With the exception of a crescent-shaped curve on the side of my middle finger, every one of my scars and broken bones has an adventurous backstory. I wear them and carry them as evidence of the intrepid experiences I've enjoyed for 60 years.
I'm active, I love the outdoors, I'm fearless, I've had fun, I tell myself.
Until this scab on my knee. Well, that and the scar on my finger.
I broke my arm roller-skating in 4th grade. I heard and felt it crack, which although it hurt like hell, was mild compared to the pain of having it set right again. Afterward, though, when the swelling subsided and the ice packs were lifted, I returned to school with a story to tell about the cast on my arm. It was my first rush of an athletic girl identity.
I fell down some concrete steps playing tag with boys in my neighborhood and still have the translucent shine of a scar up the front of my shin. More bravado.
I tore ligaments in my right ankle skiing as a teen and didn't mind hobbling down my high school halls with crutches because they were evidence of my winter sports involvement. I smashed two lumbar vertebra skiing in the Rocky Mountains a couple years later and wore a brace for months; same thing—big story to tell.
At 57 years old, I broke my left shoulder in two places skiing in Utah. Had I outgrown the pride of being an "outdoor girl"? Apparently not. In fact, it meant even more to me because of my age. Every time someone assumed I'd had rotator cuff surgery when they saw my arm cradled in the sling, I relished telling them I'd fallen on a frozen mogul while skiing at Snowbird. I noted silently, however, that this injury was taking a lot longer to heal.
But it was nothing compared to the indulgent length of time the scab on my knee took to go away last year.
And the knee injury had no risky story behind it.
I was walking and I fell. That's it. The concrete was even. I wasn't near a curb or a dip in the grass. I wasn't distracted and there was nothing in my path to have tripped me. I just embarrassingly, with one step, unlike hundreds of thousands of others I've taken in my life, fell and my right knee was the first thing to hit the ground.
It bled, I cleaned it up. It bruised. It was stiff and swollen, and the ugly scab wouldn't go away. I could soon walk easily enough, but any kneeling or deep bending was painfully out of the question. My yoga teacher made accommodations for me in class. "Give it time," she said, as younger people in class looked at me sympathetically (or maybe patronizingly). I don't know.
A couple months later, as I sat in my doctor's office, he asked about the scab and purple discoloration.
"What happened here?"
"Did you lose your balance? Were you lightheaded?" There was no assumption that I'd been cycling or climbing or skating. You know, something athletic. Had I reached an age where the first assumption was a lack of balance and dizziness?
I was impatient with waiting for my knee to heal. Until I talked to my mother.
"Be grateful you can form a scab," she said.
And there it was. In seven words, she'd put it in perspective. I'd forgotten in my complaining that she'd been going to a wound clinic for several months having skin grafts from a fall she'd taken in her kitchen. She'd endured oozy infections, salves, bleeding and pain—and still no scab. No skin grafts "took."
"They're going to try something new," she said. I knew she wanted me to ask to be sure I was listening and paying attention.
"And what is that, Mom?"
"The foreskin from circumcised penises."
Apparently, that's nutrient-rich skin. I googled it after we hung up.
Well, that didn't take either. And in the middle of December, she died suddenly at home of heart failure. In all the efforts to heal her wound, no one considered that it might not have been healing because her heart was failing and therefore not circulating enough blood to get down there and do what blood does.
"Be grateful you can form a scab." So simple.
Me? The scab is long gone. I can bend my knee and do cat/cow and downward dogs in my yoga classes again with no pain.
But when I'm drying off after a shower, with my leg up on the side of the tub, I see streaks of deep purple beneath the skin on my knee.
And the crescent-shaped scar on my middle finger? I was 8 years old and setting the table when my mother corrected me that summer evening.
"No," she said, "you turn the blades of the knives inward toward the plates." In my rush to get back outside for a few more minutes of play before dinner, I cut myself as I turned one the right way.
Sometimes I cup my hand over my bent knee and think of her. When I'm fidgeting, I often rub the curve of that crescent on my finger. In both places, I hear her.
Turns out they're my favorite battle scars now, because they bring forth memories of her, and she's really the bravest tale I know.