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The Past is Real

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My little guy doesn’t like me to keep my hair up in a ponytail. If he notices my hair in one, he’ll find a way to get to the back of my head – climb on a chair, ask me for a hug, something – and pull the ponytail tie out as fast as he can. If you ask him why he wants my hair down, he’ll mumble something about loving my hair. Partially, that’s true – he’s always got his hands in my hair. But the real reason is that my scar bothers him.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to him about it. I sat on the ground in front of him, pulled my hair up, and told him about my scar. I didn’t go into detail – just that I had been very sick when I was in high school, and that I had to go to the hospital for a long time, and that when the doctors fixed me, they left a forever booboo.  He asked if he could touch it, and I let him. He pushed out a chubby finger and pushed it, gently, against the scar. “Does that hurt you?” he asked. I told him that it did not, but that he had to be gentle with it. I sat with him for 10 minutes or so, letting him examine it. Eventually, he got bored and wandered off. I let my hair settle back over the scar and wandered off, too.

Ahhhh, my scar. If I’m having a  melodramatic day, my scar symbolizes so much in my life – pain, loss, worry, of course, but most of all, redemption and survival. When I first came out of surgery, my doctors induced a coma so that my brain could heal. When the incision closed, I was still in and out of the coma, so my mother would rub vitamin E on my scar, to minimize the appearance later in life. I’m sure it helped; it’s a big reason why the scar isn’t raised and red. But after the months of recovery, and after I got my eye patch off, I realized that I had this huge scar on the back of my neck. The shunt was hidden, the stomach scar typically covered, and the scars on my head were (eventually) covered with hair… but that scar on the back of my neck brought questions and comments. My shaved head slowly grew hair back, and I let it grow longer and longer. I vowed to never cut my hair again – vowed to keep the back of my neck covered.

I showed my scar to people, if they asked. It wasn’t a secret, but I also didn’t want it to be the first thing that everyone noticed about me. I could hide it, so why wouldn’t I? My hair grew longer and longer, and I refused to cut it at all. This lasted up through year 3 of college. And then, one day, I decided that I wasn’t going to hide anymore. The brain surgery had taken away my music, my senior year of high school, and a large part of my life. Berklee was gone. Why would I let that surgery take more of my freedom? So I went to the Hairy Canary and I got my hair cut short. I had it chopped so short that there was hardly anything left, and I walked out of there with my head held high.

To my utter surprise, it was not the end of the world. I got questions now and then, but for the most part, I don’t think anyone even noticed,. And since then, I’ve worn my hair all different lengths. Currently, it’s long enough to cover the scar, and I think I’m going to grow my hair out to a ridiculous length. But for the most part, I don’t even notice it. I’ll wear my hair in a ponytail. If my students ask about the surgery, I’ll turn, pull my hair up, and show the class (and they gasp! they always gasp). When I get my hair done, the hairdressers typically ask about it (and the bump on my head that they feel), and I answer them succinctly.

The scar, in essence, has gone from something to be hidden to something to be celebrated. 17 years of it has made it a part of me as much as my eye color or boobs or the funny shape of my fourth toe on each foot. Almost everyone has a scar – I have many. I just happen to have one that’s a bit more noticeable.

Yes, the past is real. And I have my own souvenir.

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