by Pamela Mytroen
Hanna lay back on the sterile sheet at the clinic and stared up into the smiling models on the TV. Soon her face would be smooth and glowing, and her husband would respect her once again. The jagged line running from her left eye, across her cheek, nose, and lip, would vanish under the surgeon hands.
A documentary about facial skin rejuvenation began to play. Dr. Bart Johnson sat in his chair and folded his hands on his desk, as if across from a patient. “Remember that this surgery is not merely about changing your appearance. It is about restoring the whole self. Once I remove your scar there will be no reminder of your past. Your fearful memories will be wiped away, as it were. You will face each day with confidence and a new reason to live.”
Doctor Bart walked in and washed at the sink. His white doctor coat hung well below his knees. Hanna was surprised at his short stature. She had envisioned him as a big man.
“A little pinch,” he said. Hanna watched a long syringe disappear into the side of her face. She wriggled her head deeper into the pillow and welcomed the numbness that encouraged her to close her eyes and sleep. It helped her forget the rejection of her family.
“Feel this?” Dr. Bart tapped her just under her eye and she winced.
He snapped off his gloves. “The freezing needs five more minutes. I’ll be back soon.”
Hanna stared at the expansive office. A large Cherry desk and filing cabinet sat in one corner. A sink gleamed across from her and a tray of surgical instruments stood beside her bed. Other than that the room felt empty. Too empty. Three professional certificates hung on the walls but no family pictures. No inspiring posters to look at while she endured facial surgery.
Moments later Dr. Bart returned, removed his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and washed again. He prodded her jaw line with a sharp but she didn’t feel any pain this time. He smiled. “Looks like we’re good to go.”
“Finally. I will not have to remember, or explain to people who want to know what happened to my face.” Hanna imagined her straight smile, and her restored spirit, complete with her adoring husband by her side. “We can be a family again. My husband will not hide me in shame.”
The doctor arranged a white compress over her face. “Your new life begins today.”
A halo of light glowed around his instrument through the cloth. Hanna squirmed and touched the bump at her eye where the scar began. She remembered.
“There was a knock at the door. It was three in the morning. I heard loud voices. Angry. Demanding that we leave our house immediately. I scooped up our little girl in the bed beside me, and woke our two sons laying on floor mats. Omar met me in the hall and took the kids. I ran to the kitchen for milk and breads, but this displeased the rebel.” Hanna squeezed her eyes shut. “The knife burned like fire across my face.”
Dr. Bart stepped on the foot pedal. It hissed and the head of her bed dropped, pulling her deeper into it.
“I thought he had killed me. I screamed. And then we were running through the garden with our children. But the horror had just begun. My neighbor …there she was… laying face down on the street with her infant. I ran to help her up…but…” Hanna swallowed. “She was dead. And our grocer, he was there too. Gone. So many.”
“Do not trouble yourself. It is past now.” The doctor pressed the compress into her face again.
Hanna moved the cloth aside for fresh air. “I reached for a tiny hand to kiss it, but my husband grabbed my wrist and pulled me away. He said that we could not stop. Never stop! Or we would be like them. I still hear their cries, smell their blood on my clothes.”
“There will be no more nightmares.”
Hanna gripped the side of the bed. “They are not nightmares. They are real memories.”
“It is all going to go away today,” said the doctor. He swiveled a steel instrument.
Hanna tried to relax again but flicked her eyes open. Something was not right. She remembered, and propped herself up on one elbow. Doctor Bart, I noticed something in your documentary. She sat up so fast she felt dizzy. The doctor steadied her.
“Lay down, please.”
“You have a dark night in your past too!” Hanna pointed to a tattoo that showed itself just beneath his rolled cuff. A purplish bruise darkened a reddish heart. It looked faded, as though he had begun laser surgery to remove it, but had not quite finished. And a name on a yellow ribbon wove through the heart. But it was blurred.
“I shouldn’t ask,” said Hanna, “but did you lose somebody close to you? It seems like were are both trying to cover up our past. It is too painful to remember.”
He looked sideways at her. “Should I be the one on the bed, and you be the doctor?” he asked.
“Forgive me,” said Hanna, running a finger across her the tight scar tissue raised on her lip. “We all have a story and it’s part of who we are. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to erase it. Adversity has made us strong.”
“And sometimes it breaks people.” He gripped the light above her head and swung it down close to her face, forcing her to lay back.
Hanna squinted through the glare and glanced at the tattoo again. “What was her name, Doctor Bart?”
The doctor pushed his lips together until they whitened. For the first time he raised his voice. “Lorraine, I need your help.” He stepped towards the hallway and called. “Room eleven, please.”
“Maybe you won’t need any help, Doctor. I am having second thoughts. “
“Removing this scar will help you forget. I will help you put this terrible tragedy behind you.”
Hanna swung her legs over the edge of the bed and steadied herself. “Is that what you’ve done? You’ve tried to forget?” She chinned to the bare walls. “Where are all the photos of the happy family?” She stood up and retrieved her cell phone from her purse. “These are my friends, my family.” She scrolled through several photos. “This was my best friend. She died that night.”
Dr. Bart squirted disinfectant into his hands and rubbed it in.
“I feel guilty when I see her face,” said Hanna. “I survived. Why? Why did I survive instead of her?”
“Erase the guilt,” said Dr. Bart. He motioned for her to lay down again.
“Is it really that easy? Doctor Bart Johnson? Is that even your real name? And this is our family photo, taken just a week before that wounded night. We were dining out, my sons and daughter too. Look how proud my husband was. Now he hides me at home in shame.”
The doctor crossed the room and leaned over his desk, palms down.
“At first I wanted their respect again,” continued Hanna. But I have realized today that what I really value is courage. I want to teach my children to be brave in the face of violence. To keep on living. To be kind to all, and thankful for freedom. ”
She motioned to his tattoo. “You have been hurt too. I do not know what happened, but it looks like you are trying to erase fear. Or guilt. Maybe you should be more afraid of losing the courage and the wisdom you gained. You survived. You are free. Be thankful instead of afraid.”
Lorraine, a young blonde nurse, entered the room. She looked at Dr. Bart, waiting. She clicked a pen on the clipboard. The doctor shook his head slightly. She raised her eyebrows in apparent understanding, and left.
The doctor rocked forward from the desk, hands in pockets, and lingered over the last image on Hanna’s phone. The air conditioner kicked in and hummed.
Hanna pocketed her phone and picked up her purse. “Thank you Doctor Bart. You helped me to see that I am strong. This scar reminds me that I survived.” She walked to the door. “And that I am still important to my family.”
He stepped forward. “If you ever change your mind…”
“Someday, maybe. But right now I have a story to tell.”
“Wait. Please.” The doctor rolled his sleeve to the elbow and glanced down at the bruised tattoo. “My name is Abdul,” he whispered. “And she…” He looked out the window and shook his head.
“Take your time, Doctor. Someday you will remember. In the meantime, let your scars tell the story.”
Hanna pressed her hand to her chest in a symbol of respect and walked out of the office.