Silky Ribbons of Memoir

Imagine lying on a lounger at the swimming pool’s edge wrapped in the sun’s warmth melting away the chill on your wet skin or swinging on the porch in the dusk of a hot summer night, crickets chirping somewhere out in the dark where the steam rises from the earth; maybe you are lying on the fuzzy rug of your girlfriend’s room at a slumber party listening to your favorite band.

It isn’t long before you hear the words, “Check out this scar.”

Your girlfriend’s finger traces the raised silky, white ribbon indicating her body’s memory of a wound that the mind has already begun to forget. Round-robin story telling begins with a gnarled patch on a knee and then a slash above an eyebrow or the tell tale scar under her chin, indicating that the chin’s owner was lucky enough to have bicycle.

It is the one time we are allowed to pull back a t-shirt or shorts to reveal a tiny portion of ourselves that might otherwise remain hidden.

If you and I were sitting on a porch swing or a bed with our knees tucked up under our chins, we’d be looking at how weird our feet are. We’d wiggle our toes and you might say, “My feet are so weird—look at the way my pinky toe bends out and back in like a boomerang.” I’d giggle and say, “Did something happen to make it that way?”

A story would commence.

Then I’d stretch my right leg out straight with my foot pointed like a ballerina, toes pointed toward the ceiling or sky, before teetering back and leaning on my elbows. “After growing up on a farm, it’s a miracle my siblings and I have feet at all. After the close calls we had, we’re lucky to more than mere stubs at the end of our legs.” We would laugh and I’d do a can-can kick in the air above us with both feet waving in the air. “Look. I even have all ten toes; call it pure, dumb luck if you have to. Can you see those flat shiny spots there on the knuckles of each toe? See right there and… there and there?”

The scars are now barely visible from the time when I first learned to ride Howie’s bike, a gorgeous black machine with little gold flecks on the banana seat and amazing rubber handle grips. It was the summer before fourth grade and Howie was the love of my life. Since we were practically married, he agreed to let me take his new prize out for a spin. The dirt road near his house was gouged with washboards and big gaping potholes, so we both conceded that his road was not the best place for a girl’s maiden voyage.

There was this one hill close by that had a patch of asphalt still intact. It also came with an impressive decline—enough to get a feel for how smooth this ride really was. Suffice to say, I was no sooner a goddess in flight with the hum of the wind and earth ringing in my ears, than I realized I didn’t know how to stop. I squeezed the rubber handles in a death grip. Nothing. I gripped harder. Nothing.

The bike trembled and wobbled under the weight of my careless control. In a matter of seconds—or eons—I was left with only two options: A. I could bail off, which would definitely be bad for both myself and the beautiful bike, or B. I could drag my bare feet. Of course I was barefoot; we were always barefoot. I chose option B. In that split second, I figured I needed the soles of my feet to walk on, so I dragged the tops to brake rather than have the asphalt potato peel my heels.

Some scars are more impressive than others, but the unwritten rule is that each swimmer or camper or slumber party guest gets a turn to show off her trophy while telling the tale of how much more gruesome the original wound was and how disappointing it is to think the scar has shrunk to almost nothing at all. Telling about these monuments link us to our past, even if they don’t necessarily represent the most important moments of our making, or the invisible bruises hidden down in the flesh of our soul.

Writing memoir is like that; it’s a strange way of telling one’s story about life. It’s usually the telling of painful parts of an otherwise far-reaching event involving other key players all with their own perspectives, ecstasies and wounds. Unlike telling scar stories under the moon and taking turns exposing a rare bit of flesh, here on the written page we don’t get to take turns; I apologize now for monopolizing the slumber party.

Howie doesn’t get to tell us his half of our bike story or about how on a different occasion half of his ring finger went missing, which left only a flap of skin folded over and a scar sewn closed like the flap of a flour sack. As his future bride, I was concerned about how his wedding ring would stay put. Now, I wonder if it did and whether or not its staying power was impacted more by the fact that half his finger was gone or that his daddy was gay.

Howie is as lost to me now as many of my childhood details. All I have for certain are my ten toes and with each, a tiny remnant of smooth white scar, reminders that my sweet childhood friend with his big blue eyes and black beauty with a gold speckled seat still remains a part of me in spite of well-intentioned religious leaders who otherwise ripped Howie and his half-missing wedding finger from of the pages of my story.

Even if not altogether accurate, we tell our stories, not only to look forward to our final redemption as through a dark glass; we also look backward in search of our redemption, through an equally distorted mirror, with hope of ultimately finding Jesus there. It is the story of us—of humanity: the telling of how we yearn most to know and be known.