The day before my sixteenth birthday I crashed my brother’s longboard into a ditch.
I’d gotten going faster than I knew how to handle, flying down this winding street, until the speed wobbles became unbearable. I realized I couldn’t recover, panicked, and in typical Jess fashion, bailed. I tried to hit the pavement running and wound up a limb-flailing wreck, longboard in the bushes across the street.
My brother showed uncharacteristic concern, collecting the board, helping me to the car, and asking, gently, if I really needed to be that contorted in the back seat. Once he realized I wasn’t going to cry or anything, he told me I’d looked like a “flopping wet dog.”
I spent my sweet sixteen moping in my bed, on painkillers and wrapped in bandages. The only time I remember leaving my bedroom was to open presents in the morning. I have no idea what I got save for a beautiful tear-shaped opal from my father, and with it a letter. I’ve since lost the jewelry, but I have that letter.
Dad had written that I was more opal-ly than diamond-y, and why. It was a beautiful and life-affirming note any sixteen-year-old girl would weep over.
I didn’t cry over it, though. I had these sore, stiff muscles and bandaids all over my body, and my head was fuzzy from painkillers. I was in physical pain and totally discouraged by my flopping crash the day before, and when I crept back upstairs I lay down to cry about that.
Dad came up to see what was wrong.
“Dad,” I whined. ”I’m going to have the worst scars.”
I showed him the blood-soaked band-aids on my left elbow, my knees, my shredded palms, and my hip bone. I covered my face and cried. He said something Dad-ish about scars adding character, how they’re a testimony to a life well-lived (clumsily, Dad. You mean clumsily.).
Finally he said, “Jessie Bear, someday someone’s going to kiss those scars.”
I probably did something teenagery and rolled my eyes, but I never forgot that.
I’ve got a lot of scars. I’ve got the bad ones from the long-board fiasco, and minor ones from minor trips. I have two small burns on my right hand from baking falafels one midnight. I’ve got a stripe on my left thumb from a panicked dog who’d gotten his foot stuck in a fence, and bit me when I tried to help. I’ve even got a scar on my right foot from (I think) a shoe that was too tight.
The thing about these scars is I’m the cause of them. Its not like someone swung a skateboard at my shins while I was sleeping. I’m not a bystander or a victim in regards to any of my scars. I’m the one who decides to bake falafels in the middle of the night. I decided to learn how to longboard when I was fifteen. These scars are my fault; they’re mine. I own them.
But that crash still hurt. And I’ve got these discolored marks on my knees, elbow and hipbone to show for it.
I was thinking about this tonight because I was realizing I’m such a mess lately, and I kind’ve wanna pull a high-school me and just hole up in bed with the covers up to my chin until the scabs fall off. I’ve got survivor’s guilt scars, I’ve got financial mistakes, I’ve got distorted eating and drinking scars, and I’ve got a heart so contorted in ambivalent affections it can’t seem to get its rhythm back.
And then I hear my daddy’s voice; someone’s going to kiss those scars.
I’m encouraged when I think about my sixteenth birthday, the pain and defeat I felt waking up with bruised ribs. I think about that multifaceted stone the most important man in my life gave me. I know my scars bear witness to a life full of (sometimes misguided) attempts, and that they’re kissable.
Do you wanna know how I lost the opal off that ring? I lost it when my fingers somehow got caught in part of the gate on Camelback mountain. I have no idea how that happened; I must’ve been barreling down faster than I could handle, and as I fell I reached out for something steady. Ring gone and knees bloodied, I spent the next few minutes crawling around with a search party of hiking strangers. All the while I explained, “its just a rock. It doesn’t really mean anything. Its just a symbol of subtle, multifaceted beauty, you know? Like, how life is all different colors and they’re all beautiful and unique in different ways? You know? Its just a metaphor.”
Its just a metaphor.