I've had many scars. Ten stitches on my forehead from the bed post in my parents’ room. They told me not to jump on the bed, which naturally encouraged me to do precisely that. As it turns out, there’s a reason your parents tell you these things. Another on the opposite side of my forehead from a bike crash. I tried to run down a boy who I thought said something about me and I got the worst end of the collision, which seems fair as I hit him. Thirteen stitches across my knee from the similarly poorly considered decision to rest my knee against a window in bed in high school. As it turns out, windows are not especially sturdy. Skin graph scars tucked away in corners of my body, collected to transplant to my ear and my inner ear, to correct inborn flaws. A long but quite neat tear by my rib, the product of cartilage removed to form my ear. When I awoke from that surgery I simply moaned as I did not have the strength to scream. When my mother heard the noise, she asked what it was. When they told her she fainted, crumpled in the hallway outside my ICU room. I used to write about that surgery every year for whatever essay writing assignment teachers would hand out. Some teachers cried. Either way, it became a defining tragedy, an easy crutch to explain what an awful child I was. I took advantage of it, which I regret.
Most of these scars faded almost completely as the years went by. The scars along my forehead thinned to a pale grey from an angry pink eventually fading entirely into wrinkles. New skin grew in to fill the holes from the skin graphs, eventually almost indistinguishable from the skin that never left. Even the scar on my rib narrowed and diminished as I grew; evolving into another wrinkle at best. With them went much of the pain and anger that accompanied them, retreating into hindsight and indifference. It’s difficult to stay focused on any one thing long enough for it to matter. Life moves on. New tragedies eclipse the old, joy overwhelms sadness. I’m reasonably certain those are lyrics from the “Circle of Life” but there’s some truth to it.
I tend to get annoyed when people talk about “healing emotional scars and wounds.” It seems like one of those insidious and oversimplified slogans and analogies that people throw around because they want to avoid using words like death, dying, or deceased. All the morbid ds require euphemism in common speech. When one relative of mine was dying I remember the hospice where they were at gave out these brochures. The brochure had a picture of a boat sailing into the moon on it and described the various phases of death as a voyage from the shores of life into the ocean of death or some similar nonsense. I remember thinking to myself that these people could not actually be this silly. No one’s going on a cruise here or some great exploratory expedition. The undiscovered county line in Shakespeare is a metaphor about suicide, not discovery.
Perhaps as a result, I do not like people to talk about my experiencing some kind of healing. I think that misses the point. James is not a scar or a wound. He was my son. What happened to him is most horrible because it happened to him, and he was a wonderful little boy who did not deserve even a fraction of what he went through. What happened to me and the rest of his family is a secondary tragedy, a footnote. To describe James as something that happened devalues the fact that he was someone who was. His absence marks us. Scar suggests too much negativity, and I liked James too much to call him a scar.
To the extent James represents a collateral wound to us; the question becomes how obvious that wound is. In this way I suppose there is some resemblance to a scar. Like all the wounds, I suppose James has become less visible overtime. I smile, laugh and joke. I work. I go through my day and I seriously doubt most people who met me would know that I lost my son eleven months ago. The wound remains, but it becomes less visible. Right after James died I could bare say his name. Unlike all the other scars I described above, this one only fades visibly. The pain lingers, trapped somewhere deeper. I do not intend for this particular wound to heal completely. It is important to remember. I do hope that it continues to become less raw to the touch.
Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.