I have a keloid on my upper left ear. It’s a raised scar the size of an edamame bean, a vestige of an improperly healed piercing that my body responded to by producing a lump of excess collagen. For years, I strategically hid the scar, refusing to put my hair up even during exercise and weaseling out of any physical contact that might enable someone to make the discovery. In secret, I watched YouTube video after YouTube video of home remedies: people tying rubber bands around growths so tightly that they turned black and fell off, dry ice being used to freeze away protrusions, demonstrations of how to clip compression earrings on and off. Hopeful that new accouterments might call attention to other, less damaged parts of my face, I pierced the right side of my nose and glued a diamond to my canine tooth.
For a time, I tried to downplay the psychological effect the keloid had on me, assuring my parents that it was no big deal, please stop asking and quickly brushing a lock of hair over it after a well-meaning friend worriedly asked if it hurt. But in truth, I was deeply ashamed -- not only of the poor aesthetics that dragged on my self-esteem, but of my larger negligence that the keloid had come to symbolize. I tortured myself with the reminder that it was my fault, and in many ways, it was: for allowing a mall kiosk employee to shatter my cartilage with a piercing gun, for getting the piercing whilst in a softball league that required me to take my earrings out twice a week for games, for refusing to accept that it was infected, for faltering on taking action until it had progressed into a source of anxiety. I felt like I was being punished for my thoughtlessness with a permanent mark of irresponsibility, and that I deserved the retribution.
Disgusted with myself, I found a cosmetic surgeon who could cut the keloid off. During the procedure, I heard everything with stunning clarity due to the proximity to my ear canal: my flesh being severed with the casualness of a bread knife hacking into a day-old baguette, the scar tissue squelching and crunching like a rubbery orbeez ball. When it was over, the doctor showed me the removed mass, which had shrunk to the size of a pea from the lack of oxygen. If I wasn’t still in shock, I might’ve laughed at how such a tiny thing caused me so much grief. Instead, I thanked him and left, newly normal with two regular ears.
An important thing to know about keloids, though, is that they grow back. Keloids form in response to physical trauma, and it turns out that a knife slicing through your skin qualifies as such. In this way, keloid removal is merely a delay of the inevitable: a malady that is never cured, only relegated to remission. This means that four years post-operation, I’m exactly where I started, once again the owner of a button of excess flesh.
Only this time, I don’t feel as bad about it. When I paid for keloid removal, what I was really buying was time. Time to make peace with the mistakes I have made. Time to realize that they don’t have to be considered mistakes, not unless I want them to be.
Carelessness is negatively connotated, but carefreeness isn’t, and they are close cousins. Freedom from obsession over the unchangeable and minute -- releasing the many small fixations and fears that otherwise mount to a life of self-torment -- liberated me. My body took healing so seriously that it generated a whole additional square centimeter of surface area, and that is not shameful; that is cool. That is a testament to the stunning functionality of my resilient body.
Recently, I’ve been braiding my hair into two thin plaits often enough that it’s slowly becoming my signature hairstyle. When I style my hair in this fashion, I allow the keloid to be seen. I allow the world to know that I am imperfect, that I have harmed myself through recklessness. And when lovers press their face into the left side of mine and I lean into the warmth instead of recoiling, I allow this to be okay.
I allow the world to know my wounds, and love me despite. I allow the world to love me including.