It is late evening and we sit together on the couch — she fresh from the bath and in her footie pajamas, me in my voluminous robe. She climbs into my lap and I notice the heavy lids that presage a sleep so deep no one will be able to awaken her for hours, but for now she is just a snuggle bunny. In these times, in this late evening haze, her actions are mysterious, as if she is a small prophet foretelling the future, and I study her intently, this girl who shares my genes but who is still as unique as the oncoming night. Tonight she sits on my lap, and she traces my scars.
When I was 7 years old, in my elementary school playground, I was chasing Kareema Perkins around the perimeter when I somehow got my left hand caught in one of the barbs on the fence. It ripped a chunk of skin out of the back of that hand, and others told me I sounded like a girl with my high-pitched screams. Amazingly enough, no stitches were necessary, but it left a thick scar that has faded noticeably in time.
At 11 years of age I received another blemish while at the Laurel Lake Camp for the summer. Tony Wentz had brought a knife to camp against the rules and would whittle every night. It was so cool to watch him create shapes out of tree limbs and branches. I was so jealous, so one evening after dinner while the counselors were in a meeting, I asked Tony to borrow his knife. It was going well, too, until a particularly knotty piece of branch. I ended up slicing halfway through my left thumb, which did require several stitches and also left a scar. That one was devastating because I wasn’t able to get my swimming certificate due to the stitches.
Just this past week I have added to my laundry list of scars. My job requires me to work quickly and sometimes my hands get caught on fixtures while stocking food, or I get a paper cut when folding boxes. While these mishaps don’t amount to much individually, they do add up to having several scars on my hands and knuckles by week’s end.
But I had forgotten about each and every one, my memory designed to shade out those moments and focus on ones that had lasting emotional effects instead. Yet my daughter, in her hazy half-asleep trance, always zeroes in on each and every one when she is on my lap, and she does the same now.
Her little hands trace my scars one after the other in a kind of ritual, a dance that she seems to know by heart, and each touch reminds me. Every tracing motion brings back vivid memories I thought had been buried forever. And each time she finds a new one she exclaims, “Daddy’s boo boo,” mystified that there aren’t only the ones she remembers. But just like a homing beacon the next time she will remember the ones from yesterday and add them to her list and litany.
And it lulls her to sleep more often than not, tracing my scars, drawing those connections that were severed, and bringing us closer together. I will miss it when she isn’t so fascinated by them, and by the closeness they bring us.