The secret any man who sleeps with me eventually learns is that I have a scar underneath my breasts.
I've had laser treatments on it a number of times to make it less visible, but the scar is still there. It is a vocal imperfection, taking away from any centerfold potential a man might construct in his imagination.
Imperfection. That's what I know my body represents. The secret of this will eventually come out.
If I take my clothes off, my breasts will cover the scar, in the right light, at the right angle, cupped in the right way, but as happens during sex, much of the body is revealed. "What happened here?" "What's that from?" "Does it hurt?" Or my favorite: "You know, if you got a boob job, then it won't even be visible at all."
These are some of the things men have said to me about my scar upon seeing it for the first time.
I once wore a black lace bodysuit and I camouflaged the scar with tattoo-covering makeup, and I glanced into the mirror at the blurred forged perfection through the lace. I saw a glimpse into an alternate identity. This hallmark flaw, gone and covered. I splashed the water from my bathroom sink up onto my chest, angry at the airbrushing I was doing for -- who? Myself? My pride? I washed the makeup off.
The story of my scar is quite simple and quite common. For many children.
When I was 9, doctors advised my parents that because I had a slightly concave chest, or pectus excavatum, I could have surgery to correct it. I don't know if it was medically necessary. Neither do my parents. They just nodded yes. I remember the main argument was that I would look better in a bathing suit if I had the surgery necessary to correct it. I don't remember being given a choice. I don't remember much of anything except for being given the option for unlimited ice cream in the hospital and not wanting any of it, nauseous in the gray hospital bed, feeling my body had been split in two.
"This form says you had surgery to correct a 'pectus excavatum,'" a doctor once perked up as he read my chart. He is there to examine my legs. He looks me over. "Can I see it?" he asks. I unbutton my shirt and show him my breasts. "Mm-hm," he says. The doctor performs a minor injection to rid me of a spider vein in my ankle, but instead of ridding me of it, it worsens. I have the scar to this day. Another imperfection. More questions. More stories. More apologies.
There is a saying that energy from various situations in our lives stays with us as we go along. That unless we work out the energy to release it, that energy -- trauma, fear, shame, sadness, fear -- stays with us in our body throughout our lives. It's lessened over time, but it is still there, a little fuzzy cloud around how you feel about yourself.
In the past, with any man who might see me naked, I used to go through the litany of what was wrong with me, to apologize, to excuse, to point out what I could not control -- to try to get in front of the story -- and relay The Story of the Scar. It was as if I understood from a very young age that the primary duty of my body was there to serve, and any fault that a man might find was a failing on my part as a woman. And so like clockwork, before any intimacy, at the start of any intimacy, I would begin my story the same: "I had a surgery when I was 9..."
There it was.
Part of me wanted to hand a card out to any prospective man who might ever see me naked with an annotated explanation: "Here are all of my faults as best as I can categorize them. Let us begin."
It was only after I got sober in 2010 that my speech simply ended. Suddenly, the unbearable became bearable. The pain dissipated without meaning or judgment -- and morphed into simple facts. There it was, a scar. It was neither bad nor good, it simply was a part of me.
And so this weekend, there I lay, naked, about to be intimate with a man who I have never been intimate with before for the first time.
This man is not someone who I expect anything from, and I've come to terms with the fact that this is the nature of our relationship. I feel good about what I'm doing, and I feel good about the clarity with which I see everything around me. I don't need this man. He is here for my pleasure, not the other way around.
"We don't have to do anything," he says. "I know," I say.
"I'll be reading about this, won't I?" he says.
I'm tempted to write nothing to show just how little this means to me, but I like the idea of writing about the scar. About the power of the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies.
"I miss getting high," I tell him as I lay there beside him, and I mean it. I don't mean that I plan to relapse, to drink again, but acknowledging this fact is my way of getting high in the one way I allow myself to now: through speaking truth.
This night has been building up for months, for over a year. He turns out the lights, and he holds me. "Let's look out at New York together." We do.
He kisses me and starts undressing me.
If this man can see me, if he ever really sees me, I know he never will. No man can.
I'm the only person who can ever see me. I know that now. And there's no need to apologize.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.