The year was 1984. I was sitting in Mrs. Woodward’s (my babysitter) dining room with the tutor when the doorbell rang. It was my English teacher. She wanted to hand deliver a copy of Cornucopia-the magazine that published student writing from around the country. My story had been published! The victory was bittersweet. I should have been in school to receive the copy myself, but events that happened a year ago prevented me from attending.
My face was deformed after that fateful night, the left side was sunken in, I had two black eyes. I’d lost my two (permanent) front teeth. The song ‘All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,’ still resonates. I remember having to take the bus to the dentist’s office praying I wouldn’t run into one of my classmates. I nearly died when the boy I had a crush on, hopped on the bus. Thank God he was more interested in what he had to say then hearing from me, so I dodged that bullet.
I had a fractured shoulder and I’d been in the hospital for several months. I remember how excited I was that I’d finally be able to eat solid food. I couldn’t wait to order a hamburger and french fries from the hospital menu for dinner. This would be my last meal though, I was leaving the hospital the next day. However, there was still a long road to recovery and I wouldn’t be able to go to school for a while.
During this time, I was meeting with Dr. Lindsay at Sick Kids hospital. I was going to be having surgery to remove scar tissue from my lips. I’ll never forget the thoughtful way Dr. Lindsay looked up at the ceiling or his soft hands as he gingerly felt around the scar tissue to assess.
Everyone took such good care of me. My teacher’s visited me in the hospital-my favorite teacher, Mrs. Ignatowitz bought me a teddy bear-no “Rocky” wasn’t a teddy bear, he was a teddy raccoon. I loved him to pieces. Literally-like the Velveteen Rabbit. Once when Mrs. Ignatowitz came to visit, I was watching Solid Gold. Today, I guess the show might be comparable to a variety show like America’s Got Talent or The Voice. Actually no. Not really. Solid Gold had performances from artists that were already established. Maybe a better comparison would be to Soul Train. Anyway, my sister and I loved to watch and imitate the dance moves we’d see-we even shoved our underwear up our butts to emulate the Solid Gold dancers in their nylon tights. There would be no dancing for me for a while. Either Rick James was on the show, or the dancers were dancing to his music. Mrs. Ignatowitz saw I was into it and on her next visit, she bought me Rick James album! You can imagine my mother’s delight when her 10 year old girl was singing along to Mary Jane-having no idea what the song was about back then.
I did love me some Rick James though. I became a lifelong fan after Mrs. Ignatowitz bought me that album. He has a special place in my heart. Mrs. Ignatowitz does too. I will never forget her compassion and kindness. I will never forget the glossy look in her eyes when she saw me lying mangled in the hospital bed, like she’d been crying.
I’ve spoken to her recently and she told me that I’m the reason anyone riding in her car has to buckle up. I’m honored.
Then there was my roomate. I don’t even remember her name. Just that she was from Ohio. I don’t remember why she was in the hospital, but every time her family came to visit, they always checked for me. They brought me food, and they became quite friendly with my mom and dad.
She and I became penpals for a while, and she’d send pictures. I wonder what happened to her. I wonder if she remembers me.
I remember bits and pieces of that fateful night. I was nine years old. I remember my dad calling my name in the darkness. It seemed like forever before he found me in a ditch on the side of the road where our car had overturned. I remember telling him that I couldn’t feel my arm.
I remember they had to cut my pink and blue striped dress open. I sort of remember lying strapped on the gurney with the EMT’s rushing me into the ER I guess it was. I was really out of it-but I can never forget my father, running alongside the gurney, screaming at the team of nurses to let him see me. “That’s my daughter! That’s my daughter! I’ve watched enough hospital dramas to know how difficult it is for family members to wait. I know how helpless my dad must have felt. I know he blamed himself for the scars I carried, externally and internally.
My dad never really spoke of the accident. I don’t even recall asking what happened that night. My mom mentioned a deer ran into the road and my dad swerved and the car flipped over. I went through the windshield first, breaking it with my face. My sister followed. We’d been sleeping at the time of the accident.
Later I learned that a deer hadn’t run out into the road. My father, like me, has serious road rage. I’ve also inherited his pride and ego. A car with a trailer attached had overtaken my dad-I guess he was driving to slow. My dad, (and I hate to admit but I have to catch myself when I’m driving because I react the same way) tried to overtake him and he lost control of the car. I remember it was a Mazda. I can’t remember the model.
You’d think that knowing the accident was a result of road rage would prevent me from getting upset behind the wheel. When I think about it, and funny enough, I didn’t until today-I’m surprised highway driving at night doesn’t terrify me. I know it did my mom, to this day she won’t drive on the highway. I remember on one road trip, my dad was so tired he asked my mom to drive. He didn’t actually ask, he more or less shamed her into it. I remember how terrified she was and there were tons of big trucks and trailers on the road which intimidated her. We nearly had another accident because of how nervous she was, with all of these trucks driving so close to her. To this day she refuses to drive on the highway. Who can blame her? She was awake in the passenger seat when the accident happened.
It’s been decades. My dad has since passed away. As I said, I know that he carried a lot of guilt and shame about how his actions had consequences not really for him-because he escaped with barely an injury-both he and my mom had some back issues, my sister suffered a concussion-I got the worst of it.
As a kid, anytime I’d meet someone they’d look at my scarred lips and ask what happened. I hated having to explain. My grandmother had to tell kids I’d be playing with that “she wasn’t born this way.” I’d tried every kind of makeup to conceal them, but it never worked the scars were too deep. I remember standing in the mirror trying to twist my mouth into different shapes or whatever I could do to make the scars less noticeable. I can’t forget the look on my dad’s face as he watched me doing it.
With time, the scars grew less visible, and it didn’t ruin my chances of dating, marrying having a life, and even turning a few heads, which I thought I’d never be able to do.
With time I learned to love myself–and my scars. I’ve been through some things. I’ve survived.
Scars can be beauty marks.