At the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards, actress Ariel Winter, of Modern Family, confidently walked the red carpet wearing a strapless dress that revealed her breast reduction scar. In a tweet she responded to the buzz surrounding the scar, saying: "Guys there is a reason I didn't make an effort to cover up my scars! They are part of me and I'm not ashamed of them at all." That tweet reminded me of my own scar. The facial scar that I tried to hide as a little girl by applying vitamin E as my mother had instructed me. I didn't think at the time that I should be proud of my scar but rather try to conceal it.
I was three years old when I was crossing the street and was struck by a drunk driver. It has affected my family and me ever since. All of us have our own trauma surrounding the accident, but it's become part of my identity. I have reminders of the accident all over my body.
The most visible scar is on my left cheek, and then there are others that are hidden and tucked away, such as the ones on my right leg where metal rods held my broken limb in a cast. Then there's the scar under my belly-button, which is from the skin graft the doctors took in order to reconstruct the hole in my cheek. Then there's the last scar on my right foot, and honest to God, I can't even tell you how or why it's there.
There is so much I don't remember about the accident. Most of my memories from that day exist simply because they were told to me by my family, like how my mom pounded her head on the sidewalk because the sight of her daughter's bloodied body laying on the street was too much to bear. Or how my older sister removed chunks of blood from my mouth so I wouldn't choke. Or how she lied to my parents about what the doctors told her. Rather than translate correctly that they thought I wasn't going to make it, she told them that everything was going to be okay. Thankfully, it was.
I also remember plenty from my six-month hospital stay. I can recall vividly being completely covered in a body cast, and yet somehow finding a way to shift my body and dance to Michael Jackson tunes. But what I recall the most is the aftermath of the accident. It is something that impacted me and my whole family. We all share trauma from it in one way or another. It's just that I bear the marks of it externally. From the moment that I was released from the hospital until just a couple of years ago, everyone always asked me: "How did you get that scar?"
I'd always say, "I was hit by a car," but then they'd always want to know more, and the expression on their faces was sometimes too much to digest, especially when I was just a kid. As I got older, the story became more of a burden. I was ashamed that my visible facial scar was the first thing people would see when they met me. I began to lose interest in the car accident story, so instead I made up other things up when people would ask me. I tried to make it into joke and say things like: "Oh yeah, I got into a fight" or "I got punched in the face." Any stupid joke that would relieve tension. Anything to deflect from the reality.
Then something interesting happened. My scar began to fade. Perhaps it was all that vitamin E or the light makeup I was using, and soon enough people stopped asking me about it.
Years later, I read about Tina Fey's own scar, which looks a lot like mine. Fey, like myself, was scarred through a violent accident, and also says that discussing it is another ordeal completely. "It's impossible to talk about it without somehow seemingly exploiting it and glorifying it," Fey said in Vanity Fair. That sentiment I truly understand.
How can I deny a part of my life by not sharing this tragic story, and yet how can I be okay with feeling indifferent by people's outpouring of sympathy? The reality is that it doesn't have to be here nor there. If people ask me about it, I can share it with them, and if they don't, it's not as if the scar isn't there. It's a part of me whether it is seen or not.