People have scars in all sorts of unexpected places. Like secret road maps of their personal histories. Diagrams of all their old wounds. Most of our wounds heal, leaving nothing behind but a scar. But some of them don’t. Some wounds we carry with us everywhere and though the cuts long gone, the pain still lingers. Meredith Grey.
My first scar happened a long time ago. I was around five years old and somehow managed to jab a biro into my knee. I remember it hurt at the time and for years I had a blue dot beneath my skin. The dot has faded but the scar remains, a constant reminder that biros are best used on solid surfaces, not knees.
I have a feint scar on my right hand and a more distinct one on the left. The feint one is a cat scratch from my Grandmothers enormous ginger (and semi-wild) tomcat. Both my Grandmother, Evelyn and the tomcat, Tigger died a number of years ago but thoughts of them still make me smile. I remember my Grandmother cussing the cat as he ambushed her from beneath a flowering shrub for the hundredth, or possibly the thousandth time while she tended to her laundry. Pristine white linen drying in a garden that was a triumph of horticulture and a sea of colour, filled with dahlias, Japanese wind-flowers, lupins and peonies. Tigger had plenty of places to lie in wait for an attack on any unsuspecting ankles. No-one, not least my Gran, was spared his high jinks.
The scar on my right hand is a burn. Too much rushing around in the kitchen and a failed attempt to remove something very hot from the oven with a tea towel instead of oven gloves. My oven gloves had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Instead the money went towards my sons third birthday cake. I taught myself that rushing to bake cakes was a bad idea. I also taught my young ‘soak up new words like a sponge’ son a word I didn’t intend to share with him. B*ll*cks. I’ve never fathomed why children learn some words immediately while others take time and patience to be assimilated into everyday speech. That word was seized upon by my almost three-year old with instant glee. Fortunately it didn’t amuse him for long. We both laugh about this now… and we both have fully functional oven gloves in our kitchens.
I have a scar in the shape of Myanmar between the annular and little finger on my right hand. I’d been out with friends but wasn’t drinking because I had to drive. I managed to slip on some gravel and some gravel managed to embed itself in my hand. I was teased for being the only person who fell over when everyone else was drunk and I was the only one to remain sober.
The three newest, most visible scars include a 2cm line in my right armpit, two perfectly round scars that resemble a large vampire bite on my rib cage (they’re drain scars) and a 7cm diagonal scar across my right breast. These scars have no amusing memories to accompany them. They are the unholy trinity that marks my physical assault on cancer and the handiwork of Miss M, the amazing oncoplastic surgeon who helped preserve my life.
All of these wounds have healed, repaired themselves leaving nothing more than some lines on the road map of my personal history. There are, of course, the other scars. The ones that can’t be seen. Scars of miscarried babies and my Mother, snatched from us far too early by cancer. Scars of past betrayals, misplaced loyalty, forsaken friendships and lost love. The cuts went away and for some of these scars the pain is a dull ache instead of the nerve-jangling wretchedness of a broken heart. For others the pain doesn’t recede, it’s simply concealed behind a facade of optimism and the hope that in time, things will be better.
When facing a difficult situation, something painful or threatening we often try to console each other with clichés: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, every cloud has a silver lining, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all… There are hundreds of these things but they rarely help. When my Mother died I was deeply traumatised, receiving a cancer diagnosis myself was quite a shock too. Many clichés were offered up by well-meaning people around me but those words didn’t help. The words I fell back on, the ones that have really made a difference came from my Aunt a long time ago. “People will say it gets easier with time, that you get over it, life goes on. Life does go on, it doesn’t get easier. You just learn to cope better. Coping is what we become good at.”