by Deb Martens
As I look down, I wonder how and when it happened? When did my hands become hers? Oh they are unique in their own right, but they strikingly resemble her hands. My long fingers, the numerous close to surface veins, the many lines that have become more pronounced over the years. It’s almost surreal looking down at my hands. So many similarities, so many differences that summon up a cornucopia of memories roaring into the present like tidal waves crashing onto the awaiting shore.
Her hands were incredibly dry. They were wrought with painful, deep and gaping cracks. I remember the countless bottles of Avon hand lotion that were scattered around our home. Yet, she rarely experienced relief from the pain and I don’t think she ever really healed.
My hands (less marred) are so much like hers. Those lines, those many, many lines represent years of trauma, chaos, tragedy, hardship and poverty.
As far back as I can remember, I recall going to appointments at the California welfare offices with my mom. I can see all the people crowded into the lobby sitting on those dirty chairs. I can hear babies crying and people almost yelling at the social workers as they pled their cases to continue receiving their benefits or to get them reinstated. I can smell that musty stench that seemed to hang in the air no matter which welfare office we visited.
Then there were the monthly government food give-aways. We drove to “town” early those Saturday mornings. If we weren’t in the first 100 people in line, we were in jeopardy of receiving less of the generic cheese, peanut butter, rice, dry milk, and assorted canned goods. The community center was packed with other wayward souls. People of all ages stood in those lines. I can almost hear the constant buzz of conversation, conversation that had no heart. There I stood waiting in line wondering if I’d ever get anywhere.
Attending school was bittersweet. I made some good friends there, the kind who accepted me no matter what. In fact, those friends remain in my inner most circles today. There is something special about having friends who have known me since I was nine years old. Sometimes months go by between communication but when we reconnect we pick up right where we left off. There is peace in our familiarity.
School was also filled with kids who thought it was their personal mission to taunt the poor, fat girl. I didn’t wear the “right” clothes, l wasn’t athletic, and the worst was that I actually enjoyed studying and turning in my work on time. Each of those offences (and more, I am sure) gave those kids substantial motivation to make my life miserable while I was at school. However, school also represented a sanctuary for me where I could “escape” the home that had become an unsafe place. Yes, some of these lines on my hands bring back memories of my stepfather’s hands… At some point in my youth I learned the definition of incest.
Many of these lines were formed in my adult years. I remember thinking I’d left tragedy and poverty behind me when I was in my early twenties. In actuality, I think my childhood and youth prepared me for some of the most challenging times I endured as an adult. Coming home to a very dark apartment (curtains drawn in the middle of the afternoon) and discovering my husband curled up in a fetal position and lying on the floor in the far corner of our living room was the moment my world turned upside down (again).
Many counsellors, hospital admissions, assessments, and medications later we finally had an official diagnosis for him. My husband had bipolar and schizophrenia. I was hopeful (after all, I worked in the mental health field), but auditory hallucinations of the voice of God continued to plague his mind. The medications weren’t enough. His verbal threats of having access to guns at his grandfather’s house put me on high alert. I feared we were going to be the family highlighted on the 11 p.m. news, “Young mother and infant killed by husband, and then the young man killed himself leaving a note behind stating that God told him to do it…”
Some of these lines remind me of the years of going through a divorce and being a single mom. After moving back to California, I applied for over 40 jobs. Apparently I was over qualified for the positions. I didn’t care what I was offered. I just needed to provide for my little girl. Three months of searching and applying for job after job with literally $3 left, I finally was offered a position in my field. That job required me to drive 100 miles one way to work (hardship continued).
Then I remarried and moved to Canada. This was not a simple “happily ever after” chapter in my story. Blending a family of four children, dynamics with ex-spouses, and marriage in general definitely added to some of these lines I notice on my hands.
I have come to realize that scars come in many forms. The physical lines on my hands represent countless emotional and mental scars throughout the years. I have learned that those unseen scars can be equally painful as the physical ones that others can see. However, I have also acknowledged that these “scars,” these lines upon my hands represent hard work (to overcome), resilience, growth, confidence, joy, and victory!
Now looking down at my hands, I consciously choose to look at each of my scars through a different lens. I no longer shrink back in fear. I don’t see all of the lines as only negative experiences. I recognize how far I’ve come from the past. I desire to share my story with others so I can encourage them and offer hope. I realize that these scars represent growth and healing. They are reminders of the pain from the past AND they offer health in the present and continued hope for the future!
I wonder what lines will be added to my hands in another twenty years? I hope as I glance down on them at that time, there will be lines of courage, advocacy for others who do not have the ability to speak up for themselves, of more world travel, from holding grand babies, and from many, many hours of writing—one of my greatest passions. Everyone has a story to share and I hope these hands, these lines, these scars inspire others to give voice to their stories!
Now I focus on some additional lines. I look into the mirror and take note of the deepening lines on my face. Those lines are not scars, they represent the laughter and tears of joy that were restored in my adult life! I am not sad as I see the age in my reflection. I honour the beautiful memories the years represent.
Once again, I glance down upon my hands. Yes, I do see my mother’s hands. Somehow I think her lines represented much of what mine do. Yet, I think her hands continued to carry deep, deep sorrow into all of her years and I have strong doubts that she ever let that go before she took her final breath… I’m sorry Mom. Your constant search for a “miracle cream” ended in frustration. That cheap Avon lotion didn’t do what was promised (your healing). I wish I could have encouraged you more to release that pain. I’m sorry for all that your lines, your scars represented. I’m sorry for the anguish you held inside. I want you to know that I no longer resent that I have your hands. During my journey, I discovered a balm that has brought me much needed healing and restoration. My faith is the healing salve that has smoothed the painful cracks of years gone by. May my hands offer grace, mercy, and love to all those who come in contact with me.