At six years-old, I crammed some peanuts, granola bars, and easy-open cans of peaches into my Bionic Woman lunchbox with the baby blue plastic handle and ran to a park a block away from my house. I hid in a dell under the lower limbs of a huge fir tree. Beneath the expanse of dark, overlapping branches, I sat cross-legged in my shorts and hugged my cold, metal lunchbox as if it could protect me against the spiky pine needles poking into my thighs. I hadn’t brought any blankets, and the only clothes I had were the ones I was wearing. I can’t recall if anyone found me or if I went back on my own, but I do remember that after a little while the mild prickly sensation on my legs began to burn and itch like a rash.
When I was ten, I filled up a whole backpack with food and clothes to prepare for life on my own. That time, I was old enough to ride my bike a few miles away from home, but I had nowhere to go.
California was supposed to be different. This time, I had packed well. Long Beach was a far away place that my parents knew nothing about. Still, I had ruined it. And now that I was caught, I would lose this story, too.
My parents would twist it, turn it, and change it while claiming that the story was still mine—for my benefit, to explain my dysfunction. Their stories wouldn’t be about me, though. I could try to tell my own version, but who would believe me over the adults? I would only sound difficult, out-of-control, and once again bad.
* * *
The policemen at the station were still trying to get my attention, but they had dropped the young love angle and had moved on to other things. “Where’s the scar that’s supposed to be on your nose?” one of them asked. “I can’t see it,” replied another, “but it’s her.” I winced when I heard them mention my nose. Presumably, for them, the scar was just a confusing detail that had piqued their curiosity. They had no way of knowing how much that question would sting me.
There is a very thin, white, diagonal line that crosses the bridge of my nose. If these officers knew about it, my father must have told them. When I was three years old, a bookshelf fell on me and broke my nose. For as long as I can remember, my father had relished the opportunity to recount in detail the horror of waking up to find his daughter standing next to his bed, her face at his eye level and covered in gushing blood.
In the eleven years between that morning and my trip to Long Beach, my nose and its imperfections continued to be strangely significant in my father’s mind. He had repeatedly offered to pay for plastic surgery to repair my supposedly damaged face, but I had repeatedly refused him. I thought my father enjoyed describing his experience with my accident because the goriness was titillating in a lurid sort of way. Only now did it occur to me that maybe he retold that story so often because he felt he needed to explain the way I looked. The reason that these police officers were scrutinizing my nose, in search of a scar that most people would never notice, was because my father had identified that flaw as a distinguishing feature of my appearance. That’s how he saw me.
Honestly, I was ashamed of the bump that was still visible after the break had healed. I knew that the crookedness in my profile was particularly noticeable when you looked at me from the right side. Somehow, though, I also knew that fixing my deformed cartilage and the accompanying scar, wouldn’t really change anything that mattered.
The door on my right buzzed, clicked, and swung open. A woman I hadn’t previously seen or heard walked in and told me to put my arms out to the side. She patted me down, took my watch, and picked up my shoes. When she finished, she led me to a cell where I lay down on a cot. The mattress was covered with a musty, tan, polyester blanket, and I noticed how scratchy it felt.
(Part IV here)