Sunday, July 24, 2011

a patch?! look away! or...look, ask, touch.

It was somewhere around 2003.  I was at a picnic on a hot afternoon.  Sleeveless.  

My date's stepdad stepped around me, peering at my left upper arm.  "What's the patch for?"  

I thought wryly to myself that if his mind was made up that I was wearing a patch, there was no good potential answer...after all, he was from a very holiness-oriented church.  Quitting smoking?  That made me someone with an addiction issue.  Birth control patch?  That made me a seeker of sex outside of marriage, right?  Poor guy.  I admired his willingness to just ask.  

Of course it wasn't a patch at all, really...except that it was a patch of my own (thigh) skin grafted into an area where Melanoma had attacked me, sunk down roots, and been skillfully extracted by the best darn general practitioner I ever knew.  So skilled that his hand cut a near-perfect circle on my arm, doomed to be mistaken for something machine made, many a time to come.

I am not bothered by my skin graft.  Here's why:  I saw it after surgery.  I saw it when it looked like someone had taken an ice cream scoop and removed a hunk of my arm.  I saw it as a crater almost an inch deep.  I listened as the doctor exclaimed at how beautifully the graft had taken...and then sorrowfully told me that crater would "probably never fill in."  I met my own vanity and struggled hard with it in that passage of my life.  I saw how ugly it was.  (Intentional vagueness there...what was ugly?  The crater?  The vanity?  Ummm.  YES.)

And then I watched as in just a few short years, the crater filled back in.  The skin remains very different-looking than the rest of my arm, but it's a basically flat surface, not the horror I faced after surgery.  I don't mind it at all.  It's actually kind of a trophy for me - when people ask about it, I tell them it's "where Melanoma didn't kill me." 

For awhile, I experimented with sleevelessness.  But the thing is, though the scar doesn't bother me, it DOES bother others.  Many are visibly disturbed by it.  Some try very hard not to look, as their eyes are magnetically drawn back to it time and time again.  Some try to look without me knowing they are looking.  Some look, some ask, some even touch it.  

I deeply appreciate the people who go ahead and look, ask, touch.  That's easy.  It's on behalf of the horrified ones that I more or less gave up sleevelessness for quite a number of years.  

But here's the thing:  as I continue to let God teach me how to love my body, my attitude is changing about going sleeveless.  While my scar hasn't bothered me for many a year now, my oversized upper arms have been the source of much shame.  I've wanted to keep sleeves over them to protect them from negative attention.  That shame is peeling away as I'm learning to love my body (and the fact that my arms are much smaller than they used to be - still oversized, but much smaller doesn't hurt!)  I'm less inclined to want to hide and tending more to just want to stay cool on hot days.  

So I'm back to sleeveless.  Mostly I wear shrugs over my sleeveless things, trying to save potentially horrified people from awkward interactions, but when it gets really hot, I give up and uhhh shrug 'em off.  And those around me are left with a choice:  look, ask, touch....or get all uncomfortable and leave me struggling with how to ease that - pretend I don't know?  Be bolder than them and bring it up?  Ergh.

Instructive stuff for me, as I go out and interact with others who have potential awkwardness-causing imperfections.  Leaves me determined to look, ask,'s just nicer for all involved. 

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