I don’t go in for tattoos.
Although I appreciate people’s tattoos, each one as individual as the person who wears it, I would not do that to my body. And gratuitous scarification - those badges of pain that make the observer wonder, “Why would someone do that to themself?” - does not attract me. But I proudly wear the scars and tattoos that Nature has given me throughout a lifetime of assorted adventures.
Starting from my feet and working up, you will first notice the bruises splashed upon the calves and thighs. The big one on my inner left thigh is particularly resplendent. It’s two by six inches of purple, mauve and burgundy, edged with a touch of vermilion. As days pass, the hues deepen, then diminish. The bruises fade then eventually disappear. These impermanent ‘au natural’ tattoos fulfill my body’s need for colorful ornamentation. I have no desire for permanent etchings.
On my left inner knee, the scar shaped like a train track happened after I fell off a cliff and landed 30 feet below where I launched off, on a coincidental ledge. My bike kept bouncing 800 feet down to the bottom of Carrizo Gorge. The fact that the scar is train-track-shaped alludes to the abandoned rail that runs along the gorge, next to which I had been riding my mountain bike, in a spot where the trail gives way to cliff. I was tired after riding 30 miles. With ten more miles to go, feeling distracted, and perhaps a little delirious, over I went.
At first I sat there in shock and gratitude to the forces which had kept me from dying. But my eyes were drawn to the orange pixel my Klein Attitude had become in the far distance at the bottom of the gorge, and I moved as though to retrieve it. My husband, Mark, pushed me back and moved like a Dahl buck down that precarious cliff to collect my bike.
Even as our friends, John and Lisa helped me back up to the trail and “onto the saddle” of Mark’s bike, and even as I said “I’ll never come here again,” I knew in my heart I would ride Carrizo Gorge again when the wounds had subsided into flesh. Nearly a year to the day of the “cliff dive,” I returned to the "scene of the crime" with a coterie of males to catch me if I should fall, or so they said, and with plenty of sunscreen on my train-track scar. It turned out to be one of the best rides of my life. I looked fear in the face and also had a chance to say “Thank You” for my life.
Moving up to my right hand, there are the teeth marks of a potato cod the size of a small VW Bug which spotted a baggie of food that I was feeding to small fish 60 feet under the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. I thought that hiding the bag behind me would make the cod forget he’d seen it. But no. He came straight at me. I surrendered the baggie too late. He had it and my hand in his ample mouth. Reflexively I drew my hand back, toward me, against his razor teeth. Unconcerned, he spat out my hand.
Seeing black dots of blood on my hand, I began my ascent, knowing the smell of fresh blood draws other kinds of sea life that could and would make a meal of you. Later that afternoon my buddies on the Spoilsport asked me if I had noticed the hammerhead circling below me during my ascent.
My right elbow is where I landed when I flew over the handlebars of my bike in Noble Canyon on my 43rd birthday. For weeks there existed a big red-brown scab surrounded by Technicolor bruising. When friends and family spotted it, they gasped and wondered how I could ever climb back on a mountain bike. But that strawberry was nothing compared to past injuries. Besides, if I sustained such injuries during the act of sex, would people expect me to stop making love? I think not.
This faded scar on my cheek which people don’t see until I point it out, occurred when I was riding down a rutted hill and passing a rider at breakneck speed, while mentally congratulating myself on beating a guy. It’s true that pride comes before a fall. I was too far forward on my bike and when I hit a rock hidden under a clump of grass, I flew over the handlebars and landed on my face which was now a bloody mess.
This little half-inch scar on my right eyebrow? I got that when I was two and walked into the coffee table in the living room. My parents had just taken me out to dinner, and I felt as uplifted as a helium balloon, proud and maybe a little catty, since my brother, Joe, was too young to go, and he’d had to stay home with a baby-sitter. Yes, pride indeed comes before a fall.
My parents sped me on to the hospital for a few stitches and a lot of attention. I can’t say I didn’t like the attention. Maybe my early emergency-room experience set the stage for others to come.
This scar on my left elbow came out of a hospital emergency room, when as a 22-year-old, I hopped up on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet after the driver had had a few beers. As we were heading down Post Street, San Francisco, towards the Marina, a car cut in front of us, then slowed down, trying to turn left into a gas station without seeing us. Charles tried to swerve into the next lane, but hit the back end of the car. Charles and I both sailed off the bike. Next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance bound for San Francisco General.
I learned a memorable lesson about promises and expectations that night. The handsome young doctor who assessed my injury said my arm did not appear to be broken, and that I’d probably be released in a couple of hours. “I still need to see your x-rays,” he said, oozing charm.
In less than an hour, he was back to say “Whoops. The x-rays reveal a hairline fracture. I’m afraid we’ll have to keep you here a couple of days. We’ll put a pin in there tomorrow.” I started crying as soon as he drew the curtain around my bed and walked away. Surgery? It was the end of my life. More than anything, I wished that I could close my eyes, fall asleep and when I awoke, none of this would have happened. “Please, spare me this pain,” I thought.
But the next morning, the pin went in as scheduled, then two months later it was removed, leaving a slim four-inch scar along the elbow.
My friend, John, has said that there is but a thin scar between pain and pleasure. I have never thought of myself as a masochist. I have always claimed to despise pain. And yet after a close scrutiny of my body, all the war wounds would seem to prove otherwise.
I have other marks I have not touched on, both physical and emotional. Over time I have learned it is best not to reveal everything at once. Just as I suspect Nature has not finished her handiwork on my mortal skin.
I have always said this, and would not retract it now: “When I turn this skin back in to ‘The Creator,’ it will have been very well-used.” It’s not my style to slip on a bar of soap in the shower and konk myself out. No. I will again dance in the arms of Nature and be grateful for her show of strength on the map of my body.