THE HEALING HAS BEGUN
My hands are stained today. Traces of sunflower petals, now drying in a window, slicing through green chive fingers sporting nails crescented in tomato dirt. All these colors, these smells: lemon balm, oregano, peppers and blueberries embedded in my aging skin like bruises of a Southern day. Nothing feels like the sting of sweat down my neck, dancing over the tattoo marking a lost child, landing in the curve of my aching lower back. Today I felt . . . salvaged. Lifted from a wreckage of the child I was, the childhood I imagined, that archaic remnant of what others needed me to be, still need me to be, always will assume that I am.
Physician, heal thyself.
This post might not make sense to y’all under forty. We shall see.
I have never seen anything so graceful as an old pear tree. The knots, the turns of the trunk holding so much more fruit than it should, turning it sweeter and deeper than science says it should. I’ve seen this turn in my flesh: the knots of my knuckles rising, my back beginning to curve with the weight of nearly five decades, age spots dancing across my chest–now carved in three deep slashes from the squeeze of my breasts. Wrists that once were delicate now are banded by creases deep enough to hide a failed 1982 suicide attempt. These are my scars:
Knotted tissue, left earlobe and under eye crescent, left eye. Dalmation attack that led to lifetime of dog-fear. Circa? Early seventies?
The letter M carved across my forearm, circa 1983. Initiation mark from a biker who called me “property.”
Four perfect crescents on my right upper arm, circa 1978. Parental squeeze that went too deep.
Two inch slash between my eyes, circa 1985. Broken beer bottle across my brow.
White scar, right hand, circa 1986, Learning to make fried chicken. (Burned it, which led to tiny white scar in my lower lip. Husband, his right hand. Big day for scars.)
But these are not all of the scars on my skin. There’s also:
Five perfect stretch scars, lower abdomen, 1986, 1992, 1996. Babies and Breyers Mint Chocolate Icecream.
Four tattoos, all after forty, all critical symbols of survival.
Tiny cut, under my wedding ring, circa 2009. (Never work with power tools in jewelry. I had been single for so long and was so resistant to take off that damn band.)
Small circular scar, right butt cheek, circa 2010. Desperately trying to have another baby, desperately in love, desperately broken. (Damn fertility drugs.)
I’ll stop here. My body is not a wonderland. Wait . . . not the kind, anyway, that songs are sung for, or paintings honor, or . . . anything other than what it is meant to be. Mine. I’ve noticed this disconcerting wave lately, a structure of feeling in our culture toward hyper-sympathetic martyrdom of the self. Our bodies for our children. Our sexuality for our partners. Our minds for our careers, or other’s memories. How . . . very. With so little left, no wonder so many of us are in therapy, asking: “what is me?” All of it, darlin. Every last fucking molecule of it. Every scar, every thought, every tear, every ache, all of it. What is it about our culture that makes us guilty for owning, loving, maybe even reveling a bit in the self?
Which brings me to a story. (Now, by now y’all know I can’t tell one in a straight line.)
Once upon a time and very far away, there was a little girl who brought shame upon her little town. Born out of a shameful wedlock and hidden for years as someone else’s child, she grew up believing that only her grandma loved her . . . perhaps out of some misguided pity, or perhaps because that’s what grandmas do. And while everyone told her that she was pretty and smart, only her grandma told her she was “special.” The kind of special that happens when rainbows end in front of you, or when wild coyotes lick your hand, or when trees bend when you walk by. The little girl hated being pretty, mostly because it was all that her town valued and because it made boys hungry and girls vicious, and so she avoided the mirror and became alienated in her skin. The grandma noticed and tried to introduce the girl back to her flesh in small, unobtrusive ways: she stroked the girls dark eyebrows and called them perfect, placed her palm upon the girl’s forehead and deemed it handsome. But the little girl was broken under the weight of her beauty, cursed by its offense to an already angry Southern town. And time went on.
But the little girl never forgot the feel of old fingers, tracing crescents into her brow, naming them beautiful.
Today the girl is working on fifty. The grandma and her magical power to make the girl love her skin have been gone for years now, whisked away by time and graveyard dirt and memory against a white-washed fence of the life that came before. Wrinkles and sag and age spots have begun the arduous task of dismantling her curse–leaning in upon childhood scars, staining deep Southern freckles a deeper brown. But–the eyebrows, high above Cherokee cheekbones, remain drawn by grandma fingers, permanently, belligerently etched against the march of time.
I am becoming . . . her. A grandma. That wondrously healing entity who has watched her beauty fade into the past, no longer envied, now marred and scarred and finally, oh finally, carved by the meticulously rough scalpel of time. And now, the girl loves her skin. It is like her grandma’s, just at the year of her birth, that just-turning-leather feel of the hands that touched the girl, saved the girl, redeemed the girl from the concept of primal sin.
This post is awkward, I know. I reckon most of us are awkward at times. Maybe this post is about aging. Maybe it’s about ancestors. Maybe it’s about salvation. Today I feel . . . salvaged. Inexplicably rescued from the wreckage of my youth, regardless of its curses and regrets. I am no longer the hidden child, the eighties addict, the black sheep to a family that refuses to examine its own conscience. Rather, I have become a beloved teacher, a wife, a Priestess, a mom, an Auntie and a friend. The stories embedded within my skin are only precursors to the story of someone’s grandma–someone with the power to touch a child and etch onto their skin the whisper of pear flowers falling upon the banks of time.
Today, I canned pears from an aged tree. She stands over the grave of a beloved pet, her arms heavy and covered in fruit, her trunk tattooed by a long forgotten romance. When the sun comes up behind her, she looks like a willow. When the sun sets upon her, she looks like a crone–arms reaching for the land she plans to rejoin. I have seen young girls dancing in Ostara fields, glimpsed the glide of a bent elbow over a century-old fiddle and have watched wild horses carve Cumberland Island with their hooves.
But I have never seen anything so achingly beautiful as an old pear tree.