Running from one side of my knee to the other is an uneven, thick, pale line. I gained this scar after knee surgery when I was seventeen. I remember the odd mixture of dismay and pride that I felt when the doctor removed the cast and the angry red, stitched line was revealed. I thought at the time that I was, somehow, more special now that I had a scar. It was a sort of ID that I could flash as proof that I'd "been around the block"; I'd experienced life and I had the scar to prove it.
A visible scar implies a story: "How did you get that scar?" But not all scars are visible. Consider a broken heart, for example; it's not a physical wound, but it certainly feels like one, and the scar tissue that inevitably forms becomes an indelible part of a person's character.
Scar tissue develops when damage heals. Healing, however, does not mean a return to the original state. A scar signifies that a transformation has taken place. This is what makes the scar such a powerful literary metaphor, one we can see in many of the works in this issue of Room o f One's Own.
The opening poem, "Inside of a Woman" by Jackie Worobetz, shows us the painful formation of physical and emotional scars: "it's hard washing wounds / being brave enough / to peel back gauze / and allow shower to stream / around staples / and stitches / and healing seams / the same seams / that were open six days ago / to take a crushed womb / inside of a woman / who never had a chance / to use it."
In Elizabeth Bachinsky's story "Skin," we find another woman coping with the after-effects of surgery—this time a breast reduction procedure after significant weight loss. As the woman recovers at home, she realizes that the weight loss and surgery will not rid her of her self-doubt and loneliness. "In four days the bandages will come off and Candace will see that the breasts she had thought unbeautiful will still be unbeautiful. .. Her scars will be long and red and angry. She will not want to wait for them to fade."
Scars are evidence of pain and vulnerability, but also of the capacity to go on. Several stories and poems show us women emerging—stronger, wiser—after some damaging setback. Rebecca Wood Barrett, in "The Shortest Day of the Year," and Caroline Woodward, in "Give Journey Safe Through Death," both portray young women who experience healing through their relationships with older women. In "Ordinary," by Annie Jacobsen, we see another young woman starting to heal, this time after the end of a love affair. "I walk along the sea wall, watching foam fingers slipping over small stones, snaking under logs. I have already forgotten that I lost your bracelet . . . I am thinking of my painting, the one I am working on, dreaming about."
An enduring memory—particularly one from childhood that reveals some transformative experience—is also a kind of scar. "Eulogy to 39, curved street on the left" by Liz Treutler, and "Queen of the Night," by Carol Matthews, feature characters recalling memories from their youths that still linger, like scars, in their adult lives.
Kanina Dawson, in her story "The Capacity for Air," portrays a woman whose scar tissue is the result of disappointments in choices made and opportunities missed. Pregnant after an extra-marital affair and stuck in a job she hates, she feels that "a woman can lose other things too, only more slowly and without anyone noticing. Like mobility or blood or stores of iron. Maybe, even, the capacity to breathe." Similarly, regret over a marriage gone wrong is made tangible in Micheline Maylor's "Artefacts" poems. Like fresh scars, these artefacts appear as angry reminders of recent pain, and we hope that their owner will be able to experience healing.
Scars have the power to bind together what has come apart. In the cover image, "Bound" by Stéphanie A. Bush, the facial expressions of the women appear as if captured at the crucial moment between healing and pain; in the next moment, either a scar will start to form or the bonds will become permanently broken. This moment between healing and pain is compellingly portrayed in the story, "The Newborn." The despairing main character comes close to making a horrifying choice, but somehow finds her way back from the brink—at least for now. We are left wondering if her pain will heal enough for her to rebuild her own life, let alone make one for her newborn son.
Many synonyms for scar are negative: imperfection, blemish, disfigurement. But, in life, as in many of the stories, poetry and artworks in this issue, scars are much more paradoxical than these synonyms imply. Scar tissue is lasting evidence of a past hurt, yet it also signifies healing and renewal. Marks of vulnerability are also proof of strength and resilience. And loss of innocence is traded for wisdom and experience. Scar tissue is all of these things at once, indelibly adding to who we are.