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The Scars That Made Us

   “I don’t want to die without any scars!” That’s from Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Fight Club. I couldn’t see the sense of this statement before, because as far as I can tell, most people aim to navigate their way through life with a minimum of distress, knowing that pain in painful, inconvenience is inconvenient, and […]

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   “I don’t want to die without any scars!” That’s from Chuck Palahniuk’s book, Fight Club. I couldn’t see the sense of this statement before, because as far as I can tell, most people aim to navigate their way through life with a minimum of distress, knowing that pain in painful, inconvenience is inconvenient, and scars are not pretty. Leaving aside the masochist community, surely nobody would willingly choose to drive into oncoming traffic or sleep on a bed of nails, so why would they want scars? 

   I have a scar that I didn’t choose. It’s on the left side of my skull and it looks like an exaggerated letter “C”. It loops from the temple to a point behind my ear and it’s even noticeable from a long way off.

“This is totally Badass!”

  I got this from a stranger once. He was clearly impressed, so much so that he almost tripped as he passed me on the street, eyes still locked on the scar instead of where he was going. I did not answer. He had taken me surprise. When you wear a scar it’s something that others see but you don’t. You forget it’s there, so their reactions can seem surprising, even disorientating until you remember that you’re wearing this unusual badge. It should be just a sign that you’ve been damaged and reassembled—a survivor of something—but in the eyes of others, it often becomes more than that. They’ll interpret it as they want, and their conclusions are outside your control.

So, having blurted out his assessment he stumbled past me like I was some sort of celebrity and all I could do was look startled, bewildered.

It felt about the same as when I was diagnosed. A phone call like that can put you in a spin too. I answered it, expecting nothing more than a humdrum chat, but it felt like a lightning strike. It made clouds dim the sky and brought a hard rain, instantly, like a scene in a film.  The world stopped turning and sounds became distant and muddy.

Sometimes, things happen too fast to take in. You can be sauntering along in the middle of your familiar routine and then the phone brings you the news that gives you whiplash. You scramble for an appropriate response and there isn’t one. Your mouth hangs open. There are no maps for this.

So, the guy wandered off down the street, presumably to share his opinions with other people at maximum volume. Usually, when confronted by people like this I would react, but my reaction, in this case, was just to get stuck in a loop of confused contemplation.

For instance, I wondered if this was a sign that maybe, due to some grand design, I was meant to be a “Badass.” Perhaps he was a messenger of destiny, a destiny that was playing catch with me but playing dirty, throwing too hard, throwing me a scar that had caught me on the left side of my skull and marked me, a rebranding in reknit flesh. (But where would a ‘C’ shape fit into that? Shouldn’t it have been a ‘B’? Couldn’t destiny’s messengers spell properly?)

Or maybe that guy was just being a jerk, or he thought he was paying me a complement, or thought he was honoring a wounded veteran or a committed self-harmer or he mistook me for an Anusol  brand champion; who knew? That’s the beauty of people. They’re as random as it gets. 

Maybe that’s why brain tumors are so attracted to us. They’re pretty random too! 130K people get diagnosed with brain tumors in the USA every year. It is one of the most prolific degenerative diseases, and it could affect anybody at any time. Brain tumors do not discriminate against people based on their gender, race, or age. They are pretty egalitarian, an equal opportunity destroyer .

In some cases, you can be living with a brain tumor that remains undetected for the longest time. Annual MRI checkups would be a very useful way of detecting them early, but these are still prohibitively expensive for most people. Still, what price life? When I first went to see the neurosurgeon about mine he told me that it could have been growing for as long as 10 years.

It wasn’t until symptoms started to appear that I began to feel concerned. One of them was double vision.  I’ve always struggled with intermittent bouts of double vision, but these always coincided with bouts of liquor consumption, so they were entirely understandable. Cause and effect were clear, so there was no never any need to panic, but when things got blurry for no reason at all, and I had double vision in my sober moments, well that became rather concerning.

“Ophthalmologist, please help me!” I cried.

I searched for an explanation but there was no real alternative other than to get myself checked out, and it’s a good thing that I did. The MRI test revealed that the nerves that supplied my eyes were being strained by the mass. It was pushing on them and the pressure was distorting the messages going to my brain. 

This propelled me towards the surgery that marked my skull with the “Badass” scar. After the attention on the street, I thought that maybe I could avoid future random public comments by growing my hair back to cover it up, but my follicle army was reduced to just a few volunteers now. My hairline had receded so I couldn’t hide the scar with it, so, I wore a hat to hide this perceived sign of weakness.

I did this until the day when I realized that it didn’t matter anymore. I realized that the things we’ve experienced in life sometimes write themselves upon us for others to see and there’s no sense trying to hide them. My new lucky number is 54, the number of staples that held my skull in place. Let others make what they want of the marks they left. They mean something to me that I won’t forget.

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