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?”

“No.”

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.

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RONLYN DOMINGUE (pronounced ron-lin doh-mang, equal emphasis on all syllables) is the author of The Mapmaker's War and The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Books 1 and 2 of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy. The third book is forthcoming in 2017. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent UK, Border Crossing, and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com. She holds a MFA degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still.

Connect online at ronlyndomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

49 responses to “One Wound, Two Scars”

  1. Matt says:

    What a lovely ending.

    I worked in a hospital emergency room for a while, and feinting and screaming where par for the course, but I’m pretty sure the hand clamped over the mouth is illegal in most states. Not to mention dangerous.

    I like scars. Each one tells a story, I think. Some good, some bad.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Yeah, this one had a good ending.

      I can only imagine what you saw and heard in the hospitals. It can’t be easy for the staff, either. My guess is whether it’s illegal or not to forcibly stifle a screaming child, it’s going to happen anyway. What power does the kid have?

      Scars have a mystique for me, too.

  2. River Jordan says:

    Totally kickin’. Elicits such emotions and memories in me of various things we’d have to have a long chat over a hot cup of tea to share.

    Now, may I read this on the air on my radio show this week? It’s a segment I call ‘Walking the Blog’ – you know, taking those words off the page and out for a little airtime?

    It can be found at 107.1fm Nashville Weds 12-2pm CST or http://www.riverjordanlive.com live and streaming same time.

    Just love this. Many kudo’s. Love all your writing!

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Tea? I’d need hard liquor–and I don’t stomach that well. 🙂

      Aw, wow, I’d be honored if you shared the piece with your listeners. Dear Readers, check out River’s program. Along with being witty and smart, she has a gorgeous voice!

  3. Sam says:

    Beautiful Ronlyn…

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Ah. I love your stories. I love your words. They fit, and soothe and awaken me.
    I’m always a little bit fascinated with scars, the stories behind them and the tender spots which they cover.
    I remember having an ass of a doctor once who lied to me when I had a veruca on my foot (eewww). I let her look at it so long as she promised not to touch it. She promised. Then she stabbed her needle right into the middle of it. I never forgave her and I didn’t take her stupid lollipop either.
    Your story also reminds me of a story about my mother. When she was born, apparently the head nurse was having a bad day and when my mother started to cry, as newborns are want to do, the nurse grabbed a rag soaked in chloroform and knocked her out. Welcome to the world, baby. Man, people are assholes.
    You are lovely.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I’m waiting for the day I get a scar with a FUNNY story attached to it.

      Your poor little foot! I’m sorry you were duped like that. And your mom…that is so sad. There’s no creature more open and delicate than an infant. The assholes are the ones who don’t pause long enough to consider the consequences of their actions. A dose of mindfulness would do the world some good.

      Lovely…right back at you.

  5. Christine Cannon says:

    I liked this. It was so telling. What really hit home for me was your mom’s apology about not being there for you. I know I should not harbor resentment, but it is there-both for me and my sister. When I delivered my children, I wanted my mom there. I understood when she could not make it to Biloxi in time for Tyler and when she wanted to be with Tyler when I gave birth to Kinsey. (It was a comfort to know he was with his grandma and I did not have to worry about him-he was three.) But, when she stayed during my labor and ran when the labor became more difficult with Erynn, it was harder for me to swallow. She was going to come when I had to deliver Bryce, but a death in Lafayette kept her home-I understood. What hurt was that she stayed for the delivery of my niece, Isabelle, my brother’s child. Melissa (Jeremy’s wife) became ill during labor and he needed my mom. I should also say that Melissa’s mom had succumbed to lung cancer a year or two prior to Isabelle’s birth, so my mom felt she had to be there. My mother did call me guilt-ridden to report the whole thing and I said it was okay, but was it? With the birth of my last child, I did not even ask, I invited my mother-in-law, who had really been there for me through my loss. Still, I know what my mother’s answer would have been…”couldn’t you ask your sister?” I, in turn, will always be there for my children whenever possible. I have already seen a few deliveries and know I can be strong when someone else is pain…it is just part of being a mom and I will never understand her. Am I being unreasonable?

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      We grew up in the same town at the same time. We know the culture. The Power of Authority trumped everything. Who were my parents, my mom, to defy the decree of doctors? My guess is the hospital determined it would be worse for all involved if parents stayed with the children. Let them do their job, you know…

      You are NOT being unreasonable. You wanted your mother there to give you comfort and support during one of the most profound human experiences. What could possibly be unreasonable about that? No matter the circumstances why she wasn’t there, you still felt hurt—and it really is okay to feel so. You don’t have to apologize or question yourself.

      You shared a statement that bears consideration, too. “[I] know I can be strong when someone else is pain.” That is a gift, Christine. Not everyone can be that way. It speaks to the depth of your empathy. What you haven’t been given, you are able to give. Your strength is a balm and a blessing to your children, friends, and family.

  6. Ronlyn, your partner is awesome! There’s a kind of gentle strength that flows out of the way you write about him that’s really, I don’t know, admirable?

    I’ve been really lucky with doctors and injuries, I think.

    I am really, really knocking on wood right now.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Yes, he is an incredible human being.

      You keep having that good luck. I might have to import a piece of whatever tree offers those protective powers.

  7. Ronlyn, when my daughter was five she had an accident that required forty stitches to her top and bottom lips inside and out. While we were waiting in the emergency room, and then the triage area, I was so grateful to a young doctor who was doing his internship in plastic surgery and an equally young male nurse who held my daughter’s hands, told her stories, basically distracted her while we waited for the plastic surgeon on call. They were so tender with her, and with us, while the emergency room erupted around them and I remember thinking — how amazing it was that they were able to focus in on my daughter and her terror while the world seemed to be banging down the door.

    After, my husband and I waited for our daughter to show psychological side effects from the accident – but none were ever apparent. She talked about her scar freely, the accident, the time she spent with all the doctors and nurses – even once it came time to numb her lips so the plastic surgeon could do the job. She remembers him telling her that maybe once she was a teenager she might want to have the scar tissue removed. Now, at 14, the visible scar is barely a thread and my daughter considers it a part of who she is- amazing – considering what could have been– what happened to you.

    Sorry for the ramble – just know – you turned those scars into something beautiful.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      What a scary thing for all of you to experience. The hospital staff’s response—now THAT’S the way to treat a child in the midst of a crisis. She was fortunate to have a such a compassionate team. It’s touching and beautiful to know she integrated the scar into her life.

      Words do have a curative power. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Irene Zion says:

    Ronlyn,

    Why is it that kids never tell their mothers these things until years later and there is nothing they can do about it?
    I cannot begin to list the number of horrors my children experienced and did not let me know about for twenty or thirty years.
    Be on your guard, parents of young children. Your children will experience horrible things and not tell you about it. See if you can be better at ferreting out these things than I was.

    • Matt says:

      Becuase all adults are in on these things together. Every kid knows that.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Matt,
        That is just so very depressing.

        • Matt says:

          I’m being a little tongue in cheek, but there’s a germ of truth to this. Since every authority figure is an adult, kids tends to assume that all adults are in some cabal together, and it won’t really matter if we speak up.

          Sickeningly, it’s this same mentality that kidnappers and child abusers often take advantage. A lot of recovered victims, when asked why they didn’t speak out, explain how they were told by their victimizer that they (the victimizer) know the cops, their parents, the authorities etc., and it won’t matter at all if the child tells someone.

          And the kids believe it.

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          Yeah, Irene, it’s depressing as hell, but I think Matt speaks a truth. Man…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Matt,

          In my next post, you had better write me something upbeat, because you are seriously a buzz-kill today.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I think children want to be resilient and strong. When terrible things happen to them, “forgetting” or “moving on” is a protective impulse. Besides, a experience for one child might be very different for another. What I mean is, another eight-year-old could have had the same accident and truly never given it another thought except to remember where the scar came from. Even I’m surprised how long the memory stayed buried.

      Irene, I’m not a mother, and I never will be. I have no idea what it’s like to live with a mysterious little human being with its own thoughts and reactions. That must be fascinating, beautiful–and terrifying. No parent can be expected to mind read, though. You can’t blame yourself for what you didn’t know.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    I loved the ending. Very heartfelt. 🙂

    Though I’m curious why the anesthesia didn’t work when you were a kid? A sadist, indeed.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The anesthesia did kick in—but before it did, it felt as if someone had poured molten lead into the wound. It was a heavy, fiery….pain is too soft a word. Once I asked a dermatologist about my reaction, and he brushed it off with “Things that happened to you when you were a kid are worse in memory.” So much for an answer to a legitimate question.

      I’m grateful for the ending.

  10. Mary says:

    I suspect that adults tend to react negatively when kids are loud or dramatic, because kids are loud and dramatic a lot, so it probably gets old. So kids are looking for the positive reaction of “oh you were such a big girl,” or what have you. Adults don’t listen enough to children’s fears and concerns.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Amen, Mary. My guess is that it’s not comfortable for many adults to remember being children, so they react with their interests in mind, rather than those of the little kids.

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    That’s awful. Sometimes it seems like all the people who’d make the best doctors- bed-side manner wise- are doing other jobs.

    I love hearing scar stories. It’s interesting to hear the way they call up certain memories. I, of course, have so many that it’s hard to pin-point where any one came from.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      When my grandmother broke her hip, there was a male nurse tending her who was so patient and kind. I found out later that he was going to medical school to become a doctor. I really, really hope he was able to hold on to the powerful healing knowledge he already had.

      What an adventurous little sprite you must have been!

  12. jmblaine says:

    Ooh that made me recall my first head wound
    when the doc laughed and said
    “We better sew you up” and I was like
    “OK” and when he came towards me with the needles
    it was all I could do not to run out of the room, just run
    even though you knowits going to be OK
    there’s the thought
    someone is going to sew my flesh together.
    on my head.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I don’t think I ever got to the thought of “Someone is going to sew my flesh together.” If it would have been that simple–and there hadn’t been so much physical pain–I might have told a very different story.

      And I do hope the first head wound didn’t lead to too many more…

  13. kristen says:

    Aw, let’s hear it for under-chin scars! I earned myself one of them just last year, courtesy of an ill-fated run.

    Love the detail you’re able to recall about this traumatic incident, so many years later (not really a surprise–such things STICK). Love the way you’ve bookended your story. Love the sweet/sad sentiment expressed…

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      OUCH!!!! There’s a story!

      Perhaps I can look forward to the detail fading away now. This little essay wrote itself when I realized how the loop closed.

  14. Alison Aucoin says:

    When I was nine I got sick & needed a blood test beyond the usual finger prick. As I was brought into the lab area my mother was called away by the nurse. While she was distracted, the idiot lab tech strapped me into the chair, told me it wasn’t going to hurt and simultaneously came at me with a needle. I started screaming bloody murder and making a break for it with the chair still strapped to my butt. As soon as she heard my screams, my mother jumped into action and unstrapped me from the chair. She explained that it was going to hurt but not very much or for very long. It was important that I let the man take my blood so the doctor could figure out how to help me get better. She looked straight into my eyes, held my hand, and reassured me I was safe & she was near. I sat perfectly still & didn’t make a sound as he drew the blood. As we got up my mother stretched herself strong and tall. For the first time looked at the tech. She said in one of the most imperious voices I’ve ever heard, “Children are young, not stupid.” Can’t you just imagine Lynn doing that??

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Yeah, I can totally see her doing that. Good for her! Better for you! My blood is quite a-boil right now at the willful cruelty inflicted on children. It doesn’t have to be this way….but it is.

  15. Ducky Wilson says:

    Lovely. I like stories about scars. They are the most interesting parts of ourselves.

  16. Gloria says:

    Aw, Ronlyn – I love the end. Thank God your partner is a kind man.

    I agree that the ER doc was a sadist. What a fucked up thing, putting his hand over your mouth. It makes me angry. If someone did that to one of my two eight year olds, I’d hit the ceiling. Asshole.

    In On Writing, Stephen King describes a traumatic childhood experience involving his ears. He says that the worst thing a grown up can ever tell a child is, “This won’t hurt.” And I couldn’t agree more. This advice actually, stuck with me so much that when I took my twins to get their three-year-old inoculations and they asked if it would hurt, I told them yes, but not for very long – which with shots is true. The nurse looked at me, exasperated. “We don’t say that when we’re giving shots,” she admonished. “I don’t lie to my children,” I replied back. There was a moment of tension while we looked in each other’s eyes. She shrugged and went back to her work. I was that mom – the one who’d waited until her kids were three to inoculate them and told them shots will hurt. But whatever, grown ups need to have more faith in children’s ability to handle the truth, and to accept that a lie lasts a lot longer than whatever pain they’re about to endure.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Gloria. Singing praises for you—THAT mom!!! Telling the truth cultivates trust. Fortunate, fortunate twins you have. And how can health care staff still be using the same archaic textbook?

      It’s pretty incredible that an ancedote or comment in a book can have such a profound effect on a reader. I know I’ve reacted or thought differently in some situations because of something I read.

      Indeed, betrayal lasts waaayyyyy longer than physical pain.

  17. […] there. Ronlyn came in with a bandage on her chin (she writes about that injury and another in her newest Nervous Breakdown piece). We chatted about her injury and the day I’d been having and then segued into The […]

  18. Mary McMyne says:

    This is lovely. Thank you for reminding us of this.

  19. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Thanks, Mary. More via e-mail…

  20. Susan Henderson says:

    Just love this story and how you tell it.

  21. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Thanks for reading, Susan!

  22. Alexis R. Osborne says:

    Great piece! You do such an intricate job of recreating the mind of your former child-self; I related to many of the thoughts that the child-you had. =-) I’m glad you’re so blessed in love. Can’t wait to read your next literary gem.

  23. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    That part of the child-mind is not a fun place to go. And yes, I am very blessed. Thanks for reading. I hope all’s going well with your writing.

  24. Judy Prince says:

    Let me add my nodding-head-agreement to what so many here have said: That was one beautiful last sentence, Ronlyn!!

  25. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    ….and a beautiful man made it possible. Thanks for the comment, Judy.

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