My Scarlet Past

August 11, 2010
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I have my very own scarlet letter. A mark that, similarly to Hester Prynne’s, serves as a constant and relentless reminder of the most trying period of my life thus far. Yet unlike that of our famed female heroine, my emblem and souvenir of the past is, most literally, a part of my body.
The scar that stretches over several inches of my lower right abdomen is both prominent and grabbing of even the most cursory glance. I remember with acute, bitter nostalgia the first time saw my current scar in all its glory. Waking up and pulling my hospital gown back ever so slightly, I laid eyes on my new and improved line of stitches, even bigger than it had been after my initial surgery only ten days prior. At the time, I assume I was too preoccupied with thoughts of ending this intestinal nightmare, or with going home, or with having my first bite of food in a week, or perhaps with the tubes going in and out of my arms, chest, throat and nose to worry about the permanent aesthetic effects of this whole battle. Those worries would come later.
And later did they come. I spent my summer months tee-shirt clad only in order to hide the purplish streak and misshapen section of my stomach from curious eyes. If anyone did happen to catch a glimpse, there were various reactions that triggered various emotions and responses on my behalf. If anyone’s burning desire to know the story ever did outweigh the awkward hesitation to ask what happened, I would normally brush it off without detail in a minimal response involving the words, “stomach problems.” Even more often, my dry sarcasm would come spurting out in some reply of how I was brutally attacked by a shark. On occasion I would receive a look of pure awe and trepidation, but more frequently this answer would work to my advantage by skirting the conversation and hiding the deeply rooted insecurity of having my scar out in the open.
In the early stages of the Liberty & Scar show, if someone or something were to accidentally touch, or even come close to making physical contact with the area surrounding my scar, I used to jump away as if that could cause me severe bodily harm or pain. I possessed a strange, protective mentality that my scar was eternally sensitive and vulnerable. When looking back on these times with my 20/20 hindsight vision, it became blatantly obvious that this attitude toward my scar was merely a shield for the emotions I had about the situation at large, and the scar simply an allegory for the mental trauma I needed to erase to find the opportunities for growth that being sick had so intensely created. I had built up a wall of hatred toward my scar itself, which was only a smokescreen to hide behind so I never had to deal with the lingering bitterness, fear, and uncertainty instilled in me by the actual reason for my scar’s existence. I had my entire life, my routines and my seemingly guaranteed tomorrow thrown down the drain faster than I knew possible. Once I was able to accept the lessons offered by that circumstance, the antipathy for my scar slowly evaporated, leaving only my newfound strength and reassurance in the fact that I can look adversity in the eye and slam that shiny hospital door right in its face.
Towards the end of her story, Hester Prynne indignantly removes her scarlet “A” and leaves it destitute on the ground, along with it any notion that she will be defined by her past. Well, in contrast to that infamous scarlet letter, my scar no longer seems like an alien marking needing to be erased. I used to be so focused on forgetting that little bumpy line, on refusing to let it define me, but why not let it? After all, my scar is the clearest and closest reminder of who I am today. It is directly responsible for my transformation into someone who knows the fragility of the things most precious to her, but most of all, who no longer underestimates her own will nor capability to succeed under any precarious circumstance. As for those people on the beach who may still stare in bewilderment, let them stare. I let them stare because what they see is victory.

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