When I was eight years old, I took dancing lessons. Besides the standard tap, jazz, and ballet, the studio included a beginner gymnastics class. I refused to do tap, tolerated jazz and ballet, but enjoyed the tumbling. I had good balance and appreciated the capacity of my small body to bend and twist.
One night, I was turning cartwheels in the house—no, probably not a good idea, but kids have a different concept of danger—and I hit my head on a wooden bench. The impact stunned more than hurt me. I sat on the floor and said, “I’m fine, Daddy,” then touched my forehead. Dripping. I vaguely recall being hauled into the bathroom, my blood a left-behind trail of spots in the green carpet.
I lay face up, nearly blinded by the bathroom’s ceiling light, as my father compressed the wound. Outside, a ferocious storm with thunder and lightning rattled the window. My mom entered the room. There were worried faces. I sensed my two younger siblings in the hallway. It might have been my dad who said, “I think she needs to go to the hospital.”
I went ape-shit, screaming at the top of my lungs, “Noooo!” But it didn’t matter, because we were all loaded into the station wagon. Why one parent didn’t take me and the other stay behind with my brother and sister, I haven’t a clue. I recall the drive to the emergency room, my head on my mother’s lap, the rain pounding against the car windows. I wondered why we didn’t stay safely at home.
The wait in the emergency room wasn’t long. In a room that felt huge, exposed, a young man, likely an intern, came to look at me. He was calm, seemed kind. He said I needed stitches. Then my parents were sent out. I don’t know if that was the edict from the intern or the sadist who was about to stitch me up.
“It’s going to sting for about 15 or 20 seconds,” the intern said. “Can you count to 15?”
“Yes,” I said, exasperated. I was eight, not two. He smiled.
My body reclined on the stretcher. The ER doctor came up and put a white paper cloth over my head with a hole in the middle. All I could see was a half moon of light and his hand. I was given warning…the anesthetic was coming…start counting. By one, I felt pain, by two, it was excruciating, and I never made it any higher because I screamed, the pure sound of agony alternated with begging for my mother. Two, maybe three adults, had to hold me down. The sadist doctor then did something that hurt me even more deeply than the excoriating flame in my head.
He clamped his hand on my mouth to suffocate the sound.
Temples soaked with tears, I lay there as I felt the sadist sew up the wound in the middle of my forehead. At my hands were the intern and a young woman. I heard their voices. They put a lollypop in each hand. The intern talked to me, I have no memory of what. Then I asked if I may have another piece of candy to give to my little sister.
“Awww,” the intern and the woman said. Someone put two more into my little fists.
When I sat up, I touched the prickly tines of the sutures. My parents came in. Someone, I think it was the sadist, said that if I hadn’t had a little patch of fat on my forehead, I might have died.
A week later, the stitches had to come out. I went to the medical clinic where we were taken when we got sick. The pediatrician with the Burt Reynolds moustache, whom I despised, said the scar would move up into my scalp as I grew. He said that it wouldn’t hurt to remove the stitches. I didn’t believe him, and said so.
“Don’t you trust me?”
Then he and my mother laughed, that oh-what-a-spunky-kid laugh. Never mind that the stitch removal was nothing but a few tugs. Their response crushed me. I remained silent. For years.
In my twenties, I told my mother what the sadist did. Her eyes glazed with tears. She said she’d heard me screaming from the waiting room. She said she knew she should have stayed. Then she apologized. I said it was okay. I shrugged. I thought it was all over.
Three decades later, early one morning, I fell in the bathroom and split my chin open on the sink. When I stood up and turned on the light, I saw blood drip from my chin. Give me a gory horror movie or someone else’s injury, but not my own blood. I can’t stand the sight of it. I sat on the toilet with tissue against the gash and breathed. I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay.
Next thing I knew, I was face up on the bed, my partner’s hand on my chest, shaking me.
“You fainted,” he said.
“I fainted?” I’d never fainted before. A piercing wind rush noise deafened me.
He turned on a light, looked at my chin. “I think you might need stitches.”
And it all came back, every horrible moment of that point in my eight-year-old life. Hysteria barely contained, I pleaded and refused. Don’t make me go. I will not go.
“Okay,” he said with quiet and calm. “You don’t have to.”
He helped me move to my side of the bed and propped my legs up with pillows. He put a damp, cold towel on my forehead. The cut hardly bled at all, even though injuries to the head and face usually gush. He found gauze and tape in the bathroom cabinet. Carefully, he cleaned the wound and placed a bandage. As he sat next to me, it was the old trauma that made me shake, the past that kept playing in a loop. Later that morning, he bought butterfly bandages and tended the gash again. He smiled at his handiwork.
I will have two scars for the rest of my life.
The one on my forehead is a scratch on my third eye. It’s a reminder of lies, that it’ll only sting for a moment, that the scar won’t be visible when you grow.
The one under my chin isn’t noticeable unless I lift my head. But I know it’s there, and that’s okay.
I remember the gentle hands of a kind man who closed the wound for good.