Eighteen, twenty vertical inches of scar (sometimes three inches wide) and a horizontal curve of twelve more. from just above my knee, to just below my waist, from half way around my arse to hide in dark curls. It's hard to hide, but you'd never see it unless you got me naked.
I never wear a short skirt. but that's not to conceal my scars, but to cover my thighs. My scars are the best thing about my legs, the legs for which I frequently curse genetics. my scars are ethereal beauty on all too solid limbs.
Strange how so much hurt and brutal intrusion can leave such a delicate tracery of pattern. the shining cream of layers and lines, ridged and smooth, stretching from childhood into the future. The history of my life written into my skin. They are my map, my songlines.
The scars have been there from before I can remember, with the first slices cut in when i was just two. Year in, year out, the scars grew through my childhood with the repetitive cycles of surgery and the slow process of plaster cast chrysalis. I have learned to walk some twenty times now. and some twenty times I have looked down and seen the new lines carved into my body, with the harsh new red cuts looking too vulnerable to last.
Running my finger over the ridges and lines, it's hard not to think of the pain. I can see only a long trail of pain and trouble. A part of my body I have always done battle with: a long history of pain, interuption, and restriction. Bad hip, ugly thighs. Always covered, always hidden. pain, deep scraping bone pain. A part of my body that has sometimes defined me, usually defied me.
I hate my scars. I see them as lines of my weakness, my excuses, my avoidance, my lost months, my hiding and my fear. I look at them, stripped of colour and sensation, and see all the deadness that is still somewhere inside me.
But I'm proud of my scars. They are beautiful. they hold the story of my fight back, the story of twenty nine years of ripped open skin, twenty nine years of of smashed and twisted and mis-shapen bones. Twenty nine years of fighting and getting on. Thirty one years of a fucked-up body that I have learned to love and call home. A body that is beautiful for all its flaws. And there is this pale trellis to be climbed with inquisitive fingers, warmed with whispering breath, travelled with caressing eyes.
For the first time in my life, a lover has opened his eyes and really looked at my scars. seen them, explored them with curious love, walked them with dancing fingers, and told me that I was lovely. He told me I was beautiful. and I believe him.
In the past, my scars have been invisible. Something just too terrible to mention in polite company. If fucking can ever be called polite. In the entranced night space of that intimacy after first nakedness, I have missed the mutual exploration of scars. The exhausted, thrilled bodies tangled together in lazy surprise. The kissed fingertip touching to sliced knees, to appendix lines, to falls through windows and off horses that have left their marks on the smooth planes of a lover's body. The tale-telling, the anecdotes of mishaps and foolishness that get whispergiggled in those first nights are overshadowed by the echoing silence, the missing question, "what's that?"
Look, please, my scars are beautiful. They are alive and well and not to be brushed under the carpet of blushing awkwardness. Your hands covered these lines as you held my naked hips. Your cheek brushed smooth against this thigh. The paleness glows in even the darkest room.
Have the scars vanished into unblemished convention? No? Well, perhaps one just doesn't talk about these things. It's not nice to point.
So when I felt deliberate, careful, questioning fingertips walking through the map of my pain, I almost wept. The honesty broke my heart.
These silent scars stretch glistening over intense pain. The skin is smooth, but underneath, my bones are falling apart. Metal has worked loose. my previous hip replacement has failed. These past two months have been a blur of headfuzzing painkillers, and awkward movement. waiting, waiting for surgery. My palms ripping and callusing as i hop around on crutches, my world shrunk to a five block radius.
And next week I will wake up to see a new scar, revealed when the wrappings of dark soaked white gauze are peeled away. the red raw edges, pulled together with ends of blue plastic thread, will hold my eyes for hours as I learn the new patterns. and I will feel the dragging heaviness of new metal, and the solidity of someone else's bones.
And there are all these extra marks, the incidental scars of hospital times: the ancient needlespots on the back of my hand, the spiked heiroglyphs in the crook of my elbow that raise questioning eyebrows as frequently as a shivering kiss. And when I wake up, these places will be purpled with deep bruises, and trailing needles and translucent tubes.
And I can't wait to see all of this, and know that this recent pain is over. and that I can take back my time, live this life at full speed again. Walk through a long night, and sweat on rumpled summer sheets again without the apologetic stream of wriggling out of pain: "um, move a bit, nope, got to move. ow. hang on. ow. ow. stop. try this way."
And as the redness fades, the strength will come back into my legs. My feet will touch the ground again, and I will take coltish wobbling steps, and learn to trust the new integrity of my skeleton. As the new lines fade into the old tangle, I will forget the knife stabs and the sobbing aches of all this pain. I will forget, because I will be busy making up for all this lost time. I will forget because the scars won't long be livid and new. They will lose their attention grabbing tenderness. My new scars will become old. And they will become mine.
And one day, when these new scars are healed smooth, I plan to have a tattoo. cover my hip and thigh with a large, intricate, abstract tattoo of strident pattern. I don't want to hide my scars, I want to reshape them. I want to take back the haphazard slicing and stitching, the embroidery of a blind tailor, the accidental build up of tissue and reshape it into something I have chosen. make an image that goes far deeper than my skin, an image that holds the depth of my bone and the metal that keeps it together. I want an image that belongs to me. I don't want to cover, mask, obliterate, apologise. I want to adorn it and celebrate it. And maybe, just maybe, my hemlines will rise.
I originally wrote this for scarletletters.com, 1999
note 1: september 2000: Since I wrote this, last summer, my new scars have faded down to a pale pink. The new line is a wandering diagonal that joins the old cuts end to end, curving across what was smooth, unsliced skin. It shines, oddly, in low light and makes me wonder when the next time will be. How long will this new hip, my second replacement hip, last? It aches and groans, the metal sitting not quite right inside the bones. But it's holding stong, and the X-rays show no worrying gaps. But it's not the magic I was hoping for. But the scar is the evidence of another chapter, and another dose of hope.
note 2, June 2005: Well, I got my answer. This is how long it lasted. I had a few fantastic years--I was wrong, you see, it did become magic--and then one slow creaky one that ground to a painful halt. Now I have another line, still red and fresh but the staples and stitches are out. The longest individual slice yet: 45 stitches holding together one long cut that traces the last line and stretches longer at each end. Another new hip, another try, yet another round of hope. I'm not losing faith yet. Not yet.
note 3, 2007: It's amazing how resilient hope is. Two more surgeries this year. The third hip replacement has gone, along with a whole lot of bone. Chomped away with a bone infection. New hardware now, not just a hip replacement but a proximal femoral replacement too. Back on my feet, after months of static, with fresh new lines down my legs, and still going.
After all these years, I've finally cleared out the lowercase. I've probably missed some. Blame the painkillers I'm on, or something.