When I was growing up in the 1950’s, adults didn’t play with children. But sometimes they’d consent to be part of games that needed their strength or height. They’d let you jump off their shoulders in swimming pools and lakes. They’d let you stand on their feet while they lumbered around the living room like bears. Or, they’d hold you by one wrist and one ankle and spin themselves around faster and faster until centrifugal force lifted your body, and, held tightly in their grip, you flew through space like an airplane.
One wintry day when I was four, someone was playing Airplane with me. I don’t remember if it was a friend’s father or someone’s teenaged sister. I don’t remember the side of my head hitting the hose spigot sticking out from the apartment building wall. I don’t even remember pain, although the impact split open the skin over my cheekbone, a fraction of an inch away from my left eye. I only remember the thrill of flying. And then, suddenly, I was sitting on the ground staring at my bloody mittens, in the midst of a crowd of shouting kids. My mother came running outside into the cold day without her coat.
I don’t remember getting stitches, either, but I remember being perched on a table in the doctor’s office afterwards, with him saying I was a brave girl. And though it didn’t mean anything to me then, I remember hearing him tell my mother that some day someone would fall in love with my scar.
It’s not an ugly scar. It’s small, shaped like a crescent moon. I don’t know if anyone ever fell in love with it, but a few people did fall in love with me over the years, so that’s all right. But once, my scar did provide me an escape.
A girl in my college dorm in the mid-sixties had worked one summer as a stewardess, not the typical vacation job. Sporting her stewardess outfit, she gave a presentation about it one spring evening in the dorm lounge. It was essentially a recruitment talk, though she kept emphasizing how difficult it was to get hired. I didn’t like this girl very much — she was stuck up and prissy and often seemed to regard dorm hilarities as if she were a tired, bored, and not very indulgent grandmother. But I was impressed by her trim blue uniform and jaunty cap, and by her salary. Plus, in those days, stewardesses possessed a kind of glamour, as did air travel itself, which wasn’t common among the people I knew. So, without giving it any serious thought, I decided to apply for the coming summer.
The interview was held in some campus office. It might have been in one of the two ivy-covered, rich-boy fraternity houses, though that seems unlikely. I may think that because the room wasn’t the usual cramped, cluttered academic office, but was large and airy and book-lined, as if it were the library of a gracious home. A bank of windows behind the desk at which the airline lady sat looked out on a riot of green plants. I had to walk an expanse of floor before reaching the desk. I was very aware that the airline lady was watching me closely as I approached. I wondered if my skirt were too short.
The first thing she did was ask me to stand in front of her and turn slowly around. I did it, but I felt foolish and embarrassed, and I was relieved when she let me sit down and the interview began. After a few general questions, probably about things like my major and where I was from, she asked casually if I had any scars. I pointed to the tiny crescent beside my left eye. I was ready to tell her about the game of Airplane and maybe even about the doctor’s remark, but she didn’t ask for elaboration or make any comment at all, and I was too shy to volunteer the story. Then, to my amazement, I saw the woman write SCAR ON FACE in big letters across my application form. I knew immediately that that was the end of my chances of being a stewardess.
She thanked me with a lackluster smile, and I got up to leave, still stunned by what had happened. But before I’d reached the door, a feeling of lightness swept over me. I realized that I was glad I wasn’t going to get the job. I was glad I wouldn’t have to spend my summer trying to look perfect, putting myself patiently and cheerfully on display, pretending that nothing had ever happened to me and that I’d never do anything dangerous.