Every Scar Tells A Story
We didn't talk about the cancer. Five years ago, a seemingly innocent tumor had become a central figure in her life, one that continued to dwell in her consciousness long after the first surgery had removed the amorphous mucoid mass from her ankle.
We never talked about the cancer. She had described herself as a cancer patient once, and I knew about the work she did to fundraise for a cure, but I never thought of her in this context. Our time together was something cancer would never penetrate. It was a Faraday cage that resisted the impertinent discharges of worry, doubt, anxiety and fear. In it, there was nothing but us at our most essential, our most free.
The first time I saw her ankle, I didn't give it a quick, polite look. I reached out and I took it in my hands. I ran my fingertips over the skin, over the scar. I didn't see a graft and scar -- I saw a part of her as unique as her smile. I told her how I lost my Fallopian tubes and showed her my own scar. "Do you know how I know if a man with whom I'm intimate is worthwhile?" I asked her. "When he traces his fingers over my scar."
Photo by zmtomako.
I've been with many men who never noticed the scar, or who saw the scar and looked away as if embarrassed to discover an imperfection on my body. I never said anything to encourage them to return their gaze, I never suggested that they could look or explain to them what had happened. To me, a scar is not a flaw to explain away or to excuse.
"Do you know wabi-sabi?" I asked her one afternoon as we sat sipping coffee. "It's a way of looking around you and seeing that the most beautiful things are those that are unique through imperfection." There is a quote by Barbara Bloom that summarizes it brilliantly: "When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful."
I remembered the man she'd told me about some months later, the one who'd run his fingers over her scar. For a while she'd thought of her left foot as a separate entity, an aspect of her life that she needed to care for. She wasn't the one with the problem -- Lefty was. Lefty had had numerous surgeries. Lefty had had radiotherapy. Lefty needed its own chair. She was a party of two.
But that night, in one moment, her narrative merged with Lefty's. She looked at her scar and she saw the story -- her story. She arranged to have her photo taken, full length, a smile on her face and gold in the cracks glistening in the light. That epiphany remained long after the man was gone; at the conference BlogHer '11, we sat on the bed of the room she shared with her best friend and we looked at the photos. Getting our nails done some weeks later, she let me help her put her shoes back on and she told me she was starting to feel more. It meant pain, I could tell, but it also meant that the graft had taken and that the nerve was growing back.
We never talked about the cancer or the other aspect of wabi-sabi that stresses the impermanence of things. Our time was a sanctuary in the middle of a world that refuses to stop for anything or anyone. It was a place where she was not a cancer patient, but a woman, a place of no judgment or pity. And it wasn't just hers, it was mine, too. When I was with her, I wasn't A.V. Flox, this persona that's part art installation, part human nature, this creature with a point to make about fear and freedom that's half naked yet still somehow trapped inside the invisible carapace created by the eyes of the very audience whose attention I'm courting. With her, in those moments, I was just a woman. In sweatpants and those little disposable flip flops they give you after a pedicure, I was the most naked I've ever been.
We never talked about the cancer. Now I want to talk about her passing but I don't have the words. I may have told her I loved her scar as much as any other part of her, but she showed me she loved my truth and there is nothing that can describe what that continues to mean to me.