On a recent unusually warm fall day we took a walk on a quiet beach. He reached for my hand and then stood still for a moment with his feet in the sand. I looked over at him, my hand in his, my arms bare thanks to fantastically unseasonable New England temperatures, and took stock of something I really had not consciously considered in any detail before…
I realized with a smile, or maybe more with a knowing smirk, that with age our bodies are becoming an ever-clearer map of the places we have been and the experiences that have helped to shape our lives.
It was my hand that started it. The first thing I noticed was the line of small, white, elongated marks that run the length of my hand from knuckles to wrist. The image immediately brought me back to my first year as a veterinarian and my initial encounter with that glorious thing known in the veterinary world as the “caution”.
Veterinarians have gentle language that they use in medical charts to describe an animal that, for lack of a better description, turns into a raging and terrifying creature from a horror movie in an exam room. You see, it is inappropriate to label someone’s cherished pet as “f*@!er” therefore we use terms like “caution”. As a new veterinarian I did not take that term as seriously as I should have, and as a result, during one of my very first surgery days I was torn apart by a gentle, fuzzy, and wide-eyed little kitty who turned out to be Satan’s puddy-cat. Lesson learned. And I dare say, I am now a seriously improved reader of cat body language, a skill I fine-tune every day.
After thinking about those days as a newbie vet, my eyes fell to a V-shaped scar on my middle finger. Immediately I was transported to my junior high sewing class, and I thought of my sewing partner – now my oldest and dearest friend. We were pre-teens. Pre-teens are a pain in the ass, and pre-teens who don’t give a crap about sewing class are even worse. They goof around with giant sharp scissors and behold… before you know it someone winds up in the ER getting stitches, crying with an inappropriate level of pre-teen hysteria about a wee boo-boo. That was me. And I have the scar to prove it.
It seems that I am literally covered in memories.
I considered the indentations I have on my shins from the first time I tried to shave my legs at age eleven, with my stepfather’s razor (of course), without anyone knowing about it. Well, until they found the bloody towels during one of my mom’s famous suburban cocktail hours. In the quiet, preppy town of Winchester a gin-and-tonic-infused panic ensued.
I thought back to that day in my endocrinology class in veterinary school when my study partner and I were learning how to palpate thyroid nodules in cats. We reached over to one another, touching the area of our necks just under the chin. My study partner shrieked and nearly recoiled as her fingers moved to the region of my left thyroid gland. Alas, a tumor. Soon thereafter prompt removal and biopsy, happily (and very luckily, knock on wood) revealed nothing worrisome, but the post-surgical results still visible on my throat bring me back to the six months spent in turtlenecks and scarves so that anyone passing by did not think I was a knifing victim in a slasher flick. It also brings me back to the incredibly supportive and kind people who I had the good fortune to spend five wonderful years with in Ireland. Thank goodness for the University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine.
Continuing to walk down the beach with my husband, I looked over and took stock of how much of his story is visible on his skin.
The large, bumpy scars that line his ankle tell a story of a difficult childhood and orthopedic surgeries and joint conditions that still come back to haunt him, though you would never know it.
The straight indentation near his forehead – not a sign of age, but instead a sign of being a punk-ass snowboarder goofing around with the boys that are now grown-ups with businesses, homes, and families, to this day the best friends anyone could ask for… friends that also manage to still possess the ideal level of youngness. They occupy an extremely special place in his heart, as well as mine.
My eyes then fell on his handsome face. For some reason I find I always walk and sit just to the right of my husband. I wonder if my unconscious choice to always gaze at the right side of his face has meaning because as it turns out, over a year ago, I noticed a bump. A little bump, unobtrusive, minding its own business. After finally meeting with a dermatologist it turned out the little bump was a bit more, and it was certainly not minding its own business. Then, after my husband powered through seven unforeseen rounds of surgery in one day, each procedure involving the excavation of more and more of his handsome face, it turned out the bump was quite literally the tip of a skin cancer iceberg. I am forever grateful that it was (I always feel the need to, again, knock on wood) not the kind of invasive cancer that typically likes to travel, but let’s face it, it certainly made itself at home and the surgeon took more of that face, the one that I gaze at every day, than either one of us could have imagined.
My husband is resilient and strong. A year later, after two skin grafts and a few other cosmetic procedures, it all looks like nothing. People comment about how little they see. It is small enough that I suspect some people even think the story is exaggerated. Ok, I admit, I am incredibly prone to hyperbole, but that is not the case here.
Though the scar now might not show it, this was a life-changing event, one that evoked feelings of love, support, strength, kindness and thankfulness in a manner we could not have imagined.
You see, our scars tell a story. We wear them proudly.