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A Road Map of Scars

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July 18, 2017

I have a scar on my left eyebrow, a vertical dent that bisects the eyebrow fur near the arch. The scar has revealed itself as I’ve got older. It’s a rut I have to negotiate with my eyebrow pencil.

My brother Robert noticed it on one of my recent trips back to New Zealand. Delicately, he asked, ‘What the hell happened to your face?’ Robert looked slightly, not remarkably, surprised when I reminded him of the time he and my brother David threw a cast-iron lawnmower wheel at my head. I was about nine at the time and was doing a headstand when the wheel knocked me flat.

My mother used to say, ‘Wounds on the face always look worse because they bleed a lot.’ She said this often because her children were often getting damaged in the bump and grind of childhood. In my wild, high-energy family, one minute your sibling was your friend and the next he was trying to put pepper in your cup of tea. You had to strike fast and run like hell because in our house, revenge was a dish served piping hot.

‘What about you?’ asked Robert. ‘I’ve still got lumps where you hit me over the head with a steel pin.’ He touched his scalp to indicate the general location of the lumps. I had whacked him, too, quite a feat for a seven-year-old. The steel pin (a long, metal rod used for concrete construction) had been extremely heavy but rage had given me the strength of five ponies. I’d crept up on my brother, dragging the pin behind me. At six years old, I already had the sense to attack my enemy from behind.

I have a scar on my left leg where my sister Jocelyn drove a pair of hairdressing scissors into the fleshy area below the knee and on my right ankle, I have a scar where my brother Bruce branded me with a toasting fork, glowing red hot from the fireplace. These are just some of my souvenirs from childhood.

In my twenties, I worked in a newspaper office with an American man who told me his body was a roadmap of scars. He’d had operations on several of his organs and while he didn’t actually show me the scars, he conveyed their size by holding out two fingers and saying, ‘It’s about yea big’, as he revisited each surgical procedure.

He was a nice man. His eyes would bulge and his lips would form a small O whenever he was being confidential. He once told me in this manner about a friend of a friend who used to tie a brick to his penis with a long piece of string. The man would hang the brick out of his bedroom window while he slept in an effort to stretch his penis.

This story still troubles me. I imagine a heavy pigeon alighting on the brick. The sudden tug on the penis end of the string. The man waking up in pain. In another scenario a window washer comes across a brick dangling from a window.

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