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Muscle Memories

“How’d you get that scar?”

My mouth turned slack-jawed as I nearly spat out my jambalaya and stared straight ahead at my nosy Tinder date. I wiped my hands on my jeans under the table as I furrowed my brows, trying to figure out how to answer his question.

No one had ever asked me about the vertically stitched vestige of a scar that had been imprinted on my chest. Even friends who had known me for ages never asked about the scar — probably to avoid an awkward conversation. So as I racked my brain for an appropriate response to his question, I simply replied, “Surgery.”

My answer proved insufficient, as my Tinder date rolled his eyes, indicating he wanted a more detailed response that I was not mentally prepared to give. As I folded my napkin over my plate, I elaborated: “It was a thymectomy. I had my thymus gland removed.”

His eyes widened as a half-smile spread across his face.

“How far down does that scar run?”

“Pretty far.”

My response was so automatic.

“Show me,” he said in a sultry tone.

I scoffed, slapped some money on the table and promptly left, feeling like I should have never bothered explaining myself to a stranger. He could never understand how agonizing it was to rehash the pain I suffered as a child. He just saw me as if I was an object with a deformity. I felt like he was diminishing my struggle with myasthenia gravis.

As I walked home, I immediately deleted Tinder and responded to a text from a friend who asked how the date went. Bitterly, I wrote back, “The guy was a freak of the week. He asked about the scar on my chest.”

When I thought further about the experience, I wondered if I should have simply changed the subject. Storming out middate was hardly in my nature.

A few seconds later, a text from my friend popped up. She wrote back, “I mean, were you wearing a top that showed it off?”

I vehemently shook my head before realizing, what difference would it have made? Sure, just a sliver of the top was visible above my black V-neck, but I hadn’t intended to put my scar on display. In fact, I never intend to put it on display. I sighed in exasperation, frustrated that even my friend didn’t understand why my date’s questions were so hurtful.

When I grew up in Alabama, no one had directly questioned me about my scar. But I remember a curious classmate who would look up from the sandbox and stare as if I was a weird experiment gone wrong. Once he’d catch my gaze, he’d promptly resume shoveling up holes. One day, I dared to share the sandbox with him. As I timidly gathered my bucket and star-shaped shovel, I began making imprints in the sand. He remarked, “I can’t play here anymore.”

I folded my knees to my chest as I let myself sink farther into the shallow sand. When I looked over at the abandoned castle, I wondered if the boy thought I would infect him with cooties or even lice. Nevertheless, I left the sandbox, too, as the humiliation of playing in isolation was too much to bear. I couldn’t understand why no one else had approached me in the sandbox, either.

At the time, I knew I stuck out for more than the simple reason that I was seemingly the only brown girl in Alabama. I was aware of the physical abnormality that existed on my chest. Whenever I’d walk down the hallways in my preschool, teachers would frown, shake their heads and go, “Bless her heart.”

But I never imagined they were talking about me. I looked mostly like any other kid. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with how my scar sparks sidelong glances and murmurs of worry or concern. The stares and murmured words pose their own mental burdens that I remember and carry, but I could always tune them out. But there was no way to disengage from my Tinder date’s probing and rude confrontation. I felt like I was in preschool again when people didn’t want to play in the sandbox with me.

My dad often tells me to cover up my scar with jackets and constricting shirts. I agree that it is simpler to cover up the physical evidence of a battle that sits on my chest. But showcasing my scar has allowed me to look at it as a sign of victory. I have struggled and perhaps will struggle in the future. For now, though, I am proud of how far I’ve come, and my scar reminds me to be thankful for the victory.

Simmy Khetpal writes the Friday column on having myasthenia gravis. Contact her at [email protected].