really hit home. Thank you for sharing your insights. You are an inspiration. (P.S. I read the home page, and I’m glad to hear that your son is on the mend.)

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