You see my smile on the left, and you read of the places I have visited. But there is more. Like all of us, scars on my body trace my life. They are a visual memoir. Jagged, deep, short, long, thin, pale, rough, pearly - some of these markings created over many decades are hidden, and some you cannot miss.
And most you will never see.
My earliest scars are from when my tonsils and adenoids were removed. I was five, and that operation was common then, undertaken when children were prone to infections. I can still smell the stench of ether and see the rubbery, muddy-colored face mask coming toward me as I lay pinned on my back in a cold, bright room at St. Francis hospital, now an acqua condo complex in Miami Beach.
A voice like a God floated from above, "Now we'll take your picture," my first remembered betrayal from someone other than a parent. I awakening in a strange bed --helpless, sore and unable to speak, with the small reward of chocolate ice cream scooped with a tiny wooden stick from a paper cup.
Shallow scars from a serious bout of chicken pox are scattered over my arms like faded sequins, stubbornly holding amid the freckles. A fleshy scar on my shoulder is the remnant of a fat, dark mole, a blue nevis, removed when I was twelve, and there is a shiny one left from a cyst on my leg when I was fourteen, when I thought it meant I was dying.
I rode the K bus to the Dupont building in Miami when I was thirteen to have radiation treatments for acne, treated by an old machine an old doctor who covered me in a lead apron. These facial scars have been peeled and smoothed away over the years but sometimes I can still glimpse their shadows in sunlight.
Five scars from basal cell skin cancers scatter across my body from childhood romps without protection in the Miami Beach sun. The one the right side of my nose from the Mohs surgery that reshaped my nose is a symbol of life's fragility every time I look in the mirror.
Another scar looks like someone slit my throat. And indeed the surgeon did just that when he removed my thyroid gland. (That scar may have been caused from the earlier radiation for my face.)
Two faded pink scars on my breasts are from masses that were found to be benign. I was lucky. Another mass was not, and the scars on my right lower back are from its removal. Small and deadly, it was found by chance at the top on my right lung. I was lucky again: they found it early.
Below my navel, a thin scar cuts me in two. I felt symptoms alone on a trip in Guatemala, at the start of a long research project. I stayed up all night watching Steven Segal movies in my little hotel room in Guatemala City, and in the morning I cancelled my schedule and flew back to the states. I returned to finish the project six weeks after the hysterectomy.
The scar right below my lip is from when I was tired and plowed into the back of a truck in rural England, my husband at my side, my toddler son in the back seat. I hit the steering wheel and my front teeth came through my lower lip. The local doc, no older it seemed than Doogie Howser, sewed it up unevenly without anesthetic and we all went back to London on the train.
And there are the scars which recall happy moments: one on my fingertip from a knife that slipped when I was chopping onions too fast, cooking up a storm for the man I loved. A scar on my shin is from when I pedaled without holding the handlebars and I fell off my red Schwinn with the fat tires, the little straw basket, and the tinkly bell.
Scars on my knees are from falls, maybe from hopscotch on the sidewalk long ago, or from ice skating with my sons on my little pond in Westchester. One on my chin, is from when I fell on the terrazzo floor spinning and laughing in the bungalow on Sheridan Avenue when I was six.
Internal scars remain as well, invisible except perhaps in my hesitance to trust, and my fear of being abandoned.
They come from a mother who taunted me and ignored my pain. Relationships that tore apart abruptly: scars of the heart. Friends who have disappointed when I needed solace, and stepsons who betrayed their father's plea to honor me as he would have.
I smile. I do not mention them. I write of happy times and faraway places. I have moved forward. But these internal scars hurt. These scars burn. These scars are the ugliest of all the hundreds of scars of my life. And unlike the external ones, these are the scars that have never completely healed.