Thoughts on Skin and Scars

Why does skin feel such a need to track hurt? My body should have carved my joys and miracles in my skin.”

The wooden floor of the studio was host for sixteen of us, dancers, sitting cross-legged in a circle, at the end of a session. All tired and content. We were bare-foot, with arms and shoulders uncovered. Our faces were flushed from all the dancing and were glowing with sweat. After intense moments of shared physical effort and creative relief, we felt delightfully close and comfortable with each other. I was giving free pats on the back and short embraces, feeling the need to rest my hand on other knees, or to gently squeeze other shoulders. My tired body made me empathetic and caring towards everybody else’s, as if rubbing someone else’s tense neck would relief my own soreness.

Just a couple of words sprung up from our selves and floated around in the circle, giving us time to breathe. I watched our bodies form a bigger whole, one complex and larger being, a giant tired dancer, all skin, and sweat, and muscle. I felt closer than ever to my colleagues. And their skin was foremost the reason for that. The visible skin. That one layer that made us look both alike and very different, that made us all seem fragile and unadjusted to the harsh outside world. That one thin, soft, warm coat we were all wearing so comfortably.

While we caught our breaths, I caught the red line that united us in a tragic little story of Nature. As I watched the uncovered pieces of skin around the room, I read all the stories they were filled with, written in strange runes all over. I saw the scars. The unspoken words. Many: small, large, white, dark, linear, curve, playful, violent. I saw scars on feet, foreheads, arms and wrists. Scars from a month ago, from a year ago, scars of a lifetime, as old as the person that wore them. I saw small bruises and marks left by a skin too weak to face a given challenge.

The textured little signs we all had on our bodies were the stories of hurt, in one way or another. On one arm, there was the childhood story of a wired fence that stood in the way, there was a wrong step on the stairways marked on a forehead, a childish fight printed on the back of an ear, a bad school camping trip glued on one foot, a first mountain biking race visible on two knees, a lot of round marks, like mini jack ports, on our upper arms, curtesy to the medical system. There was also a painful but lifesaving surgery on one neck, a lifechanging football match on a leg, a broken heart testimony on one forearm, a happy but strenuous bringing into the world of a new life, partly hidden under a shirt. There was also my curiosity as a kid, signed on my left hand, three times — razor, nail, carving tool. Also, a crooked finger, reminder of a never-to-be-repeated carpentry exercise, and an oddly shaped elbow due to a gymnastics trick meant to impress classmates years and years ago; corny toes on a former ballet dancer, that once stained the inside of her pointe shoes with blood; a small stripe of missing hair on a head that had cracked open after a faint; a small piece of missing lip from a bad infection, a stitched brow from a payback, the intricate abstract painting of a burn on the back of a hand.

All marks came along with pain, with tears, with fear of some sort, even if it was just for a short while. Even the most fortunate of them (the childbirth marks) still spoke of an ordeal that the body was put through. Why does skin feel such a need to track hurt? It adds up actual little chalk dashes for every time we mistreat it. Why does it always tie suffering, of all kinds, to our bodies, for the rest of our lives? Worst of all, why does it tend to remind us of our fails, of our miscounts and imprudence, of our fragility and imperfection?

As I helped a friend stretch her back, with my arms tangled up with hers, I got to watch her tattoo up close for a moment, on the back of her neck. I found myself thinking: “This might just be the only mark this skin has gained through a pleasant memory”. Come to think of it, this one must have hurt as well. It was planned, it was welcome, but as happy as it made my friend to get this painting on her skin, it definitely hurt her body. How else? Skin won’t allow foreign permanent residency unless it comes with some sort of sacrifice. It never marks a caress or a gentle stroke.

It seems so unfair and wrong to have an everlasting remembrance of a one minute experiment with a sharp grater, and no mark on my body from the first time I swam without a float ring. Why leave the mark of a dog’s bite and not that of his first fetch game? My foot still feels that one bad leap I made in dance class years ago, but I have to use my memory to relive the only time I got a perfect triple pirouette. Why show me how I fell and not how I got back up? A mom should not wear the scar of a C-section that removed her child from her womb, but the ring-mark of her baby’s tiny fist grabbing her finger. I don’t mind being reminded of how much I cried when I fell from the swing when I was six. But I want an equal mark on my skin from my first kiss. I blushed when I was told how dear I was to my friend, but that never stuck to my cheeks. I can still see the traces of our biggest fight, though, when my arm made an anger driven leap through a small window. I’ll even take that, any day, over the stupid marks on my body that I have to constantly give explanations for: “No, it wasn’t a broken lip, it was a bad and distasteful piercing.” Take pride in your scars?! I wish I could.

I want a mark from the longest hug I got from my mom, a scar from the first time I held my lover’s hand on the street, a pretty print on my heel from the first time I entered the sea. I could wear a little heart shaped mark on my ear from the many times I listened to my favorite song. And how I would love to have that one brilliant summer tattooed all over my arms with tiny colorful scars, reminding me of the sun shining over us, on our way to the Athenaeum, of the excitement of getting in at the concert, the feel of the carpet in front of the stage, where we sat down with legs crossed, like young kids in love with each other and with symphonic music. I would proudly wear a deep red line on my forehead to tell the story of how I feel in love with the Theatre, the day I saw magic on stage, making more sense than the outer world. If not all these, it would at least make sense for my skin to mark the day I met my best friend, with a cross in the palm of my hand, that hand which, since then, has received more than it could ever give back to this one dear being.

My body should have carved my joys and miracles in my skin. They were more than worth a memento.

Maybe this is just how things work. Skin is supposed to keep count of losses, of misses, of breaks. Then who does the counting for all that turns out great and amazing in our lives? I need a better scorekeeper than my biased and unreliable memory. Don’t tell me it’s all in my heart — I’ll pull yours out of your chest bare handed and show you it bears the scars of breakups and disillusion as well. I want an actual canvas for enjoyment. The very honest and equally accurate notes taken for every time that I felt pleasure in my body; also for every time I got a jump or tumble right, for the times that I used a sharp blade skillfully, for the times that I started applause and not a bar fight, or for when I dodged an icy snowball without even knowing. I would walk tall, with a straight back and such pride on my face wearing the shield of my success and pleasure.

I took another look around the room, somehow angered by my thoughts. But something surpassed that. The feeling that I belonged there. I shared the sensitive story-telling cloth covering my flesh and bones with everyone in that room. Around the circle, this cloth differed in color and texture, yet it was undoubtedly the same in essence — we had touched it, and touched through it, we had all felt cold and warmth, pressure and caresses, and, most visibly, we had all felt pain — we had all bled, numerous times, we had all bruised. The marks of silliness and failure we all shared brought us closer. I felt for those who had suffered badly, and could relate to those that had been as clumsy as I had. The leader of our pack, this one tall and experienced man, with a straight face and an answer to every one of our questions, had a long pale scar on his arm. His now intact and perfectly coordinated body revealed a moment from his past when he too had fallen, he too had bled and felt the panic of a shivering body following trauma. Just a glimpse of that image brought him back to earth for us and made him human, as vulnerable as all of us, as much a living and perishing being as we were. Proof that he was one of us. It made me trust him more, it made me confide in him and gave me the courage to grab his hand in a lift, knowing he is my partner and equal. I danced with him gracefully for that, because I felt I knew who he was, from that one long straight line covered with short perpendicular stripes.

I realized that all of us in that studio had been more together, more in sync because of that. We had brought our bodies together and danced in one vibration, as parts of a whole. I am not saying scars were magic, nor was any broken toe in that room enchanted. But our skin, our one skin, reminded us we were the same. We were all people. With stories that always included some pain and some backslide.

I can still hope for and imagine a place where my body shares joy with the same ease. Until my skin will decide to draw stars and rainbows on my forehead for whenever I feel blessed, I will have to use words to let the world know how amazing I am feeling.

My mate offered an unexpected and unrequested foot massage. I looked him in the eye and smiled. I mumbled “Where did that come from?” and immediately accepted. And while I was relaxing, with a stubborn smile that would not leave my face, I was hoping I would get a deep and pretty set of wrinkles, like a couple of parentheses for my lips, to remind me how indescribably good I was feeling that very moment.

Like what you read? Give Alexandra Szo a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.