I do not remember falling.
My accident occurred on a summer day in the forested peaks of eastern Pennsylvania. I was running on a climbing and rolling trail along a steeper descent, running in a manic attempt to drop as much weight as possible before starting high school, running away from a body I was starting to loathe because I was told not to be proud of it.
From an early age, I understood that the woman I was expected to become was one that ate salad with dressing on the side. My natural body type, however, displayed the defiant almost political pledge of a woman who eschewed conventional thinness for eating pizza with a slice of cake on the side.
Attempting a sip of water while nearing a crest, I jerked slightly to the right. Suddenly my pace crossed the line from in control to “oh, no!”
I overheard my father’s whispered call to my mother in the ER, “her face….” Then the hush of something wrong.
From the plastic surgeon’s office to my new boarding school a few weeks later, the line of newly textured flesh carried a bold advertisement that invited unsolicited comments, questions, and stares.
Eye contact became uncomfortable for an attention that felt forced and exaggerated. I could feel others strain to refocus eyes drawn magnetically to the jagged scar. And yet, with heightened sensitivity, I gained a superpower; I felt I knew what people were thinking when their gaze could not hold mine.
My Kryptonite was believing that others’ assumptions came with rejection on the side.
“What’s your story?” she asked, gaze drifting. I recognized her from orientation.
Since there is safety in humor, I contemplated a witty retort from a list crafted as a way to reduce the tension for both of us. It was still early enough in freshman year to give answer #3, “that admission process is tough, right? Took out the State champ to be here.” Answer #5, “shark attack” was reserved for children in order to watch their eyes go from dots to saucers. Laughter has always been my self-soothing coping mechanism.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, a funny thing happened on my way to self-deprecation – self-awareness.
Should the unstable definitions of others determine and limit my life? Conditioned only to look negatively at myself, the accident’s aftermath – my scar and identity linked by changing opinions of outside forces – showed me that I, alone, directed my presentation. I could reinforce what others see, or I could find peace with my wholeness and definition of me.
The scar was an invitation to stop fooling myself. Acknowledging the power I gave others' focus, forced me to refocus. I wanted – needed – to change my personal narrative to a plotline more in my control.
I repeated her question, "What's my story?" Here, my story became my own. The scar would not receive another whimsical portrayal, taking instead its rightful place as a small but cathartic part of an epic journey. "Turns out I'm clumsy," I replied.
Truth revealed, our conversation centered on the present: my favorite class is Ethics; I am a basketball enthusiast; star-gazing is my therapeutic avocation.
Now an Admission Tour Guide, my face is the first impression of the school. The improbability of being selected as a worthy ambassador was transformative – resolving my self-confusion to self-respect, and eventually, gratitude.
Three years on, I am running again. This time in a sane manner for health; the weight part is irrelevant.
As a mentor to girls with wellness and self-esteem issues, I tell them their purpose will not be found on a hilly path in eastern Pennsylvania. There is a pointlessness in needing to “fix” themselves – that would be accepting a conclusion before beginning to write their beautiful, perpetual series of truths – as the journey that emerges from the courage to be imperfect is worthwhile