Scar Tissue: I. Adhesive
Bandages are a dividing line, a boundary between the body and its environment. In this, they are not unlike the frames that surround works of art. They at once delineate the limits of the skin and pertain to the world beyond it.
The thumb – the thumb whose tip I severed long ago – never quite healed right. Sometimes I sense that the old wound longs to reopen. It did last December when my new paring knife slid through nail and flesh, curving around bone, as I too hastily pulled it from its packaging. Unable to find any gauze, I wrapped it in toilet paper. The white tissue discolored almost instantaneously, as if flushed with embarrassment at my overeager clumsiness.
When it is wet, toilet paper tends to break down to its component parts. Its errant fibers attach to whatever happens to be nearby, especially open nicks and cuts, making it a surprisingly powerful coagulant. Watching my hastily prepared dressing darken and dampen while I walked to the corner pharmacy, it occurred to me that an exchange was taking place: As my blood blended with the paper, the paper was giving a part of itself over to me, offering me a second skin.
This gory potlatch sketches the logic of the bandage in crimson ink. A bandage is an inoculation against otherness. Holding at bay the world from which it derives, it protects us by replacing part of what we have lost, however temporarily. But just as bandages protect us from the world, they hide a part of our bodies from us. Occluded by a bandage, an injury becomes almost invisible. Bandages engage in an unbearable intimacy with injury, cozying up to our wounds so that we don’t have to.
Two weeks to the day after my thyroidectomy, I pried the bandage off of my neck, ready to refamiliarize myself with the skin beneath. Fumbling with an object I had previously refused to touch, I realized it was little more than a thin film of glue covering the stitches my surgeon had already removed. I had expected something larger, perhaps a gauzy pad through which blood might leak, a pad not unlike the ones I wrapped around my thumb after the toilet paper came off. Instead it was almost invisible, little more than a discoloration of the skin. Small and gray with the grime it held off, it often went unnoticed.
It wasn’t until I was peeling it off that I remembered I had seen one just like it before. Catherine had pointed out a woman whose wound was identically dressed in a Port Townsend café. At the time, I had supposed that her own thyroidectomy was already receding into the past. Pulling the adhesive from my neck so soon after surgery, I realized that she must have been a few scant days out. Though I can no longer picture her face, I can’t help but project a dazed look over her hastily recalled features. Where I once wanted to ask her questions, I now long to assure her as one might a frightened child. Everything will be alright, I would coo. You are already alright. And she is.
I would comfort her as I might a child who has lost something very dear. I would comfort her as if she were a child because I felt like one as I stood in front of the mirror, peeling my bandage back. As it came off, I kept forgetting that it wasn’t really a part of me, that it wasn’t like the scab that formed over my injured thumb. Something about the way healthy skin puckered where the glue still held contributed to the illusion of organicity. Only the way it crumbled beneath my fingers reminded me that it was made of rubber.
I took it off in two stages over the course of a long morning, first the right half and then, a few hours later, the left. Both times, it momentarily occurred to me that I should keep the piece I had just stripped off. For two weeks, this artificial skin had hidden an absence. Perhaps it could guard against my new lack a little longer. I considered sealing the adhesive halves in small, glass-windowed boxes to guard them against gathering dust and passing time. In the palm of my hand, these formless fragments seemed almost adorable. Twice I felt a twinge of regret as I dropped them into the garbage can.
Precisely insofar as they seem a part of us, bandages sometimes become advance images of our scars. As I removed the adhesive from my neck, I imagined I might catch a fleeting glimpse of an injury I had felt, never seen. But beneath it, I found only the bandage itself in miniature, the redness and ridge of a more permanent border.
No more bandages. My real scar is keepsake enough. I will wear it like an amulet.