Pinpoint the moment something goes from being a “wound” to being something else. It is not easy to do. Gingerly pick at the corners of your bandage and imagine altering the past. Absentmindedly brush your hand past it in the shower and your whole body winces. Pop an aspirin, maybe something stronger. Move on.
It is easier to tell when something goes from being flesh to being a wound. That moment is the fulcrum that your life then pivots around for the foreseeable future. One moment you are working in your yard, living a normal day in a normal life and then the next moment is filled with shouting, blood, and more sweat than you thought you could ever produce.
The scarring process has three steps. As soon as you’ve fucked up, the first one begins:
1. The Inflammatory Phase
Once, we were young and brash. Our limbs touched all continents and we were for the world. A sort of universal encyclopedic knowledge of all things magically appeared in our minds and our tongues dripped gold. For the good of all mankind, we could never shut up.
My friend Derick and I put a lot of stock in ourselves. We took writing workshops together at school in Milledgeville. He wrote about the WTO riots in Seattle, never having been to the city or to a protest, and I wrote about sex having never . . . written about sex. Smoke trailed behind our pens.
As editors, we discussed and fought and yelled and rumbled as we made sure only the most badass and revolutionary work made it into the undergrad literary journal, The Peacock’s Feet. We were doing important work.
When we learned about the terror attacks on 9/11, our reaction–the two of us–was to think my god, I hate being right all the time.
The vile, billowing fog pouring from our mouths was borne of fear. We were once so young and brash and lost and afraid. Our limbs touched the shores of all continents and found no home anywhere. A sort of universal confusion of unrelated facts clouded our minds and our tongues pressed against the roofs of our mouths in fear.
The function of the inflammatory phase is to reject the injury-causing agent. We ran fast and spoke loud to drown out our terror at having to be in control of our uncontrollable lives. That only works long enough to get to the second step in the scarring process:
2. The Proliferation Phase
I pissed seventeen times before my wedding.
I was waiting in this small room behind the altar of the church and luckily there was a bathroom back there.
We stood together in the sanctuary in front of our family and friends who were there to watch us do this crazy thing. And we joined hands and put rings on each others fingers and made vows to each other and walked out of that church a completely new thing. Whole and renewed.
I do not know what my wife is getting out of our marriage, but I can tell you what I am getting: better. Every major decision I have made over the past decade, she has been nudging, sometimes shoving me in the right direction. On the day of our wedding, I was a sound tech in a theme park. A decade later, I’m an award-winning radio producer, and the only constant there has been her. We have surrounded ourselves with good friends, we have watched our family grow and change. We have been fruitful and we have multiplied.
The proliferation phase is all about building tissue–remaking that which has been destroyed. And so it did. My hatred and fear still churns in my gut, but it is of a finer vintage now. It is stronger and more focused. Where it once hung over me like a cloud, threatening rain and full of static electricity, it is now a torrent blasting out of a fire hose. Luckily, I have someone helping me point it in the right direction.
When your focused rage has knocked over enough stuff, it should be time for the final stage. . .
3. The Remodeling Phase
I am not a handy person, but I’m working in the yard. My friend Brian and I are building a shed. We’ve scrounged a stack of loading pallets from behind a hundred grocery stores and we’re ripping them apart for building material. Living a normal day in a normal life. I turn to pick up another pallet, claw of a hammer in hand, and I step on a board. It hops upright and embeds a pair of nails in my thigh. I drop the hammer.
The next moment is filled with shouting, blood, and more sweat than I thought I could ever produce. Brian and I call in unison for my wife–my wife who had warned us that building a shed out of loading pallets was a stupid idea. Inside the house, hearing our panicked clarion call, she thinks “my god, I hate being right all the time” on her way to fetching the rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet.
The remodeling phase is when scar tissue forms and begins to become tensile. To bear weight and strain. The skin is at first prone to bleeding, but as it heals, it toughens up like interlocking fingers. It is both protection and permanence. You are once again whole, but you will never be the same and you will remember this for the rest of your life.
Brian staunches the bleeding with my t-shirt and on the way to DeKalb Medical, I try not to bleed in the car, sitting in my boxers, wearing my shirt around my thigh. My wife is–for the moment–more concerned with tetanus than with being upset at how dumb I am. She holds my hand and six months later, she is still holding it—her fingers interlocking with mine. Our yard has a wonderful new shed . . . from Home Depot, and there is a scar on my leg like Circumstances’ signature against my skin, reminding me of who I really belong to.