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One scar, seven years

by Today Letter

I used to have a scar on my left hand that reminded me of my first Thanksgiving without my mother. I wonder now if I can even call it a scar, seeing as how it’s since faded past the point of detection—then again, we all know the most unassailable wounds are often those invisible to the eye.

In any case, it was there and now it’s gone. Isn’t that the entire point?

The scar ran vertically along the back of my hand, a stripe of pigmentation not unlike a marking on the abdomen of a spider, a visual indicator signaling a specific set of traits, tendencies toward certain patterns of behavior. Quick or slow, venomous or innocuous, nomadic or territorial, whole or broken—a clue to decoding one’s beasthood.

The sting was familiar, and something about it felt honest.

Of course, when I got the scar seven years ago this month, it hadn’t yet fused and hardened. It was fresh, raw, burning. I didn’t yet know what it would become.

The first real holiday is the hardest, especially when it’s one so connected to smell and taste, the senses tied most readily to our memory and heartstrings. Even more so when it’s a holiday invented to provoke gratitude, a call to action that, at certain moments in life, is more likely to provoke a middle finger.

My mind was everywhere and nowhere that first Thanksgiving. I was grateful, yes, to have people beside me—my father and brother; my cousin, her now–husband, and his twin brother; one of my dearest friends—all proof that family can grow even as it loses its limbs. But I was clouded, from the room, from the world. Untethered.

In those early moments of grief, so much of life is like trying to run through molasses or scream underwater, as though you’re watching the world from a distance and hoping you’ll one day catch up.

And so it was on Thanksgiving 2012, when I moved through the day in slow-motion and every heartbeat reminded me only of her. Each stir of the pan, grinding of salt, pour of hot cider circled back to Mom’s laugh, Mom’s smell, Mom’s hands.

My mind was everywhere and nowhere that first Thanksgiving. I was grateful, yes, to have people beside me, all proof that family can grow even as it loses its limbs. But I was clouded, from the room, from the world. Untethered.

When I opened a 400-degree oven to rotate the turkey, I didn’t think to use a glove instead of a potholder, or to pull the rack out rather than reach right in.

The back of my hand grazed one of the oven’s walls and I snapped it to my chest, as though by squeezing it tightly enough I could extinguish the pain. I looked down and saw the smooth, raised skin that tells you something is going to keep. It was already beginning to blister. The sting was familiar, and something about it felt honest.

It took a few years for the mark to fade, camouflaging itself against surrounding skin. Physical pain has given way to memory, a softer sort of aftershock.

I miss the scar. It felt right to have a tangible link to that kind of ache, to burning, to absence, to the pictures we decide to carry. It was something I could touch, an action too easily taken for granted.

What I would give for one more chance to hold her, and have her hold me back. How many scars I would carve in my skin.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I know how you feel. December 2 will be 5 years since I lost my Mom.

    She was lying in her bedroom dying on Thanksgiving Day 2014.

    I took a photo of her hands that day – the hands that did SO much for me.

    It still feels like yesterday. At this point, I guess it always will. 🙁

    I can’t WAIT for January 2, 2020.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing that with me, David, and I’m so sorry for your loss.

      I think you’re right—time takes on different properties when it comes to something like grief. My maternal grandmother died when my mom was 21, and 40 years later, the holidays would still bring it all to the surface. The challenge, I think, is in finding a way to honor those feelings and at the same time find joy, because you know that’s all mothers ever want for their children.

      I hope we can both get a little closer to that place this holiday season. All of my best to you.

      Reply
    • My heart is right there with you. Today as I was making pies my mind went back 20 years ago. Daddy’s last thanksgiving. We all have those scars physically and emotionally. You have such a beautiful way of expressing both. Hugs

      Reply
      • Thank you so much, Grace. Wishing you lots of warmth and love this holiday season.

        Reply

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