I was on a new-to-me big kids’ bike with skinny wheels, a slender blue frame and even gears. I wobbled a little every time I started, but no matter: the bike was mine.
That day, riding home from Saundra’s, a hot breeze blew my unkempt hair across my sun-browned face. I knew I should have combed it that morning, and could almost hear my mother scolding, “Mandy, if you’re going to have long hair you need to brush it and tie it back.” But who had time for combs when Saundra swore there was a real live black widow spider right in her bathroom and I needed to come over now before it got away?
The bike veered sideways as my dirty hand pawed my hair from my eyes. My legs splayed out and I nearly crashed, but – miracle! – caught myself just in time. As I stuttered to a stop, I felt a stinging pain and looked down to see a furrow carved into my left shin. I watched the blood well up and drip down my leg, eventually pooling at the edge of my bobby sock. Then I started to cry.
It was only another few minutes to my house, and I biked the whole way: teary, bloody, determined. By the time I got there, my shin was splattered dark red and my face was shiny wet. In the kitchen, my father cleaned my leg with a damp paper towel while I dried my eyes on his shirt. Now that we could see it, the cut wasn’t much, really: a narrow inch and a half of pain. Daddy got the Band-aids and some Neosporin and set about doctoring me up.
When he finished, he patted my hair and said, “Well, that’ll leave a scar. There goes your shot at Miss America.” He grinned conspiratorially and walked away. But I was eight, and I didn’t get the joke. Was I supposed to be Miss America? Was I supposed to want to be? My father had already returned to his gardening, but I sat in the kitchen staring at the dark stain I could just make out through the pink of the bandage and thought of the beautiful women on TV. Where were their scars? Did they ride bikes? Maybe they were better at biking.
I don’t know when I realized that my father had never wanted me to be Miss America. I don’t know when I understood the jest he had offered to his scruffy, sturdy eight-year-old daughter. But that was the summer I recognized that, someday, I was going to have to deal with hair and dirt and scars and beauty. By the time 4th grade started, I played mostly with girls, combed my hair more regularly, and faked disgust at spiders.
It’s almost invisible now, the scar that introduced me to womanhood, but if I look hard, I can still see it.
This post is part of the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, a weekly invitation to share a snapshot of life through writing. To read more or participate, click here.
7 thoughts on “On scars and being a woman”
I’ve read a lot of scar stories through the years, but none as deep as this one. It is incredible how that one cut impacted you.
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How did you know I fell off my bike this morning? My husband and I were returning from a ride, and I could not unclip one shoe as I rode up the driveway. I have a nice bruise on my right arm and a scrape on my right shin. Is sixty too old to ride a bike? The stars aligned, didn’t they? I feel as though you wrote specifically for me today.
This is a wonderful story about how our childhood scars run deeper than the skin, even though I don’t think your father had any intention by his comment. I once shared a poem with my dad when I was 12. He didn’t really appreciate the budding poet in me, and I’ve worked all my life to prove him wrong.
This is a fantastic slice. Scars reveal so much! Thank you for sharing this!
Those last three paragraphs… I reread those several times. They spotlight your gift for how steering your reflections deftly into the deep end of the pool.
Thank you for sharing your story! A good reminder to me as a teacher getting ready to head back to my little charges, that sometimes the most innocent things we say can stay with them.
Love how you took that experience and reflected on it in ways I don’t know if I could have. A great small moment story to share with students.