By Megan Ryland
Our bodies can help us keep track of our stories. They keep a tally of sleepless nights beneath our eyes. They remember falls in joints when it rains. Our scars remind us of recklessness or accidents or illness or joyful misadventure.
When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t get enough of my body’s only big story to date: my only scar. I told the story most frequently in gym class, when I felt it would be most useful to the audience of my peers. It was my word of warning about the dangers of gym.
Before I’d even arrived in first grade, I had a gym period at my daycare facility when we got to run around a gymnasium for an hour. There were some toys and sports equipment, but we generally just ran around like wild things. There was one important rule for the playing with hockey sticks though: no slap shots.
You know where this is going. Four-year-old me was just rolling along when one of the wilder boys, Nicholas, decided to show off. It happened so fast I hardly remember how it went, but one slap shot later I had blood dripping down my face. I vividly remember worrying about it getting on the floor as I was rushed to the nurse’s room, just like I remember the sound of Nicholas being scolded in the hallway as I waited to be taken away for stitches. When he was dragged into the room to apologize, he was crying harder than I was. My memory skips forward to the doctor freezing my forehead with a needle and making a joke before stitching me up. It skips again to the phone call with my mother once it was all over. I couldn’t stop telling her about the neon pink bandage I’d been given for my forehead, while she was trying to determine how rattled my brain was.
I would tell a version of this story every year in gym class right before we started the hockey unit and I would proudly point to the scar on my forehead. It was my proof for my tale of woe (and the most exciting thing to happen to me, it seemed). I still think about it when I look in the mirror, although it’s barely visible now, and when my fingers still find it on my forehead. It’s part of the map of my body.
We all have these landmarks, made on purpose or by accident. I don’t have any tattoos, but I know that a common complaint for those with tattoos is the constant requests for explanations. People assume that there is a story behind a tattoo - and often assume they’re entitled to hear it, unfortunately. In fact, a similar demand for an explanation or story happens to those people with visible disabilities, as if their medical history ought to be an open book because their body displays some visible ‘difference.’ It’s not up to other people to define your story or demand you perform a personal story time just for them at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, people should just live with the suspense.
Some people have stories and some people don’t, but we generally understand that our body’s markings mean something to us - and we should get to decide what they mean for ourselves. We recognize tribute or memorial tattoos are part of celebration and grief. We reflect on the scars we carry and how they have re-shaped our bodies.
It would be a shame to ignore the stories written on our bodies. So much happens to us without leaving anything you can point to; invisible scars are often so difficult to explain. There is an honesty to bodies, at the very least. It can be embarrassing, but needn’t be. If as a society we let the stretch marks and surgery scars and baldness speak plainly, I think we could all feel less silenced. We could say without fear, “Here I am. My story is written all over my body.” What a world that would be, to be unashamed of our bodies and our stories.