Published on November 6th, 2018 | by Lyndsay Knowles


Scars: A Photo Essay

“What is that?” my son asks, his finger reaching out, pointing to a small stretch of skin above my belly button, a once-angry red fading to a softer pink, the edges both jagged and smooth.

“This is a scar,” I say, as I sit down on the bed next to where he’s standing, bringing my stomach to his level so he can see it closely.

He squints as he studies it. “A scar?” he asks. “What are scars from?”

“Scars come from lots of different things—falls, burns, surgeries, cuts.” He listens intently, his eyes fixed on the pink mark. “The skin heals, but you can still see it.”

“Do they ever go away?” he finally asks. He is worried.

“No,” I say, as I put my hand to his cheek, then tap him softly under the chin, a signal for him to raise his eyes and meet mine.

“They don’t. But that’s okay.”

He’s almost two years older when, talking softly in his room one night after bedtime stories, he tugs at the bottom of my shirt. “Can I see the baby?” he asks. I lift it up, bringing the edge of the fabric to the top of my swelling stomach. He places his hand over my belly button, then lightly traces the taut line of light pink skin that is stretched and strained.

“That’s your scar,” he says. “It won’t ever go away, right?”

I nod.

“I’m glad I don’t have any scars,” he says.

I gently touch the scar hidden beneath his right eyebrow, reminding him of his fall on our concrete porch.

“I’m glad that I have mine,” I tell him.

“Why?” he asks, surprised.

I think of all the things I want to say to him about pain and loss and beauty and healing and grief and memory. But I know he isn’t ready, that even I’m not ready.

I settle on a simpler version of the truth.

“My scars each remind me of something important,” I tell him.

“Like this one,” I say, lifting my leg and pointing to my knee. “This one I got at my grandmother’s house when I was a little girl, even younger than you. It was Easter Sunday, and I was all dressed up. I was so excited to see her that I started running on the sidewalk in front of her house. I fell down and scraped up my knee and it started bleeding. But you know what she did? She lifted me up and carried me in the house and into the bathroom, and she took off my tights, and she cleaned up the blood and she put a band-aid on it. She took care of me and made me feel better. This scar reminds me of her.”

What I don’t tell him: how I was scared that my mother would be upset I had torn my new tights, how the washcloth and the soap burned as my grandmother removed the pieces of gravel from my knee, how I picked at the edges of the scab when the wound started to heal, how the green pus leaked out around the edges, how the scab stuck to the band-aid and peeled away, leaving freshly wounded skin, how it seemed that it took months to heal.

“And this one.” I point to my wrist. “When I was a bigger kid, I went ice skating with my friends. I had one friend who was always being silly. She started chasing me on the ice and she fell. Her feet flew up in the air as I turned around and her ice skate almost hit my face. I put my hand up to protect my eyes, and the tip of the blade on her skate hit my wrist. I think of her when I look at it now.”

What I don’t tell him: how she was strong and fearless and beautiful, how she taught me to doodle flowers and butterflies in science class while the teacher’s voice droned on in the background, how she tried to teach me to dance, raising my arms out to my sides, checking my posture and the positioning of my feet, never losing her patience, how we ate donuts in her bed on Saturday mornings and watched music videos on MTV and talked on the phone while we waited for her Hanson request to play on Mix 97.7, how she lied and said she hadn’t kissed him, hadn’t been naked with him, hadn’t betrayed my trust, until she admitted that she did, how I couldn’t forgive her–wouldn’t forgive her, how we stopped speaking and I discovered, years later through a text message, that she had been homeless, that her body had been found in a river in the city where she lived–no foul play suspected, how I had cried, felt the throb of regret deep in my stomach and the guilt in my tears.

I take his hand in mine.

“Remember how I told you that when you were born, the doctors had to cut open my belly to get you out?”

He nods, serious.

“What do you think that scar reminds me of?”

“The day I was born.” He smiles, his brown eyes crinkling as he looks up at me and settles in closer at my side.

“Yes,” I nod. “It does. That was a really special day.”

“And this one,” I say pointing to the stretched scar on the center of my stomach, “is from a surgery the doctors did to see if it would help me have another baby. And we didn’t know if it would work, but it did.”

“Yeah,” he says, grinning. “And now there’s a baby in your belly.”

“Now there’s a baby in my belly.” I pat my stomach, and he places his hand beside mine.

“So the scar reminds you of the baby?”

“Yes, the scar reminds me of the baby,” I agree, and I feel two quick nudges from within.

What I don’t tell him: how the bruises blossomed and spread up the sides of my stomach and over the insides of my thighs, a purple so deep it was almost black, how when I looked in the mirror, my body was not my body, how the fatigue made my thoughts thick and weighted for months, until I allowed myself to ask Was it worth it?, how a test was finally positive a year after the surgery, how five days later I started bleeding, how every time I looked at my bare stomach I thought of the ring of red floating in the toilet, how the doubt crept in, a forceful tide like the deep purple watermarks on my skin, how I had just begun to hope.

Our bedtime routine over, I roll to the side of the bed and inch my way up, careful not to lose my balance as I place my hand underneath my stomach, like it’s a weight I can make lighter as I stand. I tuck him in, leaning down to place a kiss on his forehead and smooth back his hair. We say our good-nights, and I close his bedroom door, leaving it cracked a bit so he can see the light that stretches down the hallway from the kitchen.

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About the Author

Lyndsay Knowles is a writer and English teacher. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband, son, and daughter. Her work has been featured in You&Me Magazine and is forthcoming in Literary Mama.

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