The Scars of Our Lives
It is ten in the morning and already, it’s been a long day. Too long.
I walk through the swarm of zoot suits and other business people who call themselves successful.
What is the meaning of success? Seriously, does it all come down to the flashing dollar bill that screams how rich we are and what kind of lifestyle we can afford?
I finally make it to the wooden bench, out in the middle of nowhere. Ironic…
Well, at least it seems that way. For starters, there’s bird crap plastered all over the goddamn bus stop bench. Dried up too. All white and gray just mushed together.
Trees that should have brown branches hollow over like James and the Giant Peach—both James and the peach. Making any lighting from the radiant sun seep through. Literally, I am in the shadows.
But it should be no surprise. It has only been a full ten minutes since I left Dr. Ruiz’ office. I forgot how many sessions it has been—maybe thirty or forty, but that’s what happens…
That’s what happens when you are someone who is deemed, damaged or fucked up. They think I am a freak at school…none of my friends look at me, literally. Instead, I am just a shadow on a bench, sulking into my forced black abyss, because nobody wants to befriend a girl with quote begin issues quote end.
I sit anyhow, curving my backpack onto my lap. I plug in my headphones and then…I just wait. All alone at the bus stop, just inches from the curb…
“Well, good morning to you.”
What the hell—
An older gentleman takes the seat next to me, smiling, even though I am sitting in the middle of the bench. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I don’t own the bench, but neither does this old geezer.
Geezer? Jesus, I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s because of this man’s outfit. That outfit…
He must be related to Dr. Seuss with a checkered overcoat and brown slacks, topped off with a gray newsboy hat. Unless he’s a cast member from Newsies?
“Lovely day,” he babbles on.
I nod, trying not to be an asshole or as society puts it, a “Spoiled/rotten teenager,” even though I am practically an adult (turned eighteen a few months ago)…
The thoughts swarm back…I…I, I don’t know how to put it, but sometimes these images come to my mind like flashing thunderbolts. Pow. Pow. Pow. I’m…I’m a bit shaky again, as Dr. Ruiz puts it, “The memories will pass, but first you must embrace and accept what has happened, happened and no taking back.” He usually tops it off with taking it day by day or seeing that I am safe and sound (like the T-Swift song) and will find my own silver lining.
Silver lining, I used to ask, like the movie?— Yes, like the movie. We each find our own in every aspect of our life, whether it be good or bad.
… Like going away to college, there’s a silver lining in that. I laughed. How?
“Excuse me, miss,” the elderly man’s voice snaps me back in.
By the time I look at him, it hits me. First, my arm was already going up to ram in one of my earbuds, and secondly…he sees it…and he sees me seeing him…
My sleeve drops ever so slightly, showing off my battle wound. An almost skin-tone colored scar, thicker than blood, that stretches onward and onward, starting from the tip of my palm and ending—
“It’s not nice to stare,” I spit out and yank down the sleeve of my jean jacket. It rushes over me, starting from the feet up. In seconds, I am ten…twenty…thirty feet away. Then, I hear it again—
I stop dead in my tracks, spinning around. “What do you want?!” I can’t tell if anyone is around us, but if they are…God they must think I am an asshole.
“You dropped these.” He opens his hand and out pops out a black snakelike string—my earbuds.
“Oh…” I receive them. “…I didn’t see them falling.”
“I’m sorry,” his voice drops ten octaves. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Suddenly, his eyes lower to the ground. This look on him, pulling his cheeks down. Processing…something.
“Well, uh,” it’s all I can think of, “thanks.” And then I turn to leave, my next play to walk home, until:
“I don’t know what the story or stories are behind your scar. But, one day you’ll no longer need to take it out on yourself.”
My jaw hits the floor, stunned, and I can feel my eyes sag from the heaviness that fills them up…my chest tightening…throat closing up. “You don’t even know me,” I tell him, and finally, I can breathe again. That was easier than I had thought. It felt good…feels good, to address the elephant in the room, well…the open in our case.
He takes a deep breathe…it hits home for him. “You’re right, I don’t know you. But, I do know that you’ve survived whatever it was. Whatever hurt you.”
They strike a chord, his words; but, my eyes well up once I see what his eyes drop to…the bouquet of sunflowers. How could I have missed those?
A smile creeps onto his face ever so slightly, like the coo from a newborn reminding its mother that the pain was worth it. Life is worth it. “Every year, on our anniversary, I give my wife her favorite flowers. But today, I think she’d want someone else to have them.” At that moment, his eyes finally meet mine.
My cheeks become hot and I find myself wiping the tears away but they just won’t stop. Streams of them cascade down my face and for the first time in a while…I am not running but staying. Right here in this moment with this strange, yet…kind man.
“You certainly need this more than I do.” He moves the flowers my way. I shake my head—
“I can’t. I can’t take—”
“No, no,” he says with a small smile, “It’s a gift. Really.”
“But a gift for someone else.” I smile back because he needs to know that I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t just take them. But this time, he does not smile back. So I watch him, as his eyes drop down to the gold ring he caresses with his other hand. A wedding band, perfect, worn around his frail white left finger.
His smile…long gone forever and ever…“until death do us part.”
“Forty-six years today.” And there’s that proud smile that any man would wear for a woman who is irresistible and possible to love. “She was my high school sweetheart and an amazing woman.” As he meets my gaze, I see another image but a good one—this time of the elderly man, his younger self merging with his present day as he says those next words, “I can’t believe it’s been ten years already…”
I cover my mouth, but a small gasp still escapes my lips. Oh, my God…
“I wish I could tell you,” he says directly to me, never breaking focus but readjusting his shoulders back for the big one, “that it does get better, but even I know that’s a lie. But, I can say that you’re not and never were alone. My wife…She too had a scar.”
I look away for the first time, and find myself caressing my own wrist…my warrior’s wound…my suicide scar. I sense that he is still spinning his wedding band, lost in memories; nostalgia and heartbreak, but resurfacing to the good parts of a life of young everlasting love. A small chuckle slips out of him. My eyes return to him, and he is biting his bottom lip, probably feeling bad for even recalling a life worth living.
I should say something, but the words clog up my throat and my tongue dries up like cotton. I…I want to…speak…
As I take a step forward, he only places the flowers into my hands. My fingers immediately tighten around the stems that are cased in plastic. We never break focus, until he gives a sincere and sad smile before he turns away and retreats to the bench. He sits back down, this time at the end of the bench, leaving room for me…
He is giving me space. But all I can do is stand there, underneath the blazing sun that seems to wrap around my body; but it feels like two warm, frail arms. Her…is it possible? In this moment, I am the strange teenager holding the bouquet of flowers for his long-gone wife, covered in her spirit.
I avoid eye contact as long as possible, dreading what I’ll see, whether it is good or bad. Probably bad. Maybe…
“I never got his or his wife’s name,” I wrestle for the strength to say. It’s difficult to get myself to stare directly into the lens of my webcam. “It has been three days and I can’t stop thinking about him. About her…”
I take a deep breath, forcing the sunflower bouquet into camera view—the screen of my laptop is my proof, and my black tank top and long brunette hair take up the middle section. I look so sad, or I must, because for minutes…I only finger the yellow petals, until my eyes grow heavy and I raise the brown centerpiece of the flower into my face, smelling the life. Sunflowers have never been my favorite, but I hold onto these ones for dear life, wrapping my arms around the plastic that comes off as a white halo when I finally look back at the screen.
“I just…left.” My heart sinks with this heaviness that hunches my shoulders down. “You know, earlier today, I’d asked Dr. Ruiz for the first time…why me and not the others?”
My head comes up, but my olive-shaped eyes refuse to follow, remaining focused on the flowers that stroke my cheek as I huddle closer to the sun…the petals. My body feels heavier and I want to curl and sleep, but instead…I feel this need to just keep…going. I know my laptop screen shows my inner train of thoughts, all captured on camera as I proceed…
“Why her—the man’s wife? Why? Why? Why?!” Dead on, I say into the lens, “We have the same scar.”
My chest tightens again and I set the flowers down onto the bed, next to my crossed legs. “I’m just a reminder to my parents. You’re supposed to go away for college…not come back home…”
The images come back, this time, fast—
Crying in the girl’s bathroom, before class. Getting up during class to cry in the bathroom, because my hands keep shaking and shaking as if I had not eaten for weeks. Running to the bathroom after class to throw up. Memory after memory—Locked up in my dorm, roommate is nowhere in sight. Scratching the top of my palm. Running my fingers through my hair, as I pace around the room. Closing the curtains, shutting out the sunlight. Grabbing it…the closest sharp object…It’s all black from there on—
Up until waking up in the hospital. My parents…already in tears…
“I couldn’t handle it,” I say with my eyes still shut. “The exams. The long hours. Isolated from everyone.”
Then, I see them…all of them:
“My now-former friends….” Or, at least that is what I think. I could be wrong, because after all, “I can’t talk to them. It’s just…They won’t get it. They don’t understand. They’ll never understand.”
It’s building again…and I squeeze my eyes to stop the sobbing mess that I am already in, too late for a new perspective.
“It’s always the parent’s fault, right? Dad just cries all the time. Mom…yelling…”
Crap. Crap. CRAP.
“It’s not fair. They don’t deserve to be in pain.”
Then, I see it again. I see her…the strip of sunlight that somehow gets through my closed curtains…But…how?
I close my eyes and can feel the warm sensation upon my wet face, calming me like rain in the afternoon, envisioning myself sipping coffee in a place that I call home. But it is not my present-day self. No, I’m taller, maybe a little rounder…but happier. I see my future self, well and alive.
“I want to stay,” I whisper until I eye the webcam and straighten myself up, pulling the laptop onto my bare legs. “I want to stay.” And the tears return, crawling down my cheeks, but it’s beautiful. This moment is beauty, and my reminder is the yellow that flickers into my eye. Instead of flinching, I smile because I already know what it is…who it is.
“We’ve all felt alone before…” Now, it feels right, and for the first time, I stare back into the red dot of the lens without breaking focus ever again. “I’m sorry for your loss. And I’m sorry for not telling you that earlier. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. For your honesty. For everything. You know who you are.”
I smile one last time before I pull the screen downward—
I hope he gets this message, whoever he is and whoever I’ll become.
Natalie Rodriguez is a writer/filmmaker from Southern California. Her work has been featured on Amazon Books, “Dime Show Review: Volume 1, Issue 1 – ‘Apricots,’ Tribe section;” Zooey Deschanel’s HelloGiggles; A-1 Home Care; All Day Media; AXS; Blasting News; Defeat the Stigma Project; Dime Show Review; Factual Facts; Fictional Cafe; FlockU; Girls Soccer Network; Hamline Lit Link; MCXV; Millennials 365; “Opposing Views;” Ranker; Scriggler; Short Kid Stories; TheGamer; The Huffington Post; TheRichest; “This is Now;” Thought Catalog; WeekendNotes; Winamop Poetry; and Writer’s Weekly. Upcoming publications include a reprint of her personal essay on mental health and therapy shaming, “Stop the SHAME,” on EndPain; a horror story, “Inner Child,” on The Stray Branch this April; and an open letter on the passing of a loved one, “The Impact of Grief, After the Loss of a Loved One,” on Longridge Review.