By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog post 49. Copyright 2022
I have a scar on my face, the kind of scar that makes me divide my life into before the car wreck and after the car wreck.
Mother had picked me up from Billie Jean’s on a Sunday morning for church. I remember that she and my new stepfather were going to be out late, and she wasn’t comfortable with leaving her 10-year-old daughter at home alone. Billie Jean had a little girl I adored, just young enough for me to feel like her big sister and just old enough that she could fend me off if I smothered her with hugs.
I remember that Mother wasn’t happy with me because I had brought the wrong clothes for church, and she had to bring my plaid skirt, white blouse, and blue vest when she picked me up. She’d had time to mellow during the service, and we were having a conversation about a nightmare I’d had the night before. I saw the wreck coming in the expression on her face.
A white car was spinning toward us, seemingly dropped into our path. The driver had pulled out too quickly on wet roads and lost control. It made no sense that he had even pulled out when he did. There was little traffic on a rainy Sunday. We didn’t get the chance to ask him why. He didn’t make it.
We both survived, me with a head full of glass and a broken jaw from the windshield and dashboard, Mother with trauma to her chest and knee from the steering wheel and ignition. The car wreck aged her overnight from the very young 42 she had been. And I became the girl with the scar.
I had multiple surgeries through my teens to continue the work begun by Dr. Charbonniez, a talented plastic surgeon who was on call that rainy Sunday morning. He worked magic on my ruined forehead until the scar could be covered with only a little makeup. When I was 14 I pulled my hair out of eyes and wore it in a topknot for the first time.
That feeling of being the girl with the scar hadn’t gone away; it had become part of my identity. I wasn’t going to be the pretty one. So I’d have to be the smart one or the nice one or the talented one. It forced me to work on other aspects of myself than my appearance.
The Boy’s first scar was stitches to close a forehead gash that, once it stopped bleeding, showed about a half-inch strip of his skull. He was playing peek-a-boo with our friend Myrtle at church, peeking around a corner, when he fell and hit his head on a sharp baseboard.
I remember that we had walked to church, so I called My Honey to pick us up and drive to the emergency room. He had Sunday dinner boiling away on the stove and ran out of the house without even turning off the burners when he heard the words head injury. Luckily, Grandma Roberts lived with us at the time, so we were able to call her to turn the dials.
My Honey’s first scar was from a dog attack. The dog was fended off by Cider, a yellow dog that My Honey loved very much. His daddy was ready to shoot the attacking canine when Cider stepped in. My Honey was left with a scar from a rip in the skin near his eye.
Every scar tells a story. The stories written in our skin are part of our history, sometimes the defining stories of who we are. If you leave a group of college-age people to converse together long enough, they will get around to talking about the marks on their bodies. If you count tattoos, it will take about 10 minutes.
I have explained to hairdressers that I can’t have a Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut because of scars on the back of my head where hair and skin were harvested for transplanting to my eyebrow. I have joked that I will stop trimming my eyebrow every day and let the hair grow out, braid beads into it, and wear it as a fashion statement. Mostly, I have hidden my scar.
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I continued covering my scar. But now, after two years of being homebound by the pandemic and now homebound by disability, I don’t make up my scar anymore. First, my dexterity is not what it was. But more than that, I put my limited energy somewhere else. I still have to trim my eyebrow—with safety scissors now. But I no longer feather, draw, powder, and dab. I show my scar to the world. I look at my face and know that it wouldn’t be mine without the scar.
Maybe it’s time for me to embrace my scars and the stories they tell, to face the world without embarrassment or judgment.
By the way, have I told you the story of how I got this scar on my leg? I was riding behind a boy on a motorcycle and…