The other day, when I showed you my cheery, neon bracelet from H&M, I realized I'd never written about the gnarly scar running up my right arm/hand. Here's the story:
When I graduated from Tulane in 2003, I got a fellowship to teach poetry workshops in prisons around the U.S. My proposal said that I'd travel to three different states, teaching a four-month-long Introduction to Poetry Writing class at each facility. I came to San Francisco first (drove across the country with my mom in a two-door car), because I wanted to start at San Quentin, where they already have a well-established arts program. I taught at San Quentin from August-December of 2003, and packed up around Christmastime to head to my next location: the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida.
Miami was pretty tough to adjust to after living in San Francisco for four months. Suddenly, I was lost in a sea of strip malls and tanning beds and big chain stores. So not me. So I pretty much threw myself into my work (teaching at the federal prison) and counted down the days till I was done and off to my third and final state: Vermont.
Because I was sort of nomadic that year, I didn't have much furniture in my room. So one night, while reading in bed, I had a candle sitting on the floor next to my bed (you can see where this is going). I guess I dozed off at some point, because a cloud of smoke woke me up around 2 am, and I saw that I'd knocked a throw pillow on top of the candle. The flames were contained between the pillow and the candle itself, but I picked up the pillow and tried to snuff the fire out . . . which didn't exactly work. The pillow was synthetic, and began to burn into this awful, black, plasticky type substance, which seared into my arm (and little spots on my legs, face, chest, etc.).
the scar today: 9 years later
I drove myself to the hospital in the middle of the night, where I nearly collapsed from the pain. The nurses gave me pain meds and anti-nausea meds and sat me in a room with a bucket of saline. When the doctor finally came in at 10 am, he wrote me a prescription for a crazy expensive burn cream, bandaged me up, and told me not to worry: in two weeks time (when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding), you wouldn't even be able to see evidence of the burns.
Three days later I woke up in agony. My scar (which was a long blister then) was circled with a dark red line and I couldn't move my right arm below my heart, lest it begin throbbing. I finally reached a point where I couldn't take it anymore, left my poetry class at the prison's "camp" (white collar criminals) abruptly, and drove straight to the emergency clinic.
The doctor there said I had a serious skin infection and was appalled that the emergency room physician hadn't prescribed me an antibiotic. And then he did something that caused me more physical pain than anything I've ever endured: he took a metal brush, dipped it in iodine, and scrubbed the hell out of my arm. I couldn't even scream--I was frozen.
And you know what? I drove myself home (one-armed) and things started to get better from there. I felt pretty tough for getting through this whole ordeal by myself, just 22 years old, barely out of college, and with no family anywhere nearby. For the next couple years, I was embarrassed by the scar (which was much brighter red then), but now I think it's pretty bad ass. Scars are stories, right? They give us texture and character and remind us from where we came.