The Marks We Leave Behind


I met a guy seven years ago in a land far away. That sounds like the beginning of a fairytale, but it wasn’t. It was the beginning of a drunken night, scratches down his back, bite marks on my thighs. I knew his reputation; he didn’t know mine. Not that I really had one—not over there, anyway. I found out through someone else much later that after that night I did. Everyone had seen the photo of his torn up back. I was a little proud. I was a little ashamed. Back then I had no idea that I’d end up leaving countless marks on the backs of men who left marks on my heart.

Five years ago, my brother took me to a brunch with his friends. There I met a man who was so far from my type it was almost comical. I knew all about him. My brother did not shy away from giving me details of all the stories he knew about the man who wasn’t my type. I suppose no matter how old we get, how many fights we’ve had and how rarely we talk on the phone, an older brother will always have your back. But stories are just words, or so I told myself. I was intrigued, and I knew the man who wasn’t my type was too. I’m not his usual one, either—far from it, actually. You can see where this is going, right? I left marks on his back, he left them on my heart. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve turned into scars. I’m not even sure if I mean his or mine.

When I was a child, seven or 10 or somewhere in between, a boy on the playground scratched my arm so hard my mom could have sworn it was an animal’s doing. I was smaller than him—I was smaller than most—but I was standing on something, a piece of wood or log or who even knows. We were almost eye to eye. I wasn’t the violent type—not physically, anyway. I used my words to cut, even as a child. Vicious blows delivered in a crafty way that was, to my distress, often lost on peers my age. Something in me snapped that day, though. I kept my mouth shut and bit my tongue like I rarely ever did. Instead, I scratched him across his cheek. He got in trouble; I never did. Even now, if you look very closely, you can see the faint white lines on my arm. His cheek healed within a day.

A few months back, I reconnected with that guy from seven years ago. He told me that ever since that night, a woman scratching his back has become one of his biggest turn ons, a feeling he didn’t know he craved. Last year, I ran into someone from my childhood and a series of coincidences later, I was having drinks with that boy from the playground. He was stubbornly watching his glass twirling in his hands when he told me how that day still haunts him, how he hates that he bullied me, hates how he lashed out, hates the anger at the world he used to carry. He looked me straight in the eye when he apologized.

And that man who wasn’t my type? He kept not being my type for years and I kept leaving scratches on his back and he scratches on my heart. We haven’t spoken in a while. If you opened my chest and looked closely at my heart, I swear you could see those faint white lines. I wonder where he’s hiding his.