BY DEIRDRE COYLE
LB 3251 [PLAYGROUNDS (SCHOOL)]: Lower lip, two white lines. The first time, I fell off a slide. The second time, a boy named Anthony pushed me off a preschool jungle gym because he said I was in his way. For the record, Anthony, I wasn’t. Both times, I went to the hospital for stitches and my mother held me down.
GV 344 [SAFETY MEASURES IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION]: Right knee, a discolored circle. In seventh grade I slipped on concrete steps while running to gym class and skinned my knee on the pavement. In the locker room, blood ran down my calf and I scooped it into the palm of my hand. I pulled gym shorts over the blood. My friend screamed “YOU NEED A MEDIC!” and disappeared, returning with a teacher. A puffy scar grew and bubbled—the skin would swell, ooze pus, subside, grow red, swell again. The scar kept changing shape. It was right on top of my knee, and being in constant motion, it refused to heal. Nothing in constant motion heals.
RD 542 [APPENDICITIS]: Abdomen, three small lines. One afternoon, I started feeling awful in my torso. I assumed it was psychosomatic, like most of my stomachaches. My mother gave me Tums and ginger ale. Nothing helped. Late that night, my mother drove me to the emergency room. They told me I had appendicitis; they kept me overnight and gave me morphine. In the morning, they took my appendix out and gave me more morphine. When the stitches dissolved, I had three tiny marks: one above my pelvic bone, two to the left of my bellybutton.
HQ 763 [SOCIAL ASPECTS OF BIRTH CONTROL]: At the hospital, there was a lot of talk from the nurses about how “if I was pregnant, everything would change.” I knew perfectly well that I was not pregnant.
RG 734 [INDUCED ABORTION]: It’s strange to think about the operations that haven’t left scars.
TX 773 [DESSERTS, PIES, AND PUDDINGS]: Left thigh, globular heart-shaped discoloration. This story is embarrassing and I don’t want to tell it. I decided I needed to eat a pot pie; a man I loved made me a pot pie; I dropped a plate; the filling spilled on my legs and gave me third degree burns. My skin peeled off and grew back ugly. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the way I break things I love and get burned. Maybe I was just too excited about eating pot pie. What difference does it make? Metaphors are lies.
BF 575.S45 [SHAME]: The problem with my scars is that they aren’t good enough. What I mean is, they aren’t bad enough. They’re not about drugs or suicide attempts or social injustice.
BF 637.C47 [COMPETITION]: Many times, usually when talking to men, I’ll start to tell a story about a scar and the other person will say, “well, I have—” Then he’ll start showing me his first degree burns, his track marks, the six-inch serration across his belly, until I say things like “Jesus!” and make noises to assure him that his scars are better and more intense, that they’re evidence of a life hard-lived.
BD 222 [RELATIVITY OF SUBJECTIVITY]: On the one hand, most of my scars are born from normal life stuff. On the other hand, “normal” is relative.
RM 666.S46 [SEROTONIN]: Left eyebrow, scarring from stitches beneath the eyebrow and leaning into the bone of my nose, with a corresponding bump that makes me hate every profile photograph of myself, untagging all of them on Facebook. These scars are a gift from medication, an anti-depressant I did not want to be on at seventeen, something my mother said I “needed to try.” On my third day of the drug, I started feeling physically ill during first period and asked to be excused. I walked down the empty hallway of my high school, dizzy, trying to make it to a bathroom so I could, I wasn’t sure, vomit? I blacked out, though I have a vague image of faces crowding above me. I woke rocking in a pool of my own blood on the bathroom floor. I’m still not sure how I got into the bathroom from the hallway—I must have crawled. Cleverly, when I blacked out, I used my own face to break the fall.
BF 723.P25 [PARENT-CHILD RELATIONS]: My mother did not make me take the medication after that.
RC 552.S4 [SELF-MUTILATION]: Left thigh, straight white lines. These are the most obvious, and in that way, the most embarrassing. “A teenage girl alone with a razor” isn’t even an interesting story. You can tell I’m right-handed because anything self-inflicted is on the left, while anything externally inflicted is on the right. They’re on my upper thighs because my thighs never became visible unless I deliberately chose to make them visible.
RC 553.M36 [MASOCHISM]: “Why are they on his wrists?” I asked, looking at a friend who had criss-crossed lines all up and down his wrists, arms checkered and reddened like gingham. “Does he want people to see?” “He just doesn’t care,” said another friend. I didn’t believe that, not really. I’ll never believe anything any of us say about our scars.
RC 569.5.S45 [SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR]: Left hand, light brown speckles. Tiny dots are scattered all over the back of my hand, like baby liver spots in sets of two, or pinpricks from a dollhouse vampire. In high school, kids would come in with safety pins stuck through the fleshy web of skin between their thumb and forefinger. My best friend and I made fun of them—this is what you do with your free time?, we whispered, stick safety pins in your hands to show off? I hated the idea of conspicuous attempts at toughness. Intellectually, I thought pain should serve a practical purpose. But when I went home, I threaded a safety pin through the skin on the back of my hand and yanked the metal upward anyway. It didn’t even hurt—I could barely feel it. I did this many times after—for years after. I could tell you why—I could make something up that sounds more interesting than “I was bored” or “I was sad” or “I wanted to attempt toughness in a way that would be conspicuous to me but not necessarily to the rest of the world”—easily accessible reminders dotted between my wrists and knuckles.
BF 724.3.A [EMOTIONS OF ADOLESCENTS]: Right calf, thick white ellipse. In the eleventh grade, I had five close friends, and the six of us called ourselves The Family. One of them had to move to Florida, so we threw him a party and baked him a cake. The cake mix was red velvet, the frosting was vanilla, and we decided it wouldn’t properly express our sadness unless all of our blood was in the batter. We cut small lines along our bodies, wiggling arms and fingertips above the batter until blood spattered in. “Does anyone have AIDS?” one of the boys asked, the only response a roomful of nervous laughter. I decided to cut below my knee, hoping not to draw attention from my attentive mother. One of the girls gave me the razor we passed around, but my fingers slipped—didn’t they?—and I cut too deeply. Blood blistered over the gouge—not long, but wide. The girl with the razor ducked down to my spot on the floor, angled her mouth over the cut and licked the incision clean. She wiped a wrist over her mouth, bounced back up, circled the room, took a drink from everyone. “There,” she said, as if something had been settled.
N 6494.B63 [BODY ART]: Right ankle, thin lines. I sat on my bed, writing in a notebook while an artist drew on my ankle with a ballpoint pen. I looked down at his work—something angular, an abstraction that felt like faces. I didn’t care about the drawing; I cared about being the canvas. “That won’t last,” I said. “It’ll wash off.” I don’t crave permanence; I crave permanence of memory. Limbs like photographs. Bodies like photo albums. I reached into my bedside drawer, sifted through detritus. “Make it permanent.” I smiled; I said please. I handed him a straight razor.
TF 847.N5 [UNDERGROUND RAILWAYS. SUBWAYS]: Right knee, dark red line. I left the party around midnight, walked out the door and into a metal fence. The spiky part of the iron railing ripped open my stockings and stuck itself above my knee. I wasn’t that drunk, maybe, but I was drunk enough to think “who cares” and keep walking. I made it to the station, and only after sitting down noticed the gaping hole in my stockings—just above my knee, exposing all the old scars. Blood oozed steadily out of the gash and down my leg. Fuck, I thought. These tights were expensive.
The train was weekend-crowded. A man sat down next to me and asked, “What happened?”
“I walked into a fence.”
“You walked into a fence, you dumb bitch?” The “dumb bitch” part was muttered casually. The man on the subway put his arm around me while saying, “You need someone to take care of you.” And I let him. “You need someone to take care of you” is such a hypnotic phrase. Very clearly, I thought: if I were sober, I would yell at this person. I would tell him to not fucking touch me. Briefly, I considered doing this, saying “don’t fucking touch me.” I smiled at him.
“It’s early,” he said, squeezing my shoulders. “You’re coming back downtown with me.” He wrapped his knuckles around my knee—the bleeding one—and ran a finger across the gash.
The train pulled into 14th Street, and I said, “I have to go find band-aids now. Bye!” I shrugged his arm off, still smiling.
TL 441 [TRAIL BIKES. DIRT BIKES]: Right knee, lightly discolored circle, slightly raised flesh. This pink scar looks like the skinned knee scar from seventh grade, although the skin is softer and a decade fresher. I went into the Arizona desert with men on dirt bikes (as one does), and one of them let me drive. I’d never driven a motorcycle before, and the experience was good—the power and speed like a video game that could actually kill me. Wearing genuinely old, torn jeans, I tried to readjust myself on the bike, and brushed my knee along the exhaust pipe. The pipe lined up exactly with a gaping hole in my denim, and the skin burned off immediately. It bubbled and warped; it looked like the seventh grade. The problem with burn scars manifested once again—I keep losing my skin; I keep growing back ugly. The problem with knee scars came back, too—weeks of scar tissue and pink skin puffing and bubbling against my kneecap, reshaping itself again and again, because nothing in constant motion heals.