Why I won’t erase my scars.
On December 29th, 2006, after disappearing from my home for three days after a bout of depression (the one I naively believed would be my last ), I came to in a motel room with my pants and underwear off. Two men hovered over me, and threatened that they would kill me if I left. I ran for my life. Magically, there was a taxi cab in the parking lot of whatever establishment in Winnipeg this was, I was still too drugged to speak properly or recognize where I had ended up. Somehow the driver took me to my Father’s house, probably for free, as I realized when I got to my old home and logged onto the internet that my bank account had also been emptied out. I had managed to save up close to $1000 while on social assistance, so this was a huge blow, aside from whatever happened to my body in that hotel room. I was all too familiar with rape.
The next morning, I held a single razor blade between my thumb and forefinger and cut my arms down to the bone, also trying to find an artery in my leg to sever, when my arms did not bleed as much as I suspected they would. I felt no pain as I did this, and had written suicide notes addressed to my dad, sister, and a former partner. I believed I had shamed my family, and was doing them a favour by ending my life. I eventually passed out, in the bed I had slept in throughout my teenage years, and was awoken to my dad running about the house yelling. ”I’m okay dad, I’m fine,” I groaned. He does not react well in “emergency” situations, and I can only imagine the pain he felt as he found his daughter with her arms dismembered, lying in blood-soaked sheets.
I was still Earthbound, much to my dismay.
As an ER physician stapled my arms and legs back together, he complained that I was monopolizing his time. ”DO YOU SEE THAT OUT THERE? THAT IS AN EMERGENCY ROOM, FULL OF PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY NEED MY HELP.” I muttered something about how I knew he didn’t go to med school to help “people like me” and that I had expected to die, not to end up in an emergency room that evening. The police that I reported the possible “date rape” to laughed at me, even the female officer, and a rape kit was never performed, although I was given all of the usual antibiotics given to rape victims/survivors, the H.I.V. tests, etc.
The goddesses spat me back out in the psych ward for the fifth time, and as I lay sleepless for 72 hours – it was the New Year’s Holiday and my doctor was not reachable, and the nurses refused to give me any of my medications, so I went through severe withdrawal on top of all things before he returned from whatever Pfizer/Astro-Zeneca-sponsered vacation he had been on. I realized that this was not the place for me, and that I belonged in school. I would have to throw all of my energy at school, having faith that it would take me somewhere. And it did, it took me to Grad School in Vancouver.
The scars on my arms caused me to be treated much differently than others in a multitude of situations in Winnipeg, such as during interactions with shopkeepers, who were friendly until they saw the scars, upon which time they would rush me out of the store/rush through my purchase without speaking another word to me. At school I wore only long-sleeved shirts, so none of my classmates there saw the scars. A big moment in the revealing of my scars to society was when I arrived to visit my beloved undergraduate supervisor during the summer in a tank top. She did not stare or treat me differently. I remembered a quote that had prefaced a novel I read many years ago:
“Scars are like stories, history written upon the body.” I regret that I do not remember the author of the quote, or book, although I think it may have been one of Vancouver-born author Evelyn Lau’s brave autobiographies about her own experiences with sexual and emotional abuse, drug addiction, and depression, all of which I read as a teenager.
My ex-boyfriend, in addition to calling me a whore before our break-up, also told me that “No other man would ever fuck me when they saw my scars.” I responded that, “Maybe I don’t plan on fucking men anymore.” He retorted, “That’s kinky.” Another man that I had dated in the past said of my experience, “Not many people can start a sentence with ‘I woke up in a hotel room with my pants off…’” in a failed attempt to insult me. He was wrong. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that one out of three women in North America will be raped during there lives, and that the truth is that many more women are raped, as so many incidences are not reported to authorities.
When I moved to Vancouver in May, I sweated through several get-togethers with two old friends, one from high school and one from first-year university, wearing long-sleeved garments during a heat wave. Then one day I just stopped. The scars told the story of my survival. They looked like rivers streaming down each arm. They were sublimely beautiful.
Those friends suggested that I have them removed via plastic surgery. Others were worried that they would have an impact on my career. I considered these propositions for a few days, before deciding that my scars were precious, and should not be removed or covered up in any company. I found that storekeepers at businesses in the Commercial Drive/Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhoods in Vancouver treated me no differently than any other customer, and new friends thought that they were indeed beautiful in a way, as does my fiancée, who constantly reminds me of this. My students and professors showed no disrespect for the scarification.
So I will never again hide my scars. I will never have them erased by a surgeon. I wear them with mad pride, in honour of what I have survived, and in solidarity with all others who have survived rape, abuse, “mental illness”, stigmatization, and self-harm.