by Michael Ksiezopolski
Debra’s curse began with a phone call.
“Fat? What do you mean I’m getting fat?” Debra shrieked into the phone. “I’m the same weight that I was ten years ago, Mom!” Debra pressed “end call” on her cellphone. She felt like slamming the phone on the kitchen counter. As a child she had sometimes seen her mother yelling into the phone and slamming the receiver. Slamming a cellphone on the table and cracking the screen would not result in the same satisfaction. She could feel her cheeks burning as she leered at the phone in her hand.
Still staring at the phone sorting through her feelings of self-worth Debra noticed a mark on her thumb. She tried to rub it off, but the mark remained. She examined it and noticed what looked like a well-healed, thin, semi translucent scar. It ran from the base of her thumb in almost a crescent shape to the base of her palm.
Her feelings for what her mother said immediately evaporated. Debra had no recollection of the cut. It confounded her because she would have remembered a cut with such an unusual shape.
Debra wondered if she were losing her memories. Did Alzheimer’s run in her family? She should call her mother to find out. Immediately, all the explosive memories and emotions of the conversation with her mother resurfaced. She slammed the cell phone on the kitchen counter and groaned at the sound of the screen cracking.
By the next day Debra had forgotten about the scar. She settled in to her chair at the office when her boss interrupted her first sip of coffee.
“Debra, can I see you in my office,” he said.
Debra left her cubicle taking a last longing look at her coffee.
As she sat down in his office she noticed her boss left the door open.
“Debra did you send out the Reynolds briefing materials last week?”
“Of course,” Debra replied.
Her boss swore.
“Why would you do that, Debra? Without my approval?”
“But you did approve it. I would never send it out without your sign-off,” Debra sputtered.
“That’s not possible. I would have remembered the Reynolds file. Our CEO is furious.”
Debra felt her heartbeat quicken. She was sure that her boss had signed off on the materials. He had forgotten. She didn’t want to confront him. She didn’t know what to do.
“Debra, I can deal with mistakes but I cannot tolerate lying.” For the next ten minutes her boss continued to rant until tears streamed down her face. Debra was sure that everyone in the office heard every word.
When she returned to her cubicle her coffee was cold. She wiped the tears from her eyes with trembling fingers and imagined that she looked awful so she pulled out a mirror to check her makeup. When she looked in the mirror her eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat. There was an ugly and painful crimson red scar down the side of her left cheek. It ran from just below her ear to just above her lips.
As Debra hurried home a call from her mother cut short the growing fear and confusion at the unexplained appearance of the scar. Her father had suffered a heart attack. Debra rushed to the hospital to find him unconscious in intensive care. Debra loathed hospitals. She didn’t know whether it was because of the antiseptic smell or the sight of sick people. She tried to control the growing nausea as she stared at the heart monitor noting the irregular rhythm of his heartbeat.
Although she had never been close to her father she loved him dearly. She had also never told him how she felt. Expressing her emotions had always been difficult for her.
Her mom entered the room and shuffled up behind her putting her hand on Debra’s shoulder.
“The doctors say his heart won’t hold out without emergency surgery and even then they are not hopeful of the outcome. They’ll be taking him into surgery soon. If there is anything you want to tell him you need to do it now.” Debra felt her mom kiss the back of her head and heard the door close as she left the room.
This was it. She had to tell her father that she loved him. His eyes fluttered open and he spoke. She immediately turned her cheek slightly aside so he would not see the scar on her face.
“Hi, pumpkin,” he said.
This was her last chance. And then she listened to herself speak as if she were having an out of body experience. Her voice sounded hollow and empty.
“Don’t worry dad, you’re going to be okay.”
“I love you dear,” he said before his eyes closed.
A second later, orderlies entered the room and wheeled him away leaving her alone in the room. She felt a sharp pain in her chest. Unbuttoning her blouse she gasped at the sight of a nasty jagged pus stained scar near her heart. It was happening again. She buttoned her blouse and fled from the hospital.
Over the next three days the scars continued to appear all over her body. Word soon spread around the office and she could hear her co-workers whispering about her behind her back. People avoided talking to her in the halls and elevators. Her only comfort was that her father’s surgery had been a success.
After realizing that she could not handle the situation herself, she sought professional help. But the doctors could offer no explanation. One of the doctors even implied that the cuts were self-inflicted and referred her to a psychologist.
Debra didn’t like psychologists but the elderly gentleman sitting behind the desk with the greying hair reminded her of her father, softening her disdain. Mahogany panels lined all the walls of Dr. Scott Jameson’s office. It was a traditional psychologists office with a chestnut colored leather couch and a whole wall dedicated to displaying his degrees and awards. A ceiling fan that resembled large palm tree leaves revolved at a slow relaxing speed with a regular soothing squeak.
Debra told him about how a cut would appear and then immediately heal into a scar. She told him about how the cut could be shallow or deep. Long or short. The scar could appear raw or well healed.
“Why is this happening to me?” Debra asked.
“Perhaps to understand your affliction the question you need to ask is not why but when? When do the cuts happen?”
Debra thought about it and came to a bizarre realization.
“Each cut and scar was followed by an emotional trauma. But that doesn’t explain why I am cursed.”
“What makes you think you are cursed?”
“Look at me! Look at my face! I am hideously scarred.”
“Debra, we are all scarred, emotionally.”
“You don’t look scarred!” Debra snapped back.
“But I am. So is everyone else. The difference between you and everyone else is that your scars are visible while ours are not. Somehow your scars have manifested themselves physically.”
“It’s still a curse!”
“I suppose you could view it that way but you could also view it as a blessing.”
“A blessing? How could these scars possibly be a blessing?”
“Debra, everyday we live our lives experiencing emotional cuts. Some of them heal, some don’t. Some cuts fester and become infected manifesting into mental illness. I’ve been helping people to uncover their unhealed emotional scars for the past twenty years. Because you can see the cuts right away, you have a rare opportunity to understand the emotional cause. I consider that a blessing.”
She thanked the doctor and thought about what he said on her way home. If it was true that emotional trauma caused the cuts, then perhaps confronting the emotional stress might heal the scars. When she got home she called her mom. She apologized and explained why she had hung up. Her mother also apologized. She glanced at her thumb and gasped as the scar faded away. She lifted her head closed her eyes and heaved a sigh of relief. The next day she burst into her boss’ office with her head held high and her shoulders squared showing him his signature on the approval and asserting herself and all her hard work. Touching her face as she left the office she felt the scar vanish and her smile broaden. She knew now what she had to do. Over the next three days she confronted each emotional stress until the scars disappeared.
There was only one scar left.
When she arrived at the hospital she found her father awake. She hugged him and told him how much she loved him. She felt a warmth envelope her.
She didn’t have to look to know the nasty pus stained scar near her heart had also faded away.