How did you get that?

Last night I was hanging with my friend Cain who is a rather charming, seemingly dopey, but extremely intelligent guy. He has a rather large and noticeable scar on the left side of his head. I've known Cain for two years and never mentioned it. Last night I asked him, "OK how did you get that scar?"

"My service in the Israeli army. I usually tell people it was a car accident, but it was during my service."

He left it at that.

I was confused on a number of levels, first the taunting "I got it in the service" but without any details, although I'm sure I can imagine a number of reasons why Cain wouldn't divulge the story to me. (Cain is very secretive about his time with the Israeli army.) Then I began wondering why he preferred to tell people it was a car accident. Why did he think that was a better or more acceptable story? Are people less curious about a car accident than a "war" scar?

In film, scars particularly facial scars can indicate villainy. If the hero is scarred, it is often the result of a rash or immature act performed in youth (Indiana Jones, Inigo Mantoya-Princess Bride).

In literature, scars are often associated with heroism and identity. Odysseus is identified by the scar on his thigh by his nurse. The famed Fisher King, in version I studied in high school, is scarred in his youth by fire ( he too is wounded in his thigh in some versions). Moses has a scarred tongue. The female heroine of Bleak House is facially scarred after her spiritually transformative brush with smallpox.

Whenever I see someone with a scar, to me, it indicates a story. I have a faint one on my finger that I got from cutting stale bread for my mother's insane cat. I have another one on the back of my thighs from leaning up against a radiator. My mother has a few from falling down the stairs to answer the phone when I called her one night. I have a faint scar, which only I can see, the result of some bad theatrical special effects. Eric had a few, one the result of his brother stabbing him with a pencil. My manicurist has one on her upper arm from a small pox vaccination.

I was with a new boy once, naked in bed, and he rolled me on my stomach. "Jesus," he said, "Where did you get that?" "What?" I asked, panicked that something horrible had happened to my back. "This scar. Did you have spina bifida?" "Oh no, it was a tumor removal." My body bears witness to the events, even though I have no conscious memory of them. It tells my story even to me, as I often forget that it's there. That scar, down my spine, is almost as old as I am.

I have often thought of scar removal. Many people have it done. The scars, however, that I would have removed are not the ones I think most people would target. The scar across my abdomen, so long has it been with me, I didn't even know it was a scar until my mother told me. I wouldn't have it removed, despite its visibility, because it is too much of who I am. The more recent scars, the ones resulting from my botched surgery at thirteen, those I could do without, even though they are easier to hide.

But I have never, despite my serious consideration, actually had the scars removed. And the odds are I never will. Partially because I am terrified of surgery, and partially because to remove them would be to hide those incidents, to say that I am ashamed or embarrassed. A smart man when seeing those scars would not find them unattractive.

A smart man would see in them the beauty of survival.

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