Scars and Imperfections

Posted on Wednesday 11 April 2012

Salon.com has a really great article on scars, imperfections and differences… My favorite part is the concluding paragraph where it says:

“I know life for Abigail – and Natalie and Johan and Frank and everybody else wounded or scarred or born different — is more complicated than that. The things that make us stand out in the crowd define us in a million little ways. They can remind us of the most dramatic, heroic moments of our lives, and of every small indignity and cruelty that has happened since. But what Bea and Abigail got to in the span of one recess period was that life isn’t about seeing past each other’s imperfections. It’s about being unafraid to look at them directly. Because that’s where the love is — in the cracks and the sufferings and the challenges. Life isn’t flawless. But it can be very, very beautiful. That day at recess, Bea told me, she had kissed Abigail, right on the place where her arm stops at the wrist. And they played together until the bell rang, and it was time to go back to class.”

I understand this article very well for so many reasons.

First, my father was burned fairly seriously when I was a child. He had horrific scars on both of his legs for many years. He was caught in an oil fire while working and had second and third degree burns over a good deal of his legs. Those scars have faded over the years, and he has gained new ones in their place–like the scars from his heart surgery in 2001.

Second, one of my favorite people in the world and one of my best friends was born with cerebral palsy and, when I first met him, used crutches to walk. As he’s gotten older, he’s uses a wheelchair more and more, because it provides him with some conveniences and capabilities he’d not have using his crutches–like the ability to carry his adorable daughter. I was honored when, at my wedding to Gee, he, as the best man, offered a toast and told our friends and family that I was the first person he had ever met that never saw his crutches.

In the over two decades I have been friends with Brad, I have been horrified and shocked when people took his physical disability and assumed that it meant he was mentally disabled as well. There were so many times when people would speak to me, instead of him, probably in large part due to his disability. People would often underestimate him based on his physical limitations…usually a bad mistake in my opinion.

Fortunately, Brad’s always had a good sense of humor about it–something I think he learned from his mother. He told me how when people would ask her what he wanted at restaurants as a child, obviously assuming that Brad wouldn’t understand them, she would grunt at him and he’d grunt back, and then she’d place his order for him. Never mind that Brad is one of the most talented writers I know, or that he has a Master’s of Social Work from Simmons, which is considered one of the top social work programs in the country.

In fact, I’ve never really seen Brad let his physical disability get in the way of anything he wanted to do. That’s one reason he’s someone I admire and respect. He doesn’t make excuses, except about his writing ability, but that’s another story entirely. We met because Brad was a skier, and the editor of the New England Handicapped Sportsmen’s Association’s newsletter. He needed a photographer who could ski, and I needed free lift tickets.

Somewhere, I’ve got a photo of Brad crossing Halibut Point’s beach. In the photo, Brad is standing on his crutches, surrounded by Volkswagen-sized granite boulders as far as the eye can see, since Halibut Point’s beach is not made of sand, but slabs and boulders of New England granite. It was Brad’s idea to walk down the beach from one trailhead to the other.

Third, Gee had a truly impressive scar left from her Whipple procedure–the operation that gave us the better part of a year together that we probably wouldn’t have had if she hadn’t had the surgery. The Whipple procedure, or pancreaticoduodenectomy, is one of the most complex and difficult surgeries in the world. It is such a complex surgery that the mortality rate at smaller hospitals or by less experienced surgeons can be over 15%.

To me, Gee’s scar was beautiful. It was a reminder of how strong and amazing the woman I love was. It was a reminder that she was a survivor. It was a reminder that our love for each other was one of the reasons she was able to make it through all that she had. It isn’t that I wanted her to have that scar, because, if I had had my choice, she would have no scars, no cancer, no need for surgery. But, she did have that scar, she did have cancer, and she did need the surgery–so I chose to see it as a reminder of her strength, our love and her survival.

In fact, the day after her Whipple procedure, an operation that lasted almost 11 hours, Gee wanted to get out of her hospital bed and walk for a bit. The nurse asked me if I was going to try and stop her, and I replied, “Hell no, she can beat me up…” At first the nurse thought I was joking, but then looked at my face and said, “You’re serious, aren’t you?” I replied, “Lady, I’ve got a 75 lb. weight advantage over her and I still lose 40% of the wrestling matches against her. She’s stronger than she looks, faster than a scalded cat, and doesn’t understand what it means to give up. Yes, I’m serious.” That’s part of why I love Gee so damn much, even today.

In so many ways, neither Gee nor I was perfect. But, somehow, we were perfect for each other. Just as I saw the scars Gee had and loved her even more because of them, she saw the ones I had–even though most of the ones I had, like those from my twin’s death at the hands of a drunken driver, were not physical or visible. I think she planned our engagement to be on the anniversary of my twin’s death specifically in order to help balance out the sorrow of that day with the joy of her saying yes. She was like that.

In fact, in the short time Gee and I were together, she did everything she could to heal the scars she saw on me. The only scars she really couldn’t heal were the ones caused by her death. I still count every day I had with Gee as a blessing–a gift. I know I was the one she was meant to love forever. It was why we met and went through what we did together.

But, I have also come to realize that, even as much as I love Gee, she isn’t the one I was meant to love for the rest of my life, nor would she want me to. That is why she made me promise to get married again if I should meet someone I love after she was gone. I think I know who Gee meant when she asked me to promise this to her, and if that person ever returns to my life, I will have to face the scars her addictions have left behind. I know I love her enough to do that.


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