“Your arm looks gross,” my sister said, acknowledging the hot oil burns on my left forearm. “You could write about cooking in your column. Since you had a cooking column first year, it’d be cyclical,” she continued, pleased with her creative assistance. I started rolling ideas around in my head. I have hot oil scars on my inner right forearm, and I’d talked about those in a fried green tomato column first year. Cyclical! Brilliant!
Cooking is a great topic. You can talk about how cooking with another person brings you closer together. You can talk about failed recipes and lots of laughs. You can crack jokes about cooking with wine and even sometimes putting it in the food. I looked at my fresh oil wounds to spark memories of more stories. And then I thought of something even more brilliant than cooking sagas: scars.
I have little scars all over my body. They have nothing to do with a torturous childhood. Quite simply, I pick scabs. Insignificant cuts and scrapes turn into bloody messes under my unforgiving fingernails. A childish, unhygienic habit has led to many, many scars. It’s not that I like blood or raw flesh; in fact, I’m pretty squeamish. I’m also easily embarrassed, and I’ve suffered one too many in-class blood flows from various leg-scab pickings. So why do I keep it up? Why do I scratch and tear until my mother, my sister, my friends yell: “Stop! That will leave a scar!”
I think I pick at scabs because I know that they will leave scars. There are little stories all over my body.
My knees probably have the most chapters; from falling off bikes to tripping down slippery, beer-soaked steps, that skin has always hit the hardest. My feet have plenty of stories, the result of many offenders: field hockey cleats, debate club heels worn too tight and too long, running shoes long past their expiration date. My hands have played with countless cat and dog claws. My neck and shoulders and arms have run through pine trees, have reached far, far for the perfect black berry in a thicket of thorns.
And every time my knees, feet, hands, arms bleed and scab. And I slowly peel away the dried blood, and re-live the stories for days. The skin fades into pink, gray, deep red. Story spots for years.
When I was 11, Gus left a scar on my thigh. Barely a year old, Gus was potentially the calmest golden retriever in the Hardaways’ dog history. But for some reason, in the water, he really liked to climb on people. I think he just wanted someone to hold him, so he could float around, like we did, on our backs, looking up at the June sun, splashing down into the cold creek mud. I remember screeching as Gus paddled quickly toward me and jerking away, reaching for the large inflatable tube, as his long claw scraped down my thigh. My scream echoed in the trees. My parents rolled their eyes, dragged me in. Back on land, Gus apologized with a few licks. I bemoaned my deeply bruised leg. I left for my first summer camp the next week, picking at the lightly scabbed skin the whole time. Each flake of dried flesh whispered: home soon, home soon. I never loved a dog like Gus, who died a year and a half ago. I have pictures, I have vivid memories. I have a deep and special scar.
When I was 16, I was playing field hockey on a turf field. I was terrible at actually hitting the ball, wielding the stick. But I was pretty fast. I guess I was running with the ball, too fast, and I skidded across the turf, skinning my knee until bright red blood flowed down my leg.
I was thrilled. Partially because when you started bleeding, you got to stop playing. Partially because my new boyfriend was on the sidelines, and the war wound I’d just acquired would give him more reason to lean in close, inspect, ask me if I was all right. I was 16 — a cute blond boy’s attention was potentially the most important thing in the world. I acutely remember that entire afternoon, and almost every day that followed it. The whole summer I picked at the scab, hoping that my budding relationship would last as long as the raw pink flesh. I got tan, tan, tan just to see the contrast of the whitish circle on my knee. That’s when I first learned the most important things about scars: More often than not, they fade. In the same breath, blond boys move away.
I think I have so many scars because I have so many stories I want to remember. There’s no time to linger on just one memory, when another — maybe a thin, pink line near your big toe, or a tiny, brown spot on your left shoulder — warrant just as much reflection.
I have oil burns from a few days ago. I was in my kitchen, at home, making dinner. I was doing that thing where you cook with wine and I wasn’t paying attention when I flung chicken into a hot pan. The wound is so fresh, it hasn’t even had a chance to form a scab. Just a few nights ago my cats were lying on the dining table; my sister was yelling at them for doing so. My dogs were barking at the door, asking to be let in, then out, then in again. My mother was hovering, telling me to be more careful, to put my glass down. My father was watching TV. My brother was ordering pizza because what I was making was “too weird.”
I’ve never been so grateful for a wound that will get me through winter, through the next semester, through the next year. Three people, four cats, two dogs will always be there, deeply entrenched on my arm. Three dark red splotches, easy enough to see if I roll my sleeve up. A short story, but a good one, hopefully with lasting potential.
Connelly’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.