Scarred for Life

The pros and cons of model behavior

By Jane Borden

My daughter fell on her face. By the time she lifted her head, she was screaming. I scooped her up and, with blood dripping onto her shirt, my dress and her lunch box, ran the block back to preschool. When we arrived, I was crying too.

“I think she needs stitches,” I said. They washed her a bit and agreed. Miss Claudia, her teacher, bandaged the gash above Louisa’s left eyebrow to keep her from fiddling with it and offered to chaperone us to urgent care. Yes, please. Someone needed to remain calm, and clearly it wouldn’t be me.

Louisa settled, once we were moving, mostly because Miss Claudia engaged her the whole way. I continued to panic. Driving to the emergency room, I was reminded of my own incident in second grade, when I smashed my finger in jazz-ballet. The class was at the Lewis Center in Greensboro, and one of the administrators drove me to the emergency room to meet my mother. At the time, I had a paranoid fantasy I was being kidnapped — this made sense because, if you’re going to steal a child, it’s especially convenient for her to have just sustained an injury requiring immediate medical attention.

This time around, while I was driving, I considered kidnapping Miss Claudia. Often, when Louisa disobeys at home, we ask, “Would Miss Claudia let you do that?” It’d be easier just to have her at home.

My childhood injury resulted not from my falling, but from something falling on me, namely a heavy steel bar. The jazz-ballet teacher was stern, therefore I thought she didn’t like me and so I endeavored to suck up. When she asked someone to pull the bars out onto the floor, I volunteered. There were two portable bars, small and large. Shaped like two-dimensional soccer goals, they stood upright by resting on feet made of shorter steel rods that attached at perpendicular angles. To pull a bar into the room, I tilted it forward and dragged it, bearing the weight of the uppermost rod.

I transported the smaller bar with ease. But the larger one overpowered me and I dropped it. Next, I remember seeing the tip of my right middle finger about an inch from the rest of the phalange but still connected by a strip of something corporeal, all against the white background of the Lewis Center floor as it began to stain red. Presumably the teacher had lifted the bar off my mangled digit. I doubt, in that moment, she’d liked me any more.

The staff wrapped my hand in an ice pack and washcloth. After I left, class resumed. My friend later relayed that some of our classmates had cried. I felt flattered at the time, but, in retrospect, realize their tears were probably from terror. Who wiped up the blood?

Louisa loves to tell the story of her scar. Someone will notice it and ask, with a wince or at least great concern, “What happened?” Then Louisa replies in excitement, sticking her little hand out to gesture, “Well, I was swinging on a chain and I fell face-forward onto the concrete.” She smiles as she recalls, enjoying the attention. She didn’t smile at the time. She gave the nurses hell.

A young woman, who was as kind as she could imagine necessary, announced that she’d clean Louisa’s wound with a spray bottle. My husband, Nathan, who by then had joined us, shared with me a skeptical look. The nurse asked that he and I hold Louisa still. Having been to doctors’ appointments with Louisa before, we knew that wasn’t possible. My child cannot be restrained.

Instruments have been flung across floors. Clothing has been torn. An octopus couldn’t hold her down with eight arms, and Nathan and I only had four. Even under normal circumstances, she can’t sit still — her definition of a hug is a one-second squeeze before she’s onto something else — and especially not when being forced to. Nathan and I did our best. The nurse squirted at the wound twice. Most of the fluid went into Louisa’s hair. The nurse had the idea to numb the wound with gel and then return to evacuate it later. A good portion of the gel also wound up in her hair.

Three hours after the fall, Louisa was finally ready for stitches. The team of nurses assisting the doctor decided to immobilize her with a series of sheets. They asked her if they could wrap her up “like a burrito,” which she found hilarious. Delighted, she laughed as they transformed her from a child into a potato with a head. But when they started touching said head, the fighter returned.

Nathan and I had been banished to the hallway because the doctor feared I would faint — if that gives you any indication of my mental state — and so, I listened to my child scream bloody murder, while a nurse shouted out to us, “We’re only cleaning the wound.”

“I thought you said she’d be numb?“ I asked.

“She is,” they responded, in unison. At one point, still during prep, a nurse exited the room to retrieve something. She passed us, sweating, and said to another nurse in the hall, “This kid is strong.” Then she literally wiped her brow. Atta girl, Louisa.

Moments later, the room grew completely silent. Were they delaying the procedure? Had they put her under anesthesia? Neither. The doctor said, “All done.” Turns out Louisa had exhausted herself resisting, and had fallen asleep just before the doctor began. Thank goodness, for if she hadn’t, the stitches would probably be crisscrossed all over her face.

All I got out of the stitches on my finger was a funny looking nail (it grows to the right like a curve in the road), a silly party trick (a bang of it sounds like a knock on the door), and a story. Sometimes a friend will suddenly notice the finger, years after knowing me, and say, “How could I never have noticed?”

It’s less fun when the disfigurement is on your face. Louisa’s scar currently includes not only the horizontal gash, but also the entry and exit points of all four stitches. We massage cocoa butter into it, a process she abhors. We say we’re saving her from a scar. But she doesn’t care about a scar. How can I explain that one day she’ll be vain, when I certainly don’t want her to be?

Occasionally, people tell her she’s beautiful. I don’t want her to be. Attractive, sure. But not beautiful. The world treats pretty girls differently, teaches them to value the wrong things in themselves and, sometimes, in others. Now, with this scar, I’m afraid I got what I wished for. In an effort at gallows humor, I occasionally joke, “At least she’ll never be a model.” Honestly, though, that couldn’t happen anyway. Models have to sit still.  OH

Jane Borden lives in Los Angeles, where reckless drivers occasionally have reason to see her disfigured middle finger.

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