My mom has a scar above the right side of her lip. It’s a small, linear indent, like someone nicked her with a razor or she scratched too hard with her long nails. She doesn’t remember where it came from, what accident (running headfirst into her sister’s left incisor, or too eagerly lick-sealing an envelope) gave her this now lifelong characteristic, this little mark that stretches when she smiles. I was ten when my mom, and that smile, taught me how to shave my legs. I was so excited to grow up –– to remove the unsightly hairs that had begun to darken and thicken –– to me more noticeable than any other awkward feature of mine.
My mom was eager to teach me, to help me in my effort to grow up and become beautiful. I listened dutifully to her explanations of the proper lathering techniques, to her “move slowly in one direction”s, and her warnings to watch the sides of the knees and behind the anklebones. When I sat bathingsuited in the bathtub with water up to only my calves, I looked up at my mom to try to find some of me. I have her nose, and her legs for that matter, but, unsatisfied, I searched for more. Where did I get my lefthandedness, my wandering mind, my distaste for beets and coconuts? I looked to my mother’s scar. I couldn’t picture her without this mark, and I had begun to picture myself someday with it, too, in the mirror when I was alone. I’d always believed my mother’s scar was something every woman grew to have, that it appeared perhaps overnight –– like breasts or a crow’s feet wrinkle or a driver’s license; I hadn’t expected it to come with a reason or a story. I thought that maybe, now that I’d learned to shave my legs, a scar of my own would naturally crop up. But in between strokes of the blade, when I studied my mother’s face and located the spot on my own face where the scar ought to have been, I felt my skin was still smooth, unadorned.
Later that night, I wanted to rehearse what I had learned. I’d gone back into the bathroom to take the razor once more to my legs. Upon thorough inspection, however, I was sad to see that they were still smooth; the hair had yet to grow back, and maybe that meant I’d never grow my scar. Leaving my legs lathered in raspberry-scented shaving cream, I turned to the bathroom mirror, examining my upper lip’s perfect skin. I didn’t see how my experiences left an impression independent of my genetics. I couldn’t yet understand how such a defining feature of my mother’s hadn’t been passed down in a Mendelian manner, or that my unusual ability to accurately retain dates and numbers wasn’t hereditary. But like my mother’s blemish was distinctively ‘hers’, I’d always found this skill most properly ‘me’, something I’ve developed autonomously. But still I wielded the razor, and stubbornly decided to continue my practice, thinking maybe I’d help define myself if I tried hard enough. And then in my enthusiasm to trailblaze my own experience, I’d discovered I’d accidentally cut myself and left a mark.