They don’t match.
That was my first thought as I sat on the edge of MS Ape’s bathroom sink, my back to my reflection, peering into a make-up mirror to compare the barely-knitted slices on my left scapula to the healed versions on my right.
My second thought was to observe how much the companion scars from a year ago had faded. I had hoped for permanent, ugly welts, unmistakeable signs of horrific injury and intervention on display whenever I chose to wear a backless dress. I felt I deserved cringe-inducing symbols of the physical and mental suffering I have endured that I could flash like badges in order to force people to respect and honor my ordeal.
But my skin has always healed quickly–far more quickly than anything underneath it–and last year’s insults have since faded into thin, brownish lines, barely visible from more than a few feet away. While those from a few weeks ago remain bright red, swollen, and slightly bruised, I know that they, too, will assimilate into the surrounding skin on my back by the summer, leaving only the barest hint of the skeletal resections undertaken beneath them.
I have been–still am, truth be told–unaccountably frustrated by the paucity of outward signs of my life’s recent challenges. To all appearances I am a perfectly healthy woman with an easy smile and mellow demeanor, always quick with light-hearted sarcasm about the weather or the sublime joys of city traffic when I find myself in close quarters with a fellow ape.
No-one can see the physical pain that follows my shoulders’ every move, or the complex interplay of whirring mental gears that precedes each line in my seemingly spontaneous small talk. No-one feels the heroic efforts behind my falsified politeness at four o’clock in the afternoon when I am so fatigued I can barely hold my head up and my shoulders hurt so abominably that it is all I can do not to scream out loud. No-one smells my dank, sopping sheets at four o’clock in the morning as I towel myself off, shivering and soaking wet, before rolling over to a dry part of the bed to try to fall asleep again, if I can fall asleep again, if I’m not in too much pain, or too emotionally rattled by the hyper-saturated, drug-induced dream from which I was wrenched.
No-one follows the carefully marked walkways in my mind that enable me to circumvent the many whirlpools of depression that wait to suck me down should I misstep, nor witnesses the water slipping over my head when I get caught in one anyway, because my guard was down when I watched a sappy movie, or heard a song that reminded me of my childhood, or caught a glimpse of a mother gathering her little girl in her arms and wished I was the mother, or better yet, still the daughter, that could run to her mother for comfort whenever she needed it.
I’m broken, I’ve been through hell, and I want other people to bear witness. I want visible, unequivocal proof of my inability to meet expectations of normalcy. But it’s too late for that. I’ve cultivated too much functionality at this point, and I can’t back out without undoing all my progress, unraveling relationships, disengaging from the bare beginnings of career writing work to build a justification for the label disabled that would relieve me of the many obligations into which I am now well and entangled.
There is no halfway between functional and non-functional in this society. One is either capable of being independent or one is completely dependent. You either get full (such as it is) disability support or you get nothing. I don’t get to say that I can work, just not full-time. That I don’t always need a handicapped parking tag, just when I have to carry things to or from the car. That I can use the stairs, I just can’t pull open the door that leads to them. That I can go about most daily living tasks, but only in the early part of the day and only with the assistance of handfuls of medications. I am neither here nor there but somewhere in what might as well be a non-existent gray area; I am the special case, the asterisk, the five-sided peg that fits in neither the round nor square hole.
Just like my scars, neither prominent nor nonexistent, just mediocre evidence of some apparently prosaic surgical procedure; everyone’s had something done by the time they’re in their 40s or 50s and what makes me so different from anyone else? And who wants to be special, anyway, right? How many times have I railed about not being able to fade into the background, to be just another worker among bees?
Except that I can’t; I will never be like the other bees. I will continue to be 3/4 of a human being in every way that counts on paper, with regards to my career and my coping with life, and there is no designated track for that, no box I can check or channel through which I can flow unaided. It was hard enough for me to accept it myself. Now I will have to painstakingly explain it to everyone I plan to interact with in any meaningful way, doctors, employers, friends. Yes, I know I seem fine; yes, I’m flattered that you had no idea I was autistic; yes, I know it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with my shoulders, but…
But, I have these scars, and they run deeper than even I can see; I am still surprised at their ability to penetrate the distant as well as proximate, the mundane as well as portentous. And the internal ones, the ones that resulted from the wounds to my pride, my aspirations, my faith, those are not fading into their surroundings. Those will stay bright red and tender to the touch for a long time yet.