On Being Marked

Mid January. Cold, grey, boring. Is there a better time to do something impulsive? Surely not. A quick text conversation and everything was arranged. Moments later I was in a car with a dear friend headed towards the parlour.

An over sized black leather chair. A bright light. A whirring needle dipped in jet black ink. A heavily illustrated pair of arms very close to me. Prick, whir, dip. And again. The slightest discomfort was felt – nothing comparatively.

A single transaction. One after care form. And it was done.

I looked down at my wrist the whole drive back to campus. The ironic bandage covered it, but I knew it was there. A mark. An jet black inky mark. A new definition of my body. A new descriptor. A new addition to the collection of marks on my arms.

That night I lay awake pondering my decision. It wasn’t permanent I kept telling myself. There are always ways to remove these things. There was no life time commitment to something. I lay awake, tossing and turning, as I dwelled on what other people would say. Am I rebellious now? Am I more hipster or more conventional?  Am I more of a sinner? Or does the concept it represents rectify its inherent wrongness? I reminded myself of the other up standing people I knew, my roommate, my dear friends, that one customer in the coffee shop. All these people were my relief, my reason to not despair about the state of my character because of this pictorialization.

But there were no models for the other marks. There were no people to whom I could look when I was alone in the bathroom, creating marks just as permanent, and ever more damning.

No, in those moments it is me. A blade. A nail. A lie. Blackness. Numbing pain. A throbbing much more tangible than any whirring prick in a clean parlour. Blood, small at first, then a steady pour. And then, it stops. I stem it. I clean it. I cover it. And I walk out. Marked.

These decisions, surprisingly, do not keep me up at night. They keep me hiding in the day. These are the marks that keep me from using my hands when I talk. They are the ones that force me to where a watch. They are the ones that keep my cardigan sleeves pulled all the way down. The scars, they are the birthplace of so many lies. Some have been called burns, others accidental falls. They are the intrinsic home of shame.

And they are ingrained on the topography of my skin.

 

For so long, I believed these marks defined me. Just as I was convinced my tattoo added some significance to my personality – either it made me “more hipster” or it made me “more interesting” or “more dynamic.” I believed these self inflicted scars characterized me as unstable, hopelessly wicked, numbly masochistic, and mostly, fearful. More fearful of being vulnerable than physical pain. More fearful of death than permanent scarring. More fearful of living with apathy than the inconvenience of hiding or lying forever.

I allowed these scars to give my personality unwanted detail. I allowed the red angry marks become definitions of my state of mind. They warped into points of pride. I couldn’t hide them. I couldn’t lie them away. But I could accept that I had created them, and I could let others squirm in the discomfort of knowing what I did to myself. Shameful.

My scars don’t define me anymore than the length of my hair. Yes, they may represent the intimate darkness of my past, but they do not colour the climate of tomorrow.

I have a black tattoo on my wrist. It overlaps several self-inflicted wounds. They turn purple in the cold weather. Some days, when the weather is most mild, they are barely noticeable. Some days, only I can see them. Other days, people notice. They ask questions I have to choose to answer truthfully. I have to be brave. I have to recognize that, yes, these scars are a part of me, because those moments, during those blindingly dark days, are a part of my past. In no way will this define my future. I am not bound by the sin of my self-aimed destruction. I am free. I am not defined by my wounds, because the wounds of One greater that me abolished all my wrong doing.

If you define yourself by a mark, let it be the mark of salvation on your heart. Let it not be a tattoo that adds an edge to your personality. Let it not be scars that relate an exciting adventure. Let it not be wounds that lead to pity, fear, or pride.  Rather, let it be the holy blood of the Son across your door.

I am marked. In many ways my body has been tainted and tarnished. I am not unblemished. But I am pure. I am marked, but not by this world, by His blood.

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