The successful and stunning Ariel Winter from Modern Family received some feedback for wearing a dress to the SAG Awards, which revealed a scar from her breast-reduction surgery. She felt compelled to justify her fashion choice: “There’s a reason I didn’t cover up my scars! They are a part of me and I’m not ashamed of them at all.”
Scars are life’s tattoos; autographs left on the skin as permanent mementos of defining stories. Not just remnants of physical trials, scars are trophies honoring the miracle of the body’s ability to heal, to grow new skin, to connect it back together where it had been cut, ripped open, or burned off.
These relics I’ve collected one by one, and all come with memorable stories — and gratitude.
My first two scars were from the smallpox vaccines they gave me in Russia. In America they stopped giving the immunization in 1971, but Kiev in 1974 was still doling them out. None of my American peers had these textured, dime-sized marks on their upper right arms. These scars remind me where I’m from and where I’ve come, and protect me if Small Pox ever makes a recurrence.
My next big scar came in 4th grade. I had just gotten the brown ugly two-wheeled Huffy and was giving my friend Tina a ride over the bumpy terrain of the Projects. We were advised against the dangers of off-roading, but our persistence led to the grand fall. We both fell and ripped off pieces of our knees and thighs, filling our wounds with gravel. The scar left on my knee brings back one of my most unforgettable afternoons of childhood.
Perhaps my most prominent scar lives on my face, vertically extending from right under my nose to halfway down my lip. This little slice reminds me I should have avoided berating my mastiff on the bridge of her nose with my face too close to hers. This everlasting token reminding me of my first dog, my first stitches, and how I forgot to bleach my mustache before a handsome plastic surgeon sutchered me with a magnifying lens over my face.
I have this round little burn scar on the inside of my bicep from the time I was baking tons of biscotti for a potluck cocktail party at my son’s private school. I pulled out the cookie sheet from a 450-degree oven and the stainless steel made a tssssss sound as it touched my arm, forming a bubble immediately. I didn’t realize how much it hurt until the bubble popped accidentally the next day. I wore long sleeves to the cocktail party and quickly discovered Upper East Side, private school version of potluck meant Zabars or Eli’s, not homemade biscotti. There were white-gloved servers waiting as the elevator opened into the opulent apartment. They carefully took my crispy Italian cookies and transferred them onto a lace doily-lined silver tray and elegantly passed them around next to the cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. I felt the burn bubble seeping all night under my long sleeved shirt. Today, whenever I see the little circular discoloring, I think back to my evening of garnering culinary praise and exchanging recipes with fellow parents as we stared in awe at the Renoir and Monet hanging in their gathering room.
My thyroid scar is most entertaining because I get to say “I got slashed in the neck,” and wait a second for an awkward reaction. I had a thyroid tumor for 11 years before I got it removed. It was scary having to get it tested every year to make sure it was still benign. After his decade residency, my tumor began producing thyroid hormones. So this little growth caused me to behave erratically, causing decision-making to be very difficult. Outfits in the morning and nail colors at the salon typically led me to tears. After the surgery, I had a little grenade connected to my neck to collect leftover blood drippings, but that was short-lived as they sent me on my way the next day. They discharged me with Advil and a band-aid across my neck to hide my Pez-dispenser look. I was lucky there were no after effects and my leftover thyroid was able to recover without supplemental medicine.
My favorite keepsake is my smile-shaped cesarian section scar. It brought me the most magnificent conclusion – a human daughter! My C-Section was done as an emergency and in an effort to rush me to the ER as fast as possible, they accidentally pulled out my epidural. “Oh Shit,” was the reassuring sentiment I heard as they strapped my arms, Jesus-Christ style, onto the OR table. The nurse assured me I had a half-hour’s worth of anesthesia and this skilled doctor should be able to get the baby out and me stapled up in time. I watched the second hand of the clock, counting slowly, not breathing, until I heard her cry. I forgave my doctor for cutting through the heart tattoo which lives on my bikini line.
Scars are marvels of the human anatomy. Fundamentally, they serve to forever remind me: once it was broken, but now it is fixed.