Scar tissue: pain and memory, a portable anthology

My small collection of scars, like the scars you carry too, are memories cut into my body. A portable anthology of damage and recovery. My collection isn’t extensive. I’ve seen some rather more dramatic scar tissue in the men’s sauna at my local swimming baths. Clearly I’ve not led such an interesting life. But my scars are important to me nevertheless, so it’s a bit distressing to realise how they are fading.

The eyebrow scar

The other day, on the bus, I saw a girl with a scar across her eyebrow. Her ethnicity looked to be Arabic, or from around the Mediterranean. She had olive skin, a hawk nose, straight black hair pulled into a tight ponytail, and thick, well tended eyebrows. And one was bisected by a prominent white scar.

This is exactly like my left eyebrow. As I remember mine used to look, cutting a rakish furrow through the brown hair. I would admire it in the bathroom mirror when I was about 10 years old. I’ve no recollection of the accident that caused it, so it must have happened when I was very young.

The girl on the bus has caught me looking at her eyebrow scar. What to do? Should I smile placatingly? Try to strike up a conversation about scar tissue? I can’t think of anything appropriate and let my eye drift beyond her out the window. No, no, this old man wasn’t staring at you, young miss. Glancing back I see her watching me still, with slightly narrowed eyes.

Back home that evening I had to look in the mirror, to search for my own scar. If I hadn’t known where to look, I might not have found it. It’s hardly visible any more. Partly the scar has faded. Mostly the hair of my eyebrow has gone white, the same colour as the scar tissue, camoflaging it.

Puckered scar tissue

All my scars seem to have become less dramatic over the years. The one on my wrist from when I put my hand through a window pane is barely visible any more. (I was a student. I’d locked myself out of my lodgings. Putting my hand through the window seemed like a good way to reach the lock on the other side. I may have been drunk, though I sobered up pretty quickly with all the blood.) The scar was once such a distinctive, white sickle shape, but I can barely make it out any more.

As for my round inoculation scars, up on each shoulder – the ones that never tanned in the sun, but stood out white and stark – I never see them any more. Can’t find them now in the mirror.

Another couple of round scars I can’t find are the two my father gave me one Christmas. I was two or three and he was extending a garland of Christmas lamps to wind about the tree. I crawled over the bare wires while they were still somehow connected to a live plug. It’s another incident I don’t remember, only from stories my mother told, to explain the puckered scar tissue at the back of my thigh. Both marks are gone now, it seems.

Post-splint scar

The scars from when I came off my bike are still there though. Fading, yes, but not yet gone.

It’s only 30 years, not 50, since I skidded on gravel and came off over the top of the handlebars. I still have a picture of the world upside down and then – . And that’s the only time I know for sure I blacked out as an adult, because I remember nothing until I was lying on the ground, my trouser leg soaked with blood.

I wasn’t wearing a bicycle helmet, so I was lucky not to have hit my head. I came down on one knee and my hands and broke bones in both my thumbs. Laid open my right knee. In the hospital, they picked gravel out of the knee before stitching me up. The white scar tissue on my knee is still there, though it’s faded and, I think, shrunk.

The surgeon put a metal splint in one of my thumbs to hold the two sides of the broken bone together. Later, they had to cut me open to get the splint out. I still have the scar from that operation. A white line across the base of my thumb. And I can still make out the marks from the stitching too. Frankenstein’s monster. (I must have the splint somewhere. They certainly gave it to me after they removed it.)

Hadrian’s dog scar

Near to the line of the thumb scar there’s a little white indentation on the ball of my thumb. It matches a similar one that’s almost gone now, on the back of my hand. That’s where a dog bit me when Mrs SC and I were walking the route of Hadrian’s Wall.

I’d met the dog, a terrier crossed with a labrador, the evening before, and I thought we’d made friends. The dog was owned by the people we were staying with. It was the last full day of our holidays and Mrs SC and I were celebrating completing the walk. We went to a local pub for a meal and a drink or two, then walked back to our B&B.

When we got there, only the dog was in residence. It stood in the front garden and wagged its tail, but it was growling as well. Mixed messages. I thought it was welcoming me and reached a hand to pet it. It turned out to be guarding the property and it bit. Hard. More blood. The property owners returned at that point. There was an emergency drive to the A&E at Carlisle General Hospital and a tetanus shot. The dog’s owners were effusively apologetic, but they pleaded with me not to report the dog. I thought it was more than half my fault anyway, so I didn’t. I still don’t know if I did right.

Scar-cinoma

That’s not the full collection. There are the scars on my abdomen from the keyhole surgery I had four years ago to fix a hernia. And somewhere on my scalp there must be the scar after the scar. The scar from when the Belgian hospital removed the scar tissue of my birthing scar which had become a carcinoma. I’ve written about that elsewhere on this website.

Not the full collection, but all the chart-topping hits, let’s say.

But coming back to the girl on the bus, I think scars across eyebrows must be very common. We are always falling down as children, aren’t we? Falling on our faces. And our eyebrows – not the hairs, but the bone beneath – they’re there to protect our eyes. I’m sure they are called on very often while we’re growing up. Still, not everyone has an eyebrow scar. It’s a distinctive thing and I regret that mine seems to have moved from history to become legend.

scar tissue header

Illustrating this turned out to be rather more difficult than I anticipated. None of my ancient scars are particularly photogenic. My effort at drawing the eyes and scarred eyebrow of the young woman I saw on the bus was a dismal failure. The picture at the head of this is a Photoshop mashup from stock images on-line.

I wrote this post partly in response to one of this week’s Muses on the Writers Abroad website. Thanks to Lesley Truchet for the Muse.


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